Sunday, 18 August 2019

Hazelnut Harvest, Broken Fruit Tree Branches, Wild Flowers and Forest Garden Plants Week 19 - The Polyculture Project

It's been a lovely week here in Shipka - although quite windy, and the plants and soils dry out very quickly, so this week we've been irrigating the gardens as much as possible.  We've also continued with invertebrate surveys and soil tests and processing some of the harvests from the gardens. 

So here's what we've been up to in the gardens this week.    

   

Hazel  - Corylus spp. Yields 


We are growing around 7 different cultivars of  Corylus spp. - Hazelnut  among the different gardens. I planted the first cultivars in the Market Garden - Aponia three seasons ago  and they have been producing nuts for the last few years. This year I have started to record the yields of the various plants hoping to identify the cultivars that are best suited for our gardens for future plantings.

'Ata Baba' 


The below image shows the planting locations of various Hazel cultivars in Aponia, namely ;
  1. 'Tonda Gentile Romana' 
  2. 'Ata Baba'
  3. 'Barcelona'
  4. 'Badeovidim'


There were only nuts on the Ata Baba and Badeovidim cultivars this year. The nuts of these cultivars  look very similar to each other both being Filberts (Corylus maxima) although the Ata Baba nuts are slightly larger and the Badeovidim are more frequently clustered in 4 or 5 husks as opposed to the Ata Baba that cluster in 2s and 3s  shown below.   


I harvested nuts from 2 trees of Ata Baba and 2 trees of Badeovidim, weighed and photographed the nuts. 


Here are the records for this year 

Corylus spp. - Hazel Records 2019 - Aponia
14/08/2019
No.Year Planted BotanicalCultivarHarvest kgFruit Notes Notes Harvest Period
1April 2015Corylus avellana Tonda Romana n/ano fruit this year - previous years have been fruitful Mid August
2April 2015Corylus maxima Ata baba0.210Mostly 1 or 2 husks per flower
some 3
no signs of Nut Weevils - Balaninus nucum Mid August
3April 2015Corylus avellana Barcelona n/atree on left of below image FTGL for stakes - no fruit since the planting out
tree on right no fruit this year or since planting out - very tall plant
Early September
4April 2015Corylus maxima Badeovidim0.200Mostly 2 or 3 husks per flower
some 5 and one 6
Nut Weevils - Balaninus nucum destroyed 3 or 4 of the nuts Mid August 

There were signs of the Nut Weevil - Balaninus nucum on 3 or 4 of the Badeovidim nuts as shown below but none on the Ata Baba nuts . 


We're offering a range of cultivars including the above mentioned 'Ata baba' from the nursery this year . You can find out more about the plants we have on offer here 

http://www.balkep.org/hazelnut-cultivars.html


Wild Flowers in the Gardens


Saponaria officinalis - Soapwort grows wild in the meadows and woodland edges in and around the gardens. It's an attractive plant with a long blooming period throughout the summer.  As its common name implies, it can be used as a very gentle soap and has historically been used to clean delicate textiles. We encourage it in the gardens and I have found it makes an excellent ground cover in dry sunny spots.  


Another wild growing beauty that makes a great ground cover is Salvia verticillata - Lilac sage.  This herbaceous perennial forms expansive clumps and flowers from spring through to late summer and is much visited by pollinators. Although in the Salvia genus I am not aware of any culinary uses for this plant   

 

Phronensis - 


We established this new forest garden in April of this year with the help of our amazing Design and Build a Forest Course participants. This week we have been taking soil surveys in the garden with aim to track the heath of the soil over time and see how our planting schemes and management plans affect soil health. Here are Lea and Eva working through the soil heath cards from Northern Rivers.


The garden design, species list and planting scheme. 


The primary purpose of the garden is to produce round wood for fence posts, light construction wood, and stakes and pole wood for the market garden with secondary purposes to provide fruits and nuts in the under story and a range of habitat to support wildlife. 

Since we established the garden in the spring I've mowed the pathways 4 times (approx once every 2 or 3 weeks taking approx. 20 minutes per cut), we've pulled weeds growing through the mulch around the newly planted trees twice (that's 48 mulched plants that takes 3 or 4 people about 45 - 60 minutes per weeding session) and this week we have watered the plants for the first time this season  following the initial plant out.  Here you can see the third row of Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree and Alnus cordata  - Italian Alder trees planted on contour. establishing well. 



We've also added the pond and finished off the raised beds in the south end of the garden.  If you don't include the raised beds, this seems to be quite a low maintenance garden. 


Forest Garden Plants 


It's been a great year for plums, perhaps a bit too good as quite a few plum trees around the area have been snapping out limbs from the weight of the fruit. The photo below is of a Prunus insititia - Damson  on the southern border of the garden. Two limbs snapped out making it easy pickings for Eva and Simon that collected about 10 kg of the plums for pies and jams. 


