Sunday, 28 August 2016

Polyculture Project - Market Garden Study - Update 8

High summer almost seems as if time pauses, as if time itself goes on summer holiday and we linger in stasis on the hot, dry days that blend seamlessly into each other.  Every now and again though, with a bluster of wind or cool breeze the approaching autumn is revealed, and time resumes its eternal march......

Here in Shipka it's been a hot and dry summer with no significant rain to mention in the past 10 weeks. Our tasks have been largely routine - mainly irrigating, harvesting and processing.

Thank you to Pauline Lousteau, Biljana Kostovska and Sandra Koljackova and family for your help in the gardens and special thanks to Ute Villavicencio for your ongoing support and for taking care of everything while Soph, the boys and I got some beach time in. We also say goodbye and thank you to Natasha Barbier and her wonderful array of unusual wines, all the best Natasha :)

Market Garden 

The gardens are producing very well with the hot season crops peaking now. The basil and tomatoes appear to be doing particularly well this season after getting off to a shaky start during the long and unusually cool spring period.

Produce from Zeno

One of my favourite tomato cultivars this year has to be a Mirabel Yellow Cherry, another great cultivar given to us by our friends Flori and Georgi. A Oxheart version of Bulgarian cultivar Rozava Magia  was also given to us by fellow market gardeners Anni and Stoyan from The Green Gate, who are growing some excellent vegetables for CSA.

Here's the list of  tomato cultivars we're growing this year.

Common nameCodeColorMaturity
E, M , L
Genetic typeSizeShapeGrowth
Rozava Magia T1Pink LargeBeaf heart Indeterminate
Citrina T2YellowMediumPlumIndeterminate
Black Krim T3Black Red M-L - 69-90HeirloomLargeBeefsteakIndeterminate
Ukrainian Purple T4Purple M -75-90HeirloomMediumPlum Indeterminate
MarglobeT5RedM -75-90HeirloomSmallStandardIndeterminate
Anna RussianT6Pink M -75-90HeirloomMediumHeart Indeterminate
Tigerella T7Orange M - 75Open PollinatedSmallRound Indeterminate
Green Zebra T8GreenM - 70–80Open PollinatedMediumStandardIndeterminate
Mirabel -Yellow CherryT9YellowSmall PearIndeterminate

Comfrey Records 

On 29th July we cut the Comfrey for the third time this year,  45 days after the previous cut. The total biomass from 42 plants in the 13 m2 bed weighed in at 29.9 kg (710 g per plant). The plants had been flowering for over 10 days. According to the original Comfrey crusader, Lawrence D. Hills, who literally wrote the book on it, we should be cutting before the flowering period to obtain maximum biomass. So far we have let the Comfrey flower each time for at least a week as a wide variety of bees are voting by action in favour of that. It would be interesting to compare cutting regimes to see how much more productive cutting before flowering is, for next year perhaps.

Dylan and Archie cutting the Comfrey
We have been leaving some native plants to grow among the Comfrey in the beds, namely Cichorium intybus - Chicory and Arctium lappa - Greater Burdock. Both of these plants have the same deep rooting behaviour and are thought to feed from the sub soil in the same way that Comfrey does. Greater Burdock also produces good quantities of biomass, although being an biennial once the plants flower they die. You can encourage continued growth by prohibiting the plant from flowering with regular cutting.    

Feeding the Comfrey 

Comfrey needs to be fed in order to keep producing well. We currently feed the plants trimmings from the surrounding area and the old leaves left over from making the comfert liquid fertiliser. We are also growing nitrogen fixing shrubs and trees for future chop and drop feed for the beds - read more about this here.

Following the cut we mow the White Clover - Trifolium repens pathways and plants growing on the edges of the beds and apply the trimmings to base of the plants.  As a rough estimate every 1 m2 of mown surface may produce 5L of material, but obviously this depends on the size and type of the vegetation you are cutting, length of time between cuts and a range of environmental factors. I'm basing this figure on mowing after each Comfrey cut, i.e, every 30 - 40 days.

Here's a short clip of how the Comfrey is looking 15 days after the cut.


In hot and dry conditions such as our's this year, it is essential to irrigate the annual crops once per week. Our preferred method of irrigation is to flood irrigate as we are fortunate to have access to water from a nearby mountain stream. We can divert this water into the garden where it flows along the paths between the beds. We raise the water level in any particular bed by placing a barrier (sack filled with sawdust) at the end of a bed and the water is absorbed into the soil and can travel vertically via Capillary Action. We still need to make adjustments to the path gradients in order for the flood irrigation to reach the entire length of the beds and have been watering by hand from the pond the areas that the flood irrigation does not reach. The difference from the flood irrigated section and hand watered section is very noticeable with the flood irrigated sections looking much better.

Paths that double up as water channels 
Our irrigation goal with the hand watering is to apply approx. 500 L per bed (per week without rain)  from summer - early autumn. That's a total of 3000 L of water each week for all the annual crops in the study area (6 beds 1.3 m x 23 m).  The pond we recently installed can hold around 8000 L.

It can take quite some time to flood irrigate contour beds as the water needs to permeate deep into the soil to reach the crops in the center of the bed as well as the plants on the edges. I'd estimate at least 1.5 - 2 hrs per bed are needed to achieve this, and this can cause problems for us as the stream is in high demand from other growers during very dry periods. By having the pond, we can fill it up during periods when the stream is not being used such as late at night and during the midday heat.  This provides us with a useful back up plan.

Wildlife and Irrigation Pond 

Forest Garden

There is an influx of produce coming out of the forest gardens in August with hazel nuts, plums, black berries, figs, late raspberries, apples, peaches and grapes . It's been a bumper year for plums!

Some August Fruits from the Forest Garden

We're just about managing to keep up with the harvesting and processing. Sophie and Ute have been making some excellent jam, chuntney and pesto, and we've been freezing, drying and canning like the man from del monte :)

Pest and Disease  - Orange Rust 

A blackberry bush that growing in the forest garden has been looking unwell of late. The plant has been the picture of health the last few years and has flowered and fruited prolifically. This year however, over the last few weeks we have observed that the leaves of the 2nd year growth have become mottled and a yellow powder has coated the undersides.

Orange Rust on our Blackberry.  A thorn less cultivar, name unknown.
A quick google search revealed the culprit as Orange rust a fungal disease that occurs only on brambles, particularly blackberries and dewberries. Unfortunately once this systemic disease sets in the entire plant is infected for life. 

The disease is not known to affect red or purple raspberries which is great as I have just planted a patch of these no more than 3 m away from the infected plant.

The infected plant is one of four blackberry plants I propagated from the  mother plant in the home garden.  None of the other plants have been infected including the mother plant which leads me to believe that the plant's position on top of an irrigation swale that is frequently full of water has provided  the conditions for the fungi to take hold and is something I will bear in mind for future water side plantings.

Disease cycle of orange rust. From the American Phytopathological Society (APS Compendium of Raspberry and Blackberry Diseases and Insects)

See here for the results of our polyculture studies from 2014 - 2016

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 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.

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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 :) 

References  -