Sunday 22 December 2019

Looking for an all round unique learning opportunity? Join us for our Polyculture Study 2020.

We believe it's both possible and probably necessary for humans to be able to provide food and other resources while enhancing biodiversity. Discovering how best to achieve this is the primary focus of our work here as we undertake various trials and research in our gardens. In 2020 we shift focus from our 5-year study of annual herb and vegetable polycultures to perennial systems such as forest gardens and agroforestry. We are undertaking a multi-year study looking at the economics of running such a garden, and how productive it can be in terms of yields, income, and biodiversity. We are delighted to be offering a unique opportunity to a team of enthusiastic people to join us for our study.

Would you like to be part of the team in 2020?

What are we doing?

​We've been carrying out trials and creating demonstration gardens at our project for the last 10 years, experimenting with various polycultures and monitoring biodiversity. You can find a summary of all our results to date here on The Polyculture Project website

This season we will be developing new perennial polyculture/forest gardens to compare these with conventional organic monocultures.

The approach we take goes way beyond organic as we aim to design biological systems that rely on the native ecology to function as opposed to external manufactured inputs, and as a result, our gardens should service not only our needs but the needs of other organisms too.

 ​​The main questions we are seeking to answer during this study are:

  • Can we provide nutritious affordable food whilst enhancing biodiversity?
  • How productive can polycultures be?
  • How much time does it take to establish and manage such gardens?
  • What yields and associated income can be expected from running such gardens?
  • What advantages can polyculture provide?
  • How economically viable are these gardens? 
  • How bio-diverse can our food producing systems be and how can we measure this?​

Why are we undertaking this study?

The demand for local, biologically cultivated food appears to be on the increase, as is a general desire to promote and preserve biodiversity.  As far as we can tell based on our experience of growing polycultures for 15 years,  small scale biologically cultivated polyculture gardens seem a practical, accessible and realistic way of providing food for humans while preserving and promoting biological diversity in the environment.  With what appears to us to be a high demand and low supply situation,  we ask why are there not more of these enterprises around?  To explore the issue in more depth we are undertaking multi-year studies looking at the economics of running such gardens/farms, and how productive they can be in terms of yields, income, and biodiversity. Our end goal is to provide economically viable models that provide dignified jobs and create nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity.

Why should you take part?

​This is an excellent opportunity if you are considering starting a land-based project for your own needs or commercially, and are interested in ways to provide affordable healthy food and other resources while increasing biodiversity.

As a participant of this study: -    
  • You will gain valuable insight into what it takes to actually run food-producing systems and how you can enhance biodiversity.
  • As well as the practical skills you will develop, we'll dedicate time each week to covering the essential theory of your choice, including site design and implementation, plant propagation, polyculture design and management, botany, food processing, irrigation, marketing, and advertising.
  • Enrollment for the full six months as a core team member grants your participation in all courses and training events that take place during the program free of charge. 
  • This opportunity will give you hands-on work experience and insights into what's involved in running a land-based project such as ours.
  • You will be contributing to an area of research where little information exists, i.e. the productivity of polycultures and associated biodiversity dynamics. This study will be published online and freely available to all for future reference and you will be credited accordingly.  
  • You will be spending time in a truly unique area of the world, working as part of a dynamic team of fellow enthusiasts in an inspiring environment.

Where will you be? 

The project is based in the town of Shipka, Bulgaria on the foothills of the Central Balkan mountain range in the Rose Valley. It's an area of high biodiversity, beautiful countryside and historical sites of global, cultural and scientific significance. You will be working on various sites within and around Shipka. The market garden (Aponia) and our home garden are located on the west side of the town. The team house and new gardens where we will be trialing various perennial polycultures are located on the east side of Shipka. You can find a map with the garden locations here

You'll also be learning from our existing gardens, a 14-year-old residential property with a highly productive and well established forest garden composed of over 400 species of plants.  Our central garden is a good example of an established small scale intensive ecological design and includes examples of rainwater harvesting, integrated wildlife habitat, multiple composting methods and hosts a small plant nursery. We practice various methods of biological vegetable production including guild planting and crop rotation, and during some years keep pigs, chickens, and rabbits at the property.  

What will you be doing?

You'll be working closely as a team developing trial gardens to test popular permaculture and regenerative techniques and concepts. You'll be helping to set up and maintain a market garden, growing food mainly for yourself and the team to share, but sending any surplus to a food co-operative.  For 2020 we will be looking at developing dehydrators to process fruits and experimenting with drying fruits. We will be recording all aspects of the process including how long it takes to develop, maintain and manage, the associated costs, fertility requirements return in product weight and any estimated or actual income derived from the produce.

Specific activities include the following:- 
  • Propagating crops and other plants
  • Harvesting and processing produce 
  • Record keeping - Surveying - Soil Tests  
  • Helping with food cooperative orders 
  • Managing existing and developing new beneficial habitats
  • All aspects of bed preparation for the research trials
  • Developing and maintaining new perennial polyculture trials and gardens  
We will also be recording biodiversity levels in the garden focusing specifically on model groups of invertebrates such as bees, beetles, moths and butterflies and bugs. These records are taken monthly.

