Sunday, 12 July 2020

Forest Garden Ground Cover Plants, Parasitoid Wasps and Round Headed Leek - Week 17

It's been hot and dry the last few weeks with the more than occasional windy day that really takes the moisture away, so we've spent quite some time irrigating the gardens here, specifically all of the new trees and shrubs we've been planting over the last few years. 

Here are some photos from the gardens and what we've been up to this week.


It was a lovely surprise to find Celery -Apium graveolens growing on a bed nearby a water channel that brings water from a local mountain stream into the garden. It's a marshland plant in the family Apiaceae that has been cultivated as a vegetable since antiquity. I assume the seed has washed in with the water, a lovely surprise however it got here!

Cutting Celery -Apium graveolens

The Apiaceae family has some really useful edible and medicinal members, like parsley, parsnips, dill, fennel, and Angelica. However, it also includes the deadly poisonous hemlock, water hemlock, and poison parsley, two of which grow in our gardens, so exceptional care should be taken with identifying plants in this family. When the state of Greece turned against Socrates for his refusal to recognize the same Gods in 399 BC, he was sentenced to death by hemlock poisoning. Socrates apparently accepted this judgment rather than fleeing into exile and willingly drunk the Poison hemlock - Conium maculatum mixture which would have likely resulted in his death caused by respiratory failure.

Jacques Louis David -  The Death of Socrates

One plant that is highly edible and worthy of a place in any landscapes is A.sphaerocephlon -Round-Headed Leek, the last Allium to flower out of the new collection we introduced to the nursery this year. It's a beautiful plant, as with other Alliums a perennial bulb, growing to 0.6m in height and to Europe including Britain. Although quite tolerant of different soil types, heavy clay soils should be avoided with Alliums. They really seem to thrive in open, sunny positions in well-drained soil. A.sphaerocephlon is fairly drought tolerant and is hardy to zones 4 - 8. Elegant egg-shaped flowers that turn from green to purple as they ripen bloom in July - August and are really quite something special.

                                  
           A.sphaerocephlon in the Allium nursery

Uses: I have seen a photo of this Allium growing with mixed grass species and the effect was stunning. Bulbs could be interplanted in this way near an annual vegetable plot to encourage useful pollinators. A.sphaerocephalon would also suit being placed in another polyculture with other flowering perennials such as Lilies. Can be grown in gravely soils or rocky areas of the garden, and highly ornamental when planted in groups of  10 - 15 bulbs. Should not be grown with legumes.

Edibility: The bulbs reportedly make a great onion substitute and like the other Alliums listed, the leaves are delicious in salads, as are the flowers. Although no specific mention of medicinal uses has been seen for this species, members of this genus are in general very healthy additions to the diet and are thought to reduce cholesterol and improve circulation.

Biodiversity: Striking purple blooms that are known for attracting bees, butterflies​/​moths, birds and other pollinators.  The whole plant is said to deter insects and moles.
 
                                             Highly attractive to a range of Beneficial insects

Propagation: Bulbs should be planted 10cm deep in the autumn for emergence the following spring.  Once clump forming, can be divided in the spring. Round-headed leek is easy to grow.  Plants often divide freely at the base.

We are offering more Alliums in our Bionursery, and you can order an Edible Allium multi-pack from our click to buy page here. Plants and bulbs will be sent out in the autumn, but you can order now to reserve your plants as we have a limited supply.

We've been looking at how to work with the wild the last few weeks as part of our Regenerative Landscape Design Course. One of the exercises was to identify some pollinators, pest predators, and decomposers and Ani Daw, who is taking the course, got a great photo of a Parasitoid Wasp at work on Aphids attacking Broad beans in here vegetable garden. Here is Ani's slide from her exercise with some more information on this Parasitoid wasp. 



Here are a few other observations I've made in the gardens this week: Cotton Lavender - Santolina Chamaecyparissus - The aromatic leaves can be used when cooking as a pleasant flavoring.


Fruit forming on a Sorbus.sp. I sowed this tree from seed 8 years ago, and the fruits make a nice nibble in early winter when they soften up after a frost


Male European Stag Beetle - Lunacus cervus. Always a pleasure to meet them in the summer.



