Sunday, 28 July 2019

Green Manure Trials, Building a Micro-Wetland, Perennial Polycultures and Forest Garden Plants Week 16 - The Polyculture Project

It's been another hot week here in Shipka. We've taken to starting our work in the gardens at 7.30 am to avoid the heat and it's working well with the fresh and cool mornings.

Tobi and Christina left the week before last back to Germany where they are working on a free range rabbit farm called Mobihasy, rearing rabbits and developing their own buildings and management systems for the operation. Good luck with your project guys and thanks for your help in the gardens.   

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



Green Manure Trials 


Introduction - This spring we started a Green Manure/Cover Crop Trial,  a very simple 3 year comparative study where we sow 3 m2  patches of three different Nitrogen fixing ground covers

The species and quantity of seed used for each patch is as follows

Onobrychis viciifolia - Sainfoin - 55 g (husked seed)

The idea is to look at how fast each species takes to provide cover, how well each species prevents volunteer plants from establishing , the quantity of biomass produced and how attractive each patch is to invertebrate wildlife in the gardens. 


The Trial  - The seed was sown in the first week of April. None of the patches were irrigated or weeded and the first cut is made in the second week of July with the second cut made in the last week of September. The July and September cuts will be repeated for the following 2 years.  

The below photos were taken 7 days after sowing - The Onobrychis viciifolia - Sainfoin had not germinated. The Trifolium repens - White Clover  germination rates were highest and provided the most cover. Medicago sativa - Alfalfa/Lucerne germinated but at a lower rate than the clover.  


In July we undertake 5 simple tests. Weather conditions on the day of the tests are recorded (see below)
  • Ground Cover - estimation of how much of the bare soil is covered in each patch 
  • Volunteer Plant /Green Manure  Ratio - estimate of the % of volunteer plants there are to the green manure plants in each patch  
  • Canopy Obs - 5 mins observations counting the number of unique invertebrate species seen within each patch 
  • Ground Obs - 5 mins observations counting the number of unique invertebrate species seen within the 30 x 30 cm quadrant placed within each patch
  • Biomass Weight (g) - Cut all vegetation(green manure and volunteer plants) to ground level and record weight of biomass

The below photos are taken just before the July cut -  Only a few Onobrychis viciifolia - Sainfoin plants established with the vast majority of vegetation you can see in the below photo being volunteer weeds. Trifolium repens - White Clover provided the most thorough cover growing approx. 20 cm high and a few volunteer plants can be found growing through the cover.  Medicago sativa - Alfalfa/Lucerne provided decent cover with more volunteer plants growing among the cover and had reached approx 50 cm tall. 



Here are Christina, Tobi and Shahara taking 5 minute observations of  invertebrate life in the vegetation canopy and 5 minute observation of invertebrate activity in a 30 x 30 cm quadrant.Lea is on the right keeping records. The number of unique species are counted. We do not identify the  species nor do we count the number of the same species within each patch.    


This isolated observation test is not very useful and in the future we will undertake the obs tests everyday for 2 weeks prior to cutting and average the data to getting a better impression  of invertebrate diversity within each patch.

Here are some common invertebrates from the gardens.


We cut down the vegetation to just above ground level with a machete and scythe and weighed the total biomass (including volunteer plants). The cuttings were used to mulch the annual vegetable beds nearby.  Here is Tobi cutting the Alfalfa biomass to ground level with the machete.



The Results 



Weather Conditions
Date - 16/07/19
Time - 11.30 a.m
Temp - 22° C
Weather - Bright and Sunny
Other - Ground well soaked from recent rainfall
A - Trifolium repens - White Clover
Tests
Year 1
1st Cut - 16.07.19
Ground Cover 95%
Volunteer Plant /Green Manure Ratio20%
Canopy Obs 13
Ground Obs 9
Biomass Weight (g)4225
B - Onobrychis viciifolia - Sainfoin
Ground Cover 70%
Volunteer Plant /Green Manure Ratio98%
Canopy Obs 8
Ground Obs 10
Biomass Weight (g)3585
C - Medicago sativa - Alfalfa/Lucerne
Ground Cover 80%
Volunteer Plant /Green Manure Ratio30%
Canopy Obs 14
Ground Obs 10
Biomass Weight (g)2985

The results from the first set of tests showed clearly that Trifolium repens - White Clover produced the most biomass and provided the best cover. Very few Onobrychis viciifolia - Sainfoin seeds germinated. This could be because we used husked seed or perhaps the seed was not sown deep enough. The Onobrychis viciifolia - Sainfoin patch was 98% volunteer plants so this plot provided a good example of how the wild vegetation compared to the two other species. It's worth noting that in terms of biomass weight the wild volunteer plants provided more than the Alfalfa but not as high as the White Clover.