The Core Team 

We are looking for a team of volunteers who are able to commit to the study and who have a deep interest/curiosity in food production and biodiversity

Desirable skills and abilities
  • To be organized and tidy: Eg, accurate record-keeping, knowing where tools belong and returning them after the morning's activities
  • Punctuality: we offer flexibility, but things run more smoothly if time is well kept 
  • Self-motivated: Able to use own initiative ​

​Desirable attributes:
  • Dedicated: willing to commit to the project
  • Open-minded: willing to experience a different culture, meet people from other cultures
  • Used to or up to the challenge of living in a small village
  • Love of the outdoors and the creatures that inhabit it!
  • Looking to expand skills and knowledge


Singles Pricing 
€1050 - core team participation for the full 6 months (shared room)
€1350 - core team participation for the full 6 months (private room)
​ €200 per month (shared room)
 €250 per month (private room)

Minimum Participation 
 €160 - 2 weeks (shared room)  
 €200 - 2 weeks (private room) 

Couples Pricing 
€1550 - core team participation for the full 6 months (shared private room)
€300 per month (shared private room)
Minimum Participation 
€240 - 2 weeks

Fees include rent and bills for the whole period, weekly training sessions, access to our spreadsheets and design files and software, admission to *courses, events and webinars held during your stay and as much as you can eat from the gardens. 
*access to  courses is only available for participants that join the study for 3 months or more 

Accommodation and Location

Our self-catering volunteer house is basic but comfortable in a beautiful location walking distance from the project sites. The house is spacious and has Wi-Fi internet, a shared kitchen, two bathrooms, and a productive garden.  ​

Fruits and vegetables produced from the gardens are available to you from May onward. The cost of living is relatively low here and estimates of living costs based on the experience of previous participants is between €120 - €180 per month.  

There is plenty to do around Shipka and our location is perfect for exploring. The wild coasts of the Black and Adriatic Sea are just a few hours away, extensive trails deep into the Balkan mountains start from your doorstep. Istanbul, Bucharest, and Thessaloniki are a bus ride away and there are great day trips including Koprinka Lake, Kalofer waterfalls,  Buzludja and Etara living Museum, to name but a few :) 

How to take part

The study will run from April 1st - September 30th and will give you hands-on work experience and insight into precisely what is involved in running a permaculture project and growing food naturally.  You will also have the option of further development by looking at expanding your specific interests such as botany, ecology, etc. by having access to specific resources and the option of giving talks and running practical sessions.  

We aim to teach you the skills needed to work with plants in a regenerative system. Activities will be largely determined by what needs doing at any particular time. We generally start at 09.00 and spend around 3 - 4 hrs a day in the gardens. Weekends are left unscheduled. There will be plenty of free time available for studying or following personal interests. 

We believe the valuable work you will bring to the project is a fair exchange for the educational experience you will receive. 

Once we have received your registration we will contact you and arrange a Skype meeting to talk through the process and answer any questions that may arise. Following this, if you decide you would like to take part, the fee for the duration of your stay should be paid in full to secure your place. Payment can be made via PayPal (processing fees apply) or bank transfer in £,€ or BGN.  Registration is now open -  we look forward to hearing from you!  

Here's what previous participants said!

"Being a part of the Polyculture Study was a very special period of my life.  I realized how inspiring it is to be in touch with soil and plants, and creatures inhabiting the garden I worked in, and also to be in good touch with the people I worked with. I am happy to have had this opportunity to support the Study and the wonderful family behind it, and to be supported by them in return." Anna Boncheva

"It made an impression on me so much so that I'm going back again to participate from the beginning to see the know-hows of food growing in cooperation with nature." Kata Prodanov

"It's a nice journey that gives you the chance to study in-depth in your free time"  Plamen Petkov

"Taking part in the Polyculture Study was a life-changing and inspiring time for me. I learned loads about permaculture, about Bulgaria and to reconnect with the simple things in life. On top of that Paul, Sophie and their kids are awesome people! I'd recommend this to anyone wanting to learn more about permaculture, experiencing rural life or just thinking of a change of career and lifestyle!"  Ute Villavicencio

Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course 

Want to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes?  Join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course from May 1st to Sep 13th, 2023. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code
 RLD2023 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know, the very first of its kind. If you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!


We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 


Support Our Project 

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.
  • Donate directly via PayPal to or via FTX Pay


Design and Create Webinars - Forest Gardens, Urban Gardens, Permaculture, Regenerative Farming   

We're hosting a range of online learning sessions including how to create habitat to enhance biodiversity, how to design and build a forest garden, polyculture design software tutorials, regenerative farm, and landscape design, urban gardening and much more. If you would like to be notified when our next sessions are coming up please add your email below and hit subscribe and we'll be in touch.

You can also register for our online training, services, and products directly here.


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