 Ajuga reptans - Bugle has really attractive foliage with bronze tones and is a great ground cover, adding some diversity to the shades of colour within this layer. Reptans means creeping (like a reptile), and it grows at a medium - fast rate mainly by growing surface runners that root at intervals along their length. forming a fairly dense carpet of foliage quite quickly, and smothering out weeds as it goes. It's also excellent to help with soil erosion. Bugle has quite an extensive history in herbal medicine, particularly to stop bleeding where a tea was made and applied externally. Flowers are small, blue and highly attractive, lasting from April to June and pollinated by bees and the Lepidoptera family.

Ajuga reptans - Bugle adding some contrast to the ground layer

A fritillary butterfly resting on some Bugle plants in the nursery. The caterpillars of these butterflies can be pests to certain crops, but the butterflies are also the prey of other useful pest predators

Speaking of pest predators, here's a simple key to things you can do to actively encourage and keep beneficial organisms, specifically invertebrates within your landscapes;
  • Don’t use any -icides, organic or non-organic 
  • Integrate plenty of densely planted support polycultures that flower throughout the year and include evergreen species 
  • Have undisturbed areas for wild plants to grow 
  • Leave dead herbaceous plant growth to overwinter
  • Provide other microhabitats for nesting and overwintering
  • Use a large % of native plants as well as exotics that may extend flowering periods
  • Provide a perennial water source
  • Keep soils well mulched and undisturbed
Archie's been busy weeding, irrigating and mulching the bulb nursery recently. The onions that we're growing in the wooden raised beds seem to be doing better than in our traditional raised beds that aren't constructed with wooden sides, but built up originally using a chicken tractor and supported on the sides with the wild marginal plants. I think the success is probably due to the fact they are being grown in a patch formation polyculture, which likely suits onions better, as in a mixed formation they will become shaded out pretty quickly by plants occupying the upper canopy, such as the tomatoes.

Archie weeding the bulb nursery


We're looking at annual polyculture design in closer detail this week on our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course. You can opt to take the whole course or pick and choose lessons or modules that interest you.  We offer lifetime access to our course as well as a wealth of additional material each week, including a sheets folder with useful data and information tables relating to the weekly topics, design templates and case studies.  Registration is still open, and you may browse here the weekly schedule of topics covered.



Would you like to come and join our autumn 'Design 'n' Build a Forest Garden Course, Oct 18-21, 2020? Registration is now open and early booking discounts are available!

Register before July 20th and receive a 10% discount from accommodation and food fees. Register as a group (2 or more) and receive 15% discount from accommodation and food fees. More info and registration can be found here.





Welcome to our Online Store where you can find Forest Garden/ Permaculture Plants, Seeds, Cuttings, Bulbs, Rhizomes and Polyculture Multi-packs along with digital goods and services such as Online Courses, Webinars, eBooks, and Online Consultancy and finally we've added a Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree order form for Farms, Orchards, Nurseries, and Large Regenerative Landscape Projects. If there is anything in the store you would like to see but is not there, please let us know. We hope you enjoy the store and find something you like :) It's your purchases that keep our Project going. Thank you. Enter Our Store Here

Plants, Seeds, eBooks, Consultancy, Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree Orders for Permaculture, Polyculture, Forest Gardens and Regenerative Landscapes.




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Sunday, 5 July 2020

Early Summer in the Forest Garden, Alliums, Persimmon, Currants and the Vegetable Garden - Week 16 - The Polyculture Project

It's hot and with Summer now in full swing and temperatures easily hitting 30° C, we have needed to start irrigating the potted nursery plants and another week of this weather and we'll start irrigating the raised vegetable beds and perennial beds in the gardens.  Welcome to The Polyculture Project Week 16.


We've been giving Blackcurrants - Ribes nigrum a lot of blog space recently and rightly so! They are quite an easy plant to grow, seem to do well in polycultures and provide an abundance of nutrient dense berries in early summer.  This week it's the turn of the Redcurrants to shine. They tend to ripen a little later than the Blackcurrants, but then there is this period (for us this week) where there is a beautiful overlap and you can harvest both fruits together.  Redcurrants have a slightly sharper flavour than blackcurrants, but are just as delicious and are full of goodness. Packed full of vitamin C, they also contain good amounts of vitamin K, necessary for maintaining calcium in the bones thus promoting good bone health.