1 week after the cut both  Trifolium repens - White Clover and  Medicago sativa - Alfalfa/Lucerne are recovering well. We will repeat the tests again in the last week of September.



Aponia - The Market Garden 


Every year I intend to grow more Melothria scabra - Cucamelon . They are easy to grow from seed and provide delicious refreshing little fruits during the hot months of summer. This year Lily built a frame for the plants and they seem to be establishing well with the first fruits appearing last week.  


We have started to bring the water diverted from a mountain stream into the pathways in the veggie garden. The pathways serve as irrigation channels and the water soaks into the raised beds. We'll leave the water running through the garden overnight.  


Beetroots under the shade of Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree doing well 



Ekpyrosis - Forest Garden


We've been putting the finishing touches on our new forest garden the last few weeks including the addition of a small wetland area that sits in the middle of the productive beds as seen in the below illustration of the garden. The main purpose of this garden is to grow Vaccinium corymbosum cv. - Blueberry and Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry  while the wetland should provide habitat support for wildlife such as dragon flies, frogs and hoverfly larvae that should help control pests in the garden.


We dug out an area approx. 1.2 m wide and 5m long and 25 cm deep , cleared all of the sharp stones from the pit and lined this with  tri-laminate LDPE liner, an off cut from some pond liner we used in a pond a few years back. You can find more about using pond liners and pond building in our previous blog posts here 


We filled the liner with a layer of pebbles and river sand and inserted four cylinders  approx 25 cm high and 50 cm diameter into the fill. The cylinders were made from cutting a plastic barrel into 4 pieces. The purpose of the cylinders is to provide some areas for free standing water for animals and birds to drink from and frogs to lay spawn. We propagated a number of marginal/emergent aquatic plants from our wildlife ponds and planted these directly into the sand.(you can see the species used in the above illustration of the garden. Finally we placed rocks around the edges and some larger rocks in the sand and these should provide good basking areas for reptiles. The Micro-wetland seems to be working okay so far, although we do need to adjust the sides as water is flowing onto the pathway in places. I'm looking forward to watching the aquatic plants develop and some wildlife move in overtime :) 


We've also added two more beds to the garden, here is Lea and Shahara digging the channel for the next section of beds. First we peg out where the channel path and beds will go, than we broad fork the bed area, dig the water channel placing the soil on the beds area, add compost and mulch heavily with straw. We need to make a few adjustments in the height of the channels and then the garden is ready for spring planting.  


Forest Garden Plants 


Vitex agnus-castus - Chaste Tree in flower. This deciduous shrub is native to the arid and semi arid Mediterranean and Western Asia, and widely cultivated in the warm temperate regions and subtropics. This beautiful plant has a thousand year old history as a pharmaceutical drug, is used to make dyes and provides strong material for basket weaving. The blooms prolong into the autumn and are great nectar providers for honey production and have earned the plant a place in ornamental gardens worldwide..


A wild Prunus cerasifera - Cherry Plum growing in the field behind our market garden. I'll be writing about the wild polyculture of plants growing around this tree next week. This tree is one of the better tasting wild plums in the area and it's packed full of fruit this year.  


It's a bumper crop year from plums. Prunus insititia - Damson and  Prunus cerasifera - Cherry Plum


I've been growing the productive polyculture photographed below in the home garden for the last 9 years. Composed of Zanthoxylum piperitum - Japanese Pepper Tree to the south, nitrogen fixing Spartium junceum - Broom  in the center and Vitis vinifera cv. - Grape  cultivars planted around the outside that climb the Broom.  Below the trees and shrubs is a mixture of herbs including  Allium schoenoprasum - ChivesFoeniculum vulgare - Fennel Hypericum perforatum - St Johns WortLavandula angustifolia - Lavender , Melissa officinalis - Lemon balm , Mentha × piperita - Peppermint  Origanum vulgare - Pot MarjoramSalvia officinalis - Sage  and  Symphytum grandiflorum - Dwarf Comfrey ground cover. The polyculture provides a regular supply of herbs, a good harvest of grapes and plenty of the wonderful spice Sichuan pepper. It's extremely attractive to wildlife and I've not added any compost to the area for at least 7 years so appears to be well fertilised by the chop and drop pruning of the nitrogen fixing  Spartium junceum - Broom and other plants.


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 :) 



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