Sunday, 16 June 2019

Thinning and Lifting in the Forest Garden, Biomass Plants and Garden Wildlife Week 11 - The Polyculture Project

It's been a productive week in the gardens and we've been busy chop and dropping, digging water channels and some pruning. It's starting to heat up in the gardens now and the fruits are ripening.

So here's what we've been up to.  


Aponia - Forest Garden Maintenance 


We have a combination of fruiting shrubs and trees planted along swales in the Forest garden including Rubus fruticosus cv. - BlackberryRibes nigrum cv.- BlackcurrantAronia melanocarpa - Black Chokeberry 
and Prunus cerasifera - Cherry Plum and Chaenomeles speciosa - Jap. Quince. The plants generally grow well together but over time the dense entanglement can reduce air circulation within the mixed canopy that can start to create stressful conditions for the plants, it also makes it difficult to harvest. To remedy this we practice thinning and lifting. Thinning is basically removing approx 1/3rd of the oldest wood within each shrub. We also remove the dead wood and any branches that are rubbing against each other. Lifting is removing the lower branches of the trees to above head height in order to access around the tree and provide more light and air flow under the canopy. All of the pruned material are chopped into smaller pieces and applied to the surface under the shrubs. Here is Lilly and Lea (in the thick of it) thinning the shrubs and trees on the Swale.  You can see the lifted Prunus cerasifera - Cherry Plum to the left of Lilly 



Forest Garden Fruits 


The first crop of Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberryare ready. These fruits form on the unpruned canes from last year. The pruned canes will produce fruit around late September 


It's another good year for Prunus spinosa - Sloe. The shrubs are full of fruit that will ripen in late summer.


Ribes rubrum cv. - Red currant are starting to ripen




The meadows around the area are ready for a hay cut. The lack of  a long dry period this spring has prevented a cut so far this season.  


Birdsfoot trefoil - Lotus corniculatus is one of many nitrogen fixing herbs that grow among the grasses in the meadows




Wildlife in the Gardens 


I found what looks like the beginning of a wasp nest among the stack of straw bales in the garden. Although 


We have a growing population of Grassnakes - Natrix natrix in the gardens. These are harmless snakes that can be useful pest predators feeding on slugs when they are young. This is the first time i have seen these snakes in the nursery area of garden. It was among the potted plants probably hunting for frogs that shelter among the pots looking for slugs. For more information about this snake check out Dylan's website Bulgarians Reptiles



Biomass Trials - Ataraxia


An ideal biomass/mulch plant grows fast, is drought tolerant, competes minimally with crop plants, does not contain seed that easily spreads, is easy to handle and cut, i.e,  not thorny/prickly or tough and fibrous and can biodegrade relatively quickly (thereby returning the nutrients back to soil). It should also be inexpensive to produce lots of plants and easy to establish. We're experimenting with various plants in the trial garden to see which plants are most suitable for mulch production.  You can find out more about our biomass trials here.




Out of these three plants Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus  is certainly the easiest to propagate with a plant grown from a rhizome being able to produce up to 5 more plants within a year. Some care should be taken when choosing the location of the  Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus  as the plant spreads rapidly forming large impenetrable clumps. We plant on raised beds and mow the pathways aorund the beds to keep them contained. Here is Ronan dividing clumps of Miscanthus x giganteus for planting around the pond in Katal√™psis -The Polyculture Study Guest House. These plants are also useful in producing support material for vegetables in the gardens.


For more on growing your own mulch see our previous blog post - How to grow your own mulch 

For the Bulgarian translation of the blog see here Thank you Mihaela Tzarchinska. 