Redcurrants - Ribes rubrum are native to parts of Western Europe, and can often be found in shady areas or damp woodlands, making them the perfect candidate for a shrub layer in a polyculture. Once established, plants can produce an abundance of fruit which is most commonly used to make jellies and sauces. We haven't actually tried processing our harvest, but tend to eat them straight off the shrub, add them to some natural yoghurt for breakfast or to green juices or smoothies. You can find out more about this plant on our plant profile. The plants we offer are 1 year old bare roots that should start to produce fruit the next season after planting.


Jewel-like Redcurrants in the home garden

The sheer volume of invertebrates in the gardens continues to amaze. Here you can see on the left Hoverfly - ‎Syrphidae feeding from Erigeron annus and what i think is a Flower Longhorn Beetle-  Lepturinae feeding on Achillea millefolium - Yarrow. Beetles play an often underappreciated role in pollination but have been visiting flowers since the relationship between animals and plants began, according to some sources, for the last 200 million years. To this day they still pollinate a huge diversity of plants including the oldest flowering plants such as Magnolia spp. Most beetle-pollinated flowers are flattened or dish-shaped, with pollen easily accessible.




Over at Katelepsis, the volunteer house, the Japanese Persimmon - Diospyros kaki fruit has been forming over the last couple of weeks. I noticed a lot of the blossom and very immature fruits littering the vegetable garden and the tree appeared laden with potential fruit. I was wondering how on earth the branches would cope with the weight of all that fruit, but it seems this shedding process is characteristic of the tree and a natural process of selection. The tree is also alternate bearing, meaning that one year the crop is significantly greater than the next year, so we could be in for a bumper crop.


                   
                                       
               Blossom and immature fruits buds littering the vegetable beds on the left, and on the right,                                           the tree from which they fell. 
                                     
One of the fruits that made it safely through the shedding selection process, captured in late June

I'm not sure which cultivar is in our garden, but it's definitely an astringent one. In case you aren't familiar, persimmon cultivars can be divided into 2 main categories, namely Astringent and Non-astringent. Due to the high content of tannins in astringent varieties, you must wait until the fruit is ripe before eating because these tannins are water soluble and when the fruit is soft and ripe they will lose their astringency. That usually means harvesting the fruit while still hard, and ripening them indoors on a windowsill. Conversely, non-astringent varieties can be eaten when hard, much like an apple, as the tannin content is greatly reduced when it turns from green to orange.  


An astringent variety of Persimmon, ripening at home in the autumn

If you're interested in finding out more about this fascinating fruit you can see our more detailed blog post 'Persimmon - The Essential Guide'. We also offer a range of exciting cultivars from our bio-nursery and are taking orders now for autumn delivery.

Persimmon for Permaculture

You may remember in a previous blog post we introduced our new Allium nursery, where we've been growing different Allium varieties to start offering bulb packs in the autumn. It's been wonderful to observe them growing this season and compare the differences in height, leave shape, structure, flowers and flowering times and taste. The image below shows Round-Headed Leek -  Allium Sphaerocephalon in flower. It's been the last one to flower from all our varieties with a pretty egg shaped head that sits upon tall, slender stems. I've been pleasantly surprised with how long each Allium's flowering period has been, with each one lasting a minimum of 3 weeks and attracting a lot of beneficial invertebrates to the garden. By planting different species in your gardens, you can basically enjoy an Allium flower throughout most of the spring and summer months. 

Round-Headed Leek -  Allium Sphaerocephalon

We are growing the Alliums in raised beds with wooden frames, and as we had a couple of spare beds we filled them with carrots and onions grown from sets. The onions are doing well but I'm not sure whether the carrots are a bit crowded in their bed. Back in the UK, my brother has had a good result from growing carrots this way without needing to thin them out, but I have some doubts cast by the small size of a few I pulled the other day that was disappointingly small. We'll see.

Raised beds with carrots on the left and onions on the right

What has done wonderfully well this year are the early potatoes. We harvested the first spuds from seed tubers sown in April. We have had a good amount of rainfall this June which has no doubt helped.