Prunus insititia - Damson  fruits from our fallen branches 


Here is Misha picking green beans in the market garden. These beans are a local cultivar from a friend of Misha's in a neighbouring village. The plants seem to like it the garden and have been very productive so far and are great tasting both raw and cooked.    


It's that time of year when the wild Rubus fruticosus cv. - Blackberry generously present themselves to the animals. What with all the rain we had this season the wild berries are plump and juicy. Personally I prefer the taste of the wild blackberries to the cultivated ones, although a new cultivar 'Reuben' that I've been growing for a few years is pretty close. Here are some black berries growing up a small apple tree we have in Aponia. Next week the apples should be ripe and you can pick and eat the blackberries and apples right from the same spot. An excellent combination fresh as well as baked in a crumble :)       


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.


Registration for our October 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 :) 


Sunday, 11 August 2019

Habitat Mosaic, Measuring Garden Wildlife, Biomass Belts and Forest Garden Plants Week 18 - The Polyculture Project

It's certainly feeling like mid summer around here, the temperature has increased, the rains have paused and there are more fruits than you can shake a fruit laden stick at. This week we started a series of observational surveys and tests looking at habitat, garden wildlife (specifically invertebrates) and soil health.  

So here's what we've been up to in more detail :)


Habitat Types - Aponia 


Our project mission is to develop and promote practices that can produce food while enhancing biodiversity. In order to encourage biodiversity in our gardens we include a variety of habitat into the landscape design, some wild (at various stages of succession) and some cultivated. The gardens are, essentially, a mosaic of habitat.

The map below shows the various habitat types within our 8 year old Market Garden, Aponia. (Aquatic habitat not labelled). I'll be writing a detailed report of these habitat types at a later date including the typical flora and fauna species, how to develop, maintain and manage them, and what is the productive potential of each habitat. 

 

For now we wanted to take a closer look at the biodiversity value that each of these habitats provide, specifically to see how they compare with each other and how our cultivated habitat types i.e annual and perennial polyculture, compare to the wild habitat types. This week we devised some simple invertebrate surveys within the habitat types using pitfall traps and canopy observations to measure the number of unique species found in each habitat. The habitats we surveyed included:

  • Perennial Polyculture 
  • Annual Polyculture 
  • Mixed Species Hedgerow
  • Late Scrub
  • Early Scrub
  • Mixed Species Meadow

This will be a 3 year study with the surveys carried out at the same time every Monday and Tuesday  for a 3 week period in the months of August and April.  Weather conditions - Cloud Cover - Temperature - Wind are recorded with each survey.
 

The Pitfall Traps


Two pitfall traps are set within each habitat type. Each trap is labelled for recording purposes. The traps are set on Monday morning, left overnight and emptied onto white trays on Tuesday morning. The number of unique species are counted within each trap and an average of the two traps per habitat is taken to provide the average number of unique species found within each habitat type. After emptying the traps, lids are placed on the jars and the survey is repeated the week after.  The below image shows the locations of the traps within each habitat type.   

 

 Shahara made some great videos that show the habitat types and how we undertake the pitfall traps surveys.  Here's part one 


and here's part 2


You can find more of Shahara Khaleque's videos on her project facebook page GrowingSmart.HK. Thank you Shahara :) 

 Canopy Observations 


50 m trails within each habitat are determined as shown by red dotted lines in the below image 


There are 10 observation locations in each trail spaced 5 m apart from each other. At each location the observer stands and observes for 2 minutes within their field of vision (without moving head) and  counts and records the number of unique species they can see on the plant vegetation and on the ground. Species you have seen in previous locations are counted again i.e you start a new species-count after every change of location - and an average of the number of unique species seen on the trail is recorded.

Unique species = do not count individuals, count visibly different species, e.g. 
3 black ants and 1 red ant = 2 species
1 big black spider and 1 small black spider, hard to say if it is young/old or male/female = 2 species
1 small spider and 1 big spider that are clearly the same species = 1 species

Flying species: Bypassing flying insects do not count. Insects hovering (to feed on nectar/pollen) or landing in your field of vision do count.

The canopy observation is then repeated by a different observer for each habitat and an average is taken of the two surveys for the final unique species count for each habitat. 

Thank you Simon and Eva for writing the protocol for the canopy observation survey and with your help and feedback on the survey design.  Here are Philip and Shahara taking canopy observations in the Mixed Species Meadow and Early Scrub habitat types


The Results - Week 1


For what it is worth, here are the results from last weeks surveys . I'm looking forward to getting more data in the future and hope, at least, to gain a glimpse of how invertebrate diversity compares within these habitats. 


