Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Polyculture Project - Market Garden Study - Update 1

This year I'll be posting periodical reviews of what we're getting up to during the Polyculture Study.

Cherry Plum- Prunus cerasifera one of many wild fruit trees in the Market Garden  

 So, here's what we've been up to in the market garden last week.

New Polycultures

We're trying some new polycultures this year one of which we'll be experimenting with how much mulch we can grow within the beds using a fast growing, nitrogen fixing, biomass producing perennial Paulownia tomentosa.

Paulownia tomentosa 'Shan Tong' are planted in the middle of a 1.2 m wide raised bed to provide biomass for mulch and shade during the hottest periods of summer. These are nitrogen fixing plants and fairly deep rooted so I'm hoping there won't be detrimental competition with the annual crops.

We'll be experimenting with various pruning regimes that will include the regular dropping of the huge leaves and coppicing/pollarding the herbaceous growth. We've called this polyculture Ares.

Ares - Paulownia tomentosa planted 1.5 m apart in the center of the vegetable beds

We have two beds dedicated to this polyculture with the P. tomentosa  in one bed planted at 1.5 m apart  and another bed 1 m apart. The following annual crops will be planted around the Paulownia.

Ares Polyculture - An experimental polyculture integrating nitrogen fixing, biomass producing perennials with annual crops

We welcome back Kata Prodanov to the study as well as Simon Rogowski, who is also involved in our land stewardship scheme. Simon has been recording some footage for a film we may be making about the polyculture project. The rest of the team will be arriving at various times within the next few weeks.

Sowing Seeds 

Tomato seedlings. It's amazing how many plants you can start in a small space. All of the 10 tomato cultivars we are growing this year in the market garden and our home gardens have been sown into two 50 x 30 x 15 cm trays. 

We started sowing Tomato and Basil seeds indoors in early March, followed on this week by Aubergine and Chili. These seedlings require 21 to 27 C to germinate so we sow them in large trays and place them in heated rooms. The seedlings are moved out into cloches in the garden in early April and are planted out into the beds in May.

I've been using 14W  225 LED panel lights the last couple of years to prevent the seedlings bending towards the light (Phototropism). They work really well and at just under £20 are great value. Each panel can cover around 50 cm2, but you should be able to cover more area with some clever mirror positioning.

Basil seedlings on the windowsill of a warm room bathed in the red and blue light from the 14 W LED panel lamp. 
Parsley was sown outside along with some red onion sets planted into a new polyculture being trialed this year called Ares.


We set up cloches in the home gardens where we will be raising many of the crops that will later be planted out in the market garden. Next week we'll be sowing a range of seed in the cloches but it's good to set them up early so that the unwanted seed present in the soil can germinate and be hoed out before the crop seed is sown.

Gathering Materials 

We collect spoiled straw from local farmers. The bales being wet are of no use to the farmers for animal bedding  and we collect them free of charge. Wet bales can sometimes harbor slugs in which case its not a great idea to use them for mulch in the vegetable garden. Setting chickens on slug infested bales will soon clear the slugs.

Straw bales stacked for future use in the garden
See here for the results of our polyculture studies from 2014 - 2016

If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

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Live Webinar Coming up this Autumn

It's that time of year to start planning your garden plantings for this coming autumn or the spring. If you would like some guidance and advice on how to choose your plants we'll be running a live webinar this November.  How to Select Fruit and Nut Trees for your Forest Garden/Polyculture Orchard - Webinar - 2nd November 2019 - 18.00 -20.00 UTC. (starting time suitable for US participation).

The session will overview what you need to know when selecting fruit and nut trees for your Forest Garden/Polyculture Orchard and how to plan the layout of the garden. It will be around 2 hours long and will include:

Selecting trees that suit your climate and location
Choosing the right root stock and cultivar
Selecting trees with pollination compatibility

Choosing the right location and spacing for your trees
Buying Fruit and Nut Trees
Planting out and aftercare
Software for Planning Garden layout
Closing Questions and Answers 
Access to design spreadsheets including a Selection Check List and  Pollination Requirements for Common Fruit and Nut Trees

You can register here . The fee is €30 or €40 if you register as a group of three or €100 as a group of 10. If you would like to register as a group please send an email to balkanecologyproject@gmail.com and we'll take it from there.

Upcoming Courses

If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience come and join us this autumn. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Design and Build - Forest Garden Course  - Regenerative Landscape Design Course

Registration for our April 2020 course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).

If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

  • Comment, like and share our content on social media.

Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 

This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom on a range of topics. You can register for a  webinar here.

Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.

Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March.

We also offer a range of products all year round from our Online Store 

Give a happy plant a happy home :)