Early new potatoes

This year we've introduced a number of different Blueberry cultivars into our gardens. In our continuing theme of berry goodness, it's been wonderful to add another delicious fruit to our breakfast bowls. Our son, Archie, who is a total fruit monster announced the other day that Blueberries had knocked Strawberries of the top spot.  As a plant, they're an incredible addition to the permaculture garden, with highly ornamental cream colored bell-shaped flowers that ate a great food source for bees.


Blueberries also have good polyculture potential.  You can see in the below image a design we planted out last year in Aponia, our market garden. This productive polyculture includes an upper canopy of Prunus tomentosa - Nanking Cherry, shrub layer of  Vaccinium corymbosum cv. - Blueberry and Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry, ground cover of Ajuga reptans - Bugle .with Tulipa sp. - Tulip, Galanthus gracilis - Snowdrop  as the bulb layer, with native herbs around the perimeter of the bed and in the basin of the Swale.



A productive polyculture, featuring Blueberry



Earlier in our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course, we've been looking in detail about how to organize and categorize polycultures. With a relatively complex matter such as polyculture, it's vital to be able to provide some clarity on what we are dealing with. We layout a category system for polyculture that breaks it down into 3 main categories; Infrastructure, Support and Productive.  We go through each category and discover how polyculture can be used in wide variety of applications in the landscape.  If this is something that interests you, we offer lifetime access to our course as well as a wealth of additional material each week, including a sheets folder with useful data and information tables relating to the weekly topics, design templates and case studies.  Registration is still open, and you can opt to take the whole course or pick and choose lessons or modules that interest you. See here for the weekly schedule.




Let's end this week's post with an update on the ducks. Our mother duck is still sitting on the eggs and we're delighted to discover that another female has gone broody and it sitting on a different clutch of eggs! All being well the second nest should hatch out a week after the first nest, which should be around the 18th of July, give or take a few days. Once the ducklings have successfully hatched they will be moved with Mum to an enclosed area for safety. What's quite interesting is that both mother ducks have chosen to build their nests under the Raspberry plants, but in beds that are opposite to each other for a bit of privacy :)




Would you like to come and join our autumn 'Design 'n' Build a Forest Garden Course, Oct 18-21, 2020? Registration is now open and early booking discounts are available!

Register before July 20th and receive a 10% discount from accommodation and food fees. Register as a group (2 or more) and receive 15% discount from accommodation and food fees. More info and registration can be found here.





Welcome to our Online Store where you can find Forest Garden/ Permaculture Plants, Seeds, Cuttings, Bulbs, Rhizomes and Polyculture Multi-packs along with digital goods and services such as Online Courses, Webinars, eBooks, and Online Consultancy and finally we've added a Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree order form for Farms, Orchards, Nurseries, and Large Regenerative Landscape Projects. If there is anything in the store you would like to see but is not there, please let us know. We hope you enjoy the store and find something you like :) It's your purchases that keep our Project going. Thank you. Enter Our Store Here

Plants, Seeds, eBooks, Consultancy, Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree Orders for Permaculture, Polyculture, Forest Gardens and Regenerative Landscapes.




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.

 

Monday, 29 June 2020

Multi Grafted Apples , Currant Tomatoes, Beneficial Insects and Forest Garden Fruits - Week 15


Such a great time of year in the gardens, with delicious fruit dripping off the trees and shrubs, flowers blooming within the support vegetation and the invertebrate life in the gardens is peaking with the air and flowers full of beneficial insects. 

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


Two years back we grew an unusual cultivar of Tomato, called 'Raisin'. As the name suggests, the fruits are pretty small, slightly bigger than a raisin, although not by much. This was not an ideal cultivar to be growing when you're looking to measure the weight of the harvest per kilogram, but the plant ended up being well-liked for a number of reasons. Firstly, the plants tend to be much bushier in nature than other tomato cultivars and actually less maintenance. We gave up pinching out the axilla growth on these plants because they were so naturally keen to bush out anyway, and it became quite hard to tell which part of the plant needed pinching out. 