Shortcomings of the Surveys 


We'd like to keep the surveys  as simple and replicable as possible without sacrificing the validity of the data. We've identified the following shortcomings so far. 

  • Because we are not using ethanol in the pitfall traps (commonly used to kill what falls in the traps), it's possible that predators may fall in and eat prey species before we can count them 
  • As we are not identifying the species and have limited knowledge of entomology we may be counting unique species when in fact they are male or female, larvae/adult or at different instar stages
  • The canopy observations do not account for nocturnal invertebrates
  • The canopy observations from the habitat types with tall shrubs and trees do not account for invertebrates in the higher canopy. We could use a "beating tray" observation for this but for some of the habitat such as early scrub and hedgerow it will be difficult to set this up. 
  • Doing these surveys each month from April - October would provide a more accurate picture. 

If you have any suggestions on how we can improve the survey please do let us know and if you would like to try the survey yourself, send me an email and I'll send you the record sheets and protocols. 

The Biomass Belt - Aponia


About four years ago we planted out an experiment called the "biomass belt", a support polyculture composed of biomass plants, Comfrey 'Bocking 14', in raised beds, Nitrogen fixing ground cover sown into pathways and a Nitrogen fixing hedgerow. The purpose of the polyculture is to grow mulch and fertilizer for annual and perennial crops around the garden. You can read more about this polyculture in detail here.
  
Here are some photos taken last week of the biomass belt.  


The belt is growing well, although not all of the original hedgerow species have survived, we added Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus into the hedgerow to fill the gaps. Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive has grown well as a hedge plant and is fruiting this year (even after trimming in the spring).  The Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey 'Bocking 14'​ beds have done well and you can find some details of how much biomass we harvested from these beds here. I'm really pleased with the Trifolium repens - White Clover pathways.

Here is the original layout and planting scheme...


....and here an illustration of how the Biomass Belt functions - Thanks Georgi Pavlov for the illustration.


Aponia - Market Garden 


Climbing Beans, Cucumbers and Melothria scabra - Cucamelon. The Beans and cucamelon are doing great but I've rarely had great results with cucumbers. They always seem to be misshapen, small with bitter skin, although tasty enough when peeled.    





The Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree rows that we are growing to shade the annual vegetable beds are ready for another thin. We tried 1.5 m spacing between the trees in the bed on the left and 1 m spacing in the bed on the right. I'd say the 1.5 m spacing is sufficient, providing plenty of shade and as you can see in the below image the trees appear to grow faster at this spacing.


The fallow patches in the market garden are in full flower now attracting an abundance of insects. Viper's-bugloss - Echium vulgare is a great wildlife plants and its deep roots (down to 70 cm) probably serve well as a mineral repositor fixing nutrients that would otherwise wash through the soil into biomass.      




The team chilling :)


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.


Registration for our October 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 :) 


Sunday, 4 August 2019

Wild Polycultures, Hedging, Magical Mulberry Tea and Forest Garden Plants Week 17 - The Polyculture Project

It's been a productive week in the gardens with plenty of summer rains breaking up the stifling heat. I don't recall a summer with quite as much and frequent rainfall in all of the years we have been here. Normally this time of year the surrounding landscape looks parched brown but this year it's still spring green. 
This week we've been joined by Simon and Eva and their lovely dog Hun. Simon and Eva both studied organic agricultural science and worked with one of the worlds leading organic agriculture research centers (FiBL). Looking forward to picking their brains on some new studies we have planned for the gardens in the coming weeks .  

So here's what we've been up to in the gardens.


Aponia - Hedge Screen 


There is a tall concrete wall bordering the east side of the garden and I've been meaning to plant trees along this boundary for some time to provide a screen and utilise this space. It's quite a difficult area to plant due to the surrounding bramble but also due to the intense heat and drought in the area during the summer that is intensified by the large concrete wall. I've tried Liquidambar styraciflua -Sweetgum trees in the past but the Bramble quickly took over the trees in the spring and the plants did not survive the hot summer drought. 


This week we cleared the area of brambles and Clematis vitalba from a few wild plums already growing by the wall and extended the irrigation channel in order to plant more trees this Autumn. Prunus cerasus - Sour Cherry and Alnus cordata  - Italian Alder should do well as both plants grow relatively quickly and make good hedging. We should receive some fruit from the cherries, and the Alder - being nitrogen fixing - will provide fertility for the garden as a whole. For more about nitrogen fixing plants see our previous posts here and here.

The below image shows the existing water channels (in grey), the new channel and the location of the hedge screen.


Shahara and Simon cleared the brambles beside the wall and we placed some bales where the Prunus cerasus - Sour Cherry and Alnus cordata  - Italian Alder will be planted in the late Autumn. We'll plant about 2.8 m apart and probably thin out the Prunus cerasus - Sour Cherry trees for fire wood after 10 years or so leaving the Alnus cordata and existing plums to provide the screen. With the irrigation in place the Alnus cordata trees will easily reach 8 m tall and 3 m wide within 10 years.