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

  • Join our Patreon Page and receive exclusive content, store discounts and lots more   
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Upcoming Courses


Our next course is scheduled for June so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience do join us this summer. 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 a Forest Garden Course 

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

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 :) 




Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Pest Control in the Garden, Cutting Comfrey and a new Forest Garden - Ekpyrosis Week 10 - The Polyculture Project

Another wet but warm week here in Shipka. May and June are the wettest months here and the native plant growth at this time of year is phenomenal. We do quite a lot of chop and drop and weeding at this time of year, to allow light and space for the cultivated plants to grow, and to utilise the incredible amount of biomass produced for mulch and compost material. This week we've also been keeping an eye on potential pests, making a June botany survey and preparing the site for a new garden we'll be designing and building during our upcoming course next week.

     This week we're pleased to be joined by Maria.


Pest Control in the Market Garden - Aponia 


Our chief strategy to deal with pest and disease in the vegetable gardens is to reduce plant stress levels as much as possible. We aim to achieve this by well timed planting out, providing adequate irrigation and building healthy soils with diverse microbiology to nurture the plants. Other steps we take are to try many cultivars and stick with the ones that perform best, grow our own plants from seed and only select the healthiest seedlings (for some species we save seed from the best performing plants). We also plant in polycultures to make it more difficult for pests to locate our plants and we introduce various habitats in the gardens for pest predators such as hedgehogs, birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, ladybirds, wasps, mantids and beetles. 


Finally, we practice manual pest removal for certain pests such as Cabbage White eggs, Brassica Bug adults and every few years snails. Our aim with pest and disease organisms is not to entirely eliminate them but to reduce them to a point where they do not make significant damage.  This week we have been on the look out for the Cabbage White eggs. We also collected a bucket full of snails, much to the delight of our ducks.  These are the eggs of the common butterfly  Cabbage White - Pieris rapae  a pest that can do considerable damage to all Brassica crops. 


Always good to see a nice diversity of organisms during a pest hunt including various species of nesting spiders. Spiders can be considered generalist predators and will eat beneficial insects as well as pests therefore we encourage and welcome them in the gardens!




The population of ladybirds, seen here on Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry,  are high in the gardens and they do a good job of controlling the aphids.


Thanks to Victoria Bezhitashvili, who joined us for the study last year, we have a general record of some of the pests and diseases in the vegetable garden. You can find Victoria's observations here.

Lettuce planted under garlic have done well in a somewhat shady bed next to the hedgerow. Both of these plants have been pest free. We harvested the lettuce a little too late as they were starting to extend a flowering stem. Rather than pull them out of the ground we cut them at the base so perhaps we will get some extra harvest from the regrowth.


Paulownia Coppice Trials 


The Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree I coppiced a few weeks back is ready for thinning already. After cutting the plant to ground level many shoots emerge from the stool. We remove all but one of the new shoots to provide shade to the sun sensitive plants planted below. The single stemmed plant will be cut in 2 years time to provide stakes and fence posts and the cycle begins again.  It's amazing how fast these plants grow. The photo on the far left shows the stool 2 weeks ago, the middle photo is the same stool 2 weeks later and the photo on the far right shows the stool with the  regrowth thinned to one stem.


We have the Paulownia trees planted 1.5 m apart running along the centre of the raised bed and have Beetroot and Kohlrabi planted under the plants.


As well as the phenomenal rate of native plant growth this time of year our Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey 'Bocking 14' plants are equally impressive. 


Misha and Philip cut back the Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey we have growing along the water channel. We'll let it decompose for a week and apply it to the new vegetable beds as mulch.


Ekpyrosis - A new Forest Garden 


Next week we'll be hosting our second course of the year where we will be designing and building a Forest Garden on the below plot of land. There is a wonderful diversity of plants already established on the site including a various trees and shrubs in the boundary hedging and shrubs such as these  Rosa canina - Dog Rose emerging from the mixed species meadow.


Before we start the development of a new garden I like to make a record of the existing plants as our intention is always to integrate out cultivated plants into the existing wildlife. Here are some photos of the flora on the plot taken by Cassandra.  


Here are Lea, Maria and Ronan surveying the plot in order to find the contour lines




The contour line pegged and out  across the plot. Thanks Misha for the photo



Upcoming Courses


Our next course is scheduled for June so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience do join us this summer. 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 a Forest Garden Course 

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

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 :) 




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

  • Join our Patreon Page and receive exclusive content, store discounts and lots more   
  • Comment, like and share our content on social media.





 

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Integrating Wildlife Patches in the Vegetable Garden, Chop and Dropping and our Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden - Week 9 - The Polyculture Study

It's been a rainy and stormy week here in Shipka and the gardens are loving it. Plant growth at this time of year is so fast you can almost hear it. Cassandra and Lily have joined us for the next 3 weeks and it's great to see their enthusiasm for and knowledge of wild foraging.

So here's what we've been up to.  


The Market Garden - Aponia


We've been leaving 2 m long fallow patches in the vegetables beds as a way to integrate beneficial habitat around the crops.  The wild plants are left to grow in the patch and we cut back the sides when the growth starts to impede upon pathways.   Here is an example of how fallow patches can be set up within a raised bed garden. The example shown below has 180 m2 of cultivated land and with 6 fallow patches covering 14.4 m2  this is less than 10 % of the land dedicated to habitat and provides a refuge for wildlife and beneficial insects within a intensively cultivated area.  The below diagram assumes that there is no wildlife habitat around the perimeter of the garden, if there were the number of fallow patches may be reduced and concentrated to the inner part of the garden.      

Achillea millefolium - Yarrow and Trifolium pratense - Red Clover flowering in a fallow patch in the annual raised beds. 


Some invertebrates from the fallow patch 

The Fallow Patch, we've left this patch fallow for the last 2 years.  



We planted out squash and beans from the flats. Fortunately we sowed beans in flats as well as directly into the beds, as the majority of the directly sown bean seeds either decomposed or were eaten.  



The Kale seedlings are establishing well and ready for a first harvest following which we will thin them out.     


The growth this time of year is incredibly fast and we are mowing the pathways once a week. Here's Ronan mowing the pathways in the forest garden   


Allium schoenoprasum - Chives planted around the edges of raised beds attract a range of pollinating insects that in turn attract the Flower Crab Spider. These spiders will quietly sit and wait on a flower or on a leaf until prey comes close enough for them to grab. They have no problem taking on insects far larger then themselves. 



The Cherry Orchard - Eleutheria


In the north east of  Shipka we have a cherry orchard planted with early - mid and late cultivars that have been very productive over the years. We headed there last week to pick the early cultivars but to my surprise there were hardly any cherries on the trees. Having looked around at some of the wild cherry trees in the vicinity it seems they are also very light on cherries this year. I can only assume that the location was subject to some unfavorable weather during the blossoming period, perhaps a prolonged frost.


Fortunately the trees in the home gardens, located lower down the mountain, are full of cherries so we headed over there for a harvest. Although having plots in various places can be time consuming, it does offer some protection from the vagaries of weather. I've heard it was common in the past for growers to have a number of smaller plots scattered around a landscape rather than a large one for this very reason.       



The Perennial Trial Garden - Ataraxia 


Over at the perennial trial garden we've been chopping and dropping the native plants that surround the cultivated plants to allow space and reduce water competition. Here's Cassandra cutting back Clematis vitalba that seems like a great candidate for a biomass plant given how quickly it grows and how tolerant to cut back it is.  


The trial preparation is going well and we have all of the productive plants in place and various biomass plants establishing before we begin the actual biomass trials. You can find out more about the polycultures and biomass plants from this garden here. Here is an overview of the planting scheme. 




Found a nice patch of  Rumex acetosa - Common Sorrel in the biomass beds. Thank you Lily for the identification. This edible perennial has a sharp, citrus, taste with younger smaller leaves tasting best. There is a good profile of this plants on wildfood.co.uk



Upcoming Courses


Our next course is scheduled for June so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience do join us this summer. 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 a Forest Garden Course 

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

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 :) 




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

  • Join our Patreon Page and receive exclusive content, store discounts and lots more   
  • Comment, like and share our content on social media.