Lia and Eva pegged out a contour line for the irrigation channel through the Prunus insititia - Damson scrub. The channel branches off an existing channel that fills the wildlife pond as seen in the above overview image. We dug out the channel approx. 30 cm wide and 30 cm deep along the contour and than dropped it along the wall where the hedge screen will be planted. 




Wild Polycultures


I'm always looking to the wild flora for inspiration and guidance as to how to design polycultures. There is a great example of a wild polyculture in the meadow to the south of Aponia - our market garden plot. The polyculture features a Prunus cerasifera - Cherry Plum one of the best tasting wild plums in the area being juicy, sweet and with just the perfect amount of sourness. 


In the under story of the tree you can find 
Chicory - Cichorium intybus, Wild Carrot - Daucus carota, Yellow rattle - Rhinanthus minor,  Trifolium pratense - Red clover, Origanum vulgare - Pot Marjoram and Hypericum perforatum - St Johns Wort . These herbs grow among a variety of grasses and offer support to a range of pollinators and pest predators. The deep taproots of the Chicory - Cichorium intybus, Wild Carrot - Daucus carota feeding in the lower levels of the soils also help retaining nutrients in the area. 


As you can see in the below photo the mixed species meadow is cut for hay (normally twice per year) however it is not cut around the tree leaving an ellipse of  the wild plants to mature there. The herb layer under the tree is grazed in the Autumn by our neighbour Gosho's horse and foal that are tethered in the fields for a few days. This keeps the vegetation from turning to scrub and maintains the diversity of the under story. I've been observing the tree for the last 5 years and it always seems to be in great health, fruiting regularly with few problems of pest and disease.



Forest Garden Plants 


One of our Morus alba - White Mulberry   trees has been fruiting since early June with the last of the fruits dropping in a storm last week. I found out from Shahara this week that the leaves of the tree,may be used throughout the year to make tea that has almost magical health benefits. According to Issei Shinagawa from Hong Kong, who Shahara has previously worked with, a cup of Mulberry leaf tea a day will turn your grey hairs black as well improve your general health. 


All fresh leaves are fine to use for the tea. You can simply run your hand down a branch and strip all the leaves, they come off really easily. The leaves can be dried whole or cut into strips. I dried some cut leaves on our kitchen table by a sunny window and they were dry within a day and half.


Simply crumble a few leaves into a cup and poor on hot water and you have a very decent tasting cuppa. I'll report back in a few months regarding the grey hairs :) 

For loads more info on Mulberry check out our previous post here 

Origanum vulgare - Pot Marjoram is a common herb in the meadows around here. The plants are in full flower now and will continue to flower until as late as October. The sweet pine and citrus flavours are often used to flavour meats, salads, vinegars, and casserole dishes. The plant also has extensive medicinal properties and was known to the Greeks and Romans as a symbol of happiness.


Prunus spinosa - Sloe in the in the early morning sun.  This is common early scrub plant in the east fields and a plant I always integrate within our designs. Spinosa refers to the sharp spines or thorns that are characteristic of this plant and make it an excellent choice as a "nurse" plant, ie, to grow around other young saplings to protect them from predators. An important plant for wildlife, its early spring flowers provide nectar for early emerging pollinators, and its dense form provides secure nesting sites for birds making it popular in hedging. The fruit is referred to as sloes and is best known by the alcoholic beverage sloe gin, although numerous delicious recipes for jellies and preserves can be found.


Ajuga reptans - Bugle 'Atropurpurea' (the purple plant in the below photo) planted as ground cover within this productive polyculture of Prunus tomentosa - Nanking CherryVaccinium corymbosum cv. - Blueberry and  Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry has exceeded my expectations this season. We planted out the 15 cm wide 12 cm deep potted plants in the first week of April and each plant is already providing at least 50 cm wide cover within 4 months. I've had success with Ajuga reptans - Bugle in various scenarios making this one of my favourite ground cover plants. 


The wild patches in the market garden including  Foeniculum vulgare - Fennel   are full of flowers this time of year and attract a huge diversity of beneficial insects. The best time to see the variety of insects on and around the plants is high sun on a still and cloudless day.  


What I think is Willow Herb - Epilobium sp.  has moved into the wildlife pond in Aponia. I'm not sure of the species. According to Conspectus of the Bulgarian Vascular Flora there at least 15 species in Bulgaria. Many of the plants in this genus are listed as edible and have medicinal value and are considered pioneer plants that look to colonise wetlands and marshy edges. Welcome to the garden Epilobium sp. :) 



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.


Registration for our October 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 :)