Bushy habit of Tomato 'Raisin' - Solanum lycopersicum

Secondly, the fruit is quite delicious and a sweet treat when you're tending to the vegetable garden, plus it makes an interesting novelty item to a salad bowl. Lastly, it self seeded and appeared the following year and requiring next to no inputs, produced decent fruit again.

                         
Raisin Tomato, on the left ripening this year and on the right, a crop from a self-seeded plant in 2019

Multi GraftsEddie and Hilary owners of Windfall Nursery  are taking our online course this year. Eddie has been grafting fruit trees for some 20 years, and he shared with us a multi-cultivar apple he has grafted this season. A Crab Apple is the leading the stem and rootstock, and apple cultivar 'Spartan' has been grafted onto the bottom branches, while 'Cox' has been grafted onto the top branches. Eddie recommends grafting varieties that grow at the same pace to avoid the tree growing in a lop-sided manner. Such trees would be ideal for a family or one household who may enjoy different cultivars of apple from a single, self fertile tree. Eddie and Hilary have an excellent range of walnuts, fruit trees and ornamental trees on offer so do take a look at their excellent range.

Crab apple stem with cultivars 'Spartan' and 'Cox' grafted onto the lower branches


Levisticum officinale - Lovage is one of those herbs that I would say isn't so commonly used in the UK. I certainly hadn't used it in the kitchen before coming to Bulgaria. Then I had the pleasure of eating a dish prepared at the Black Sea, where Lovage was used to flavor a steaming bowl of mussels. It was a surprising combination to me, but it did work very well.  Now I use it to flavor stews and bean-based dishes, although it's worth remembering that a little goes a long way in the kitchen.  The plant seems equally popular in the garden.  It is one of the first perennial herbs to be harvestable in the spring and can grow at a quick rate, I have observed to as high as 1.5m tall in our gardens. Lovage makes a great companion plant and is noted for attracting wildlife. As is to be expected, most insect activity occurs on a sunny day, when the flowers are in bloom.

Lovage - Levisticum officinale flowers on a wet day

One of the insect groups that are attracted to the Lovage flower is the Ichneumon wasps, which parasitize the larvae of herbivorous insects. They play an important but somewhat grisly role as a pest predator.  Female Ichneumonid wasps will lay their eggs inside the host pest. After the egg hatches, the larvae feed either externally on the host or burrow into its body. Once fully fed, the larvae will pupate and emerge as an adult. You can find these insects feeding on the nectar of flowers, shrubs, and trees. Ichneumonid wasps prefer plants of Apiaceae (carrot family). They are significant in the natural control of plant pests and are often used by indoor commercial growers for pest control.  

Ichneumnonidae, a parasitic wasp on Euphorbia cyparissias - Cypress spurge -   Photo by Peter Alfrey 


This week on our Regenerative Landscape Design Online Interactive Course we're learning about these kinds of pest predators for natural gardens.  Having a basic understanding of the wild organisms that inhabit our landscapes is probably the key to success in providing food and other resources while enhancing biodiversity. There are plenty of interesting topics in the upcoming schedule, so if you are interested in joining us, you can find out more here. You'll get lifetime access to the material, so you can learn at your own pace.

We continue to be in awe of the sheer quantity and quality of fruits coming from the garden this week. It really is the simple things in life that bring the most pleasure :)  Opening the door in the morning, and being able to walk into the garden and pick your own breakfast is something I'll never take for granted. All the fruits 'modelled' below are from the garden and you can find out more about them and how to grow them in the plant profiles below. We will have all these fruit trees and shrubs available from our nursery this autumn, including some really tasty cultivars of Blueberry that have good disease resistance. You can see our selection of plants here and cultivars available here.  We offer recorded delivery across Europe and with limited stock, we are taking orders now for autumn delivery.



Siberian Pea Tree, Caragana arborecens is one of our favourite trees in the garden  This tree has high ornamental value as well as bringing so many other benefits to a garden or landscape. There are too many to describe in a brief paragraph, so read on for an overview of this sun loving, versatile plant.

Seed pods of C.arborescens


Overview:  A deciduous shrub originating from Central Asia belonging to the Fabaceae (legume) family growing to 5-6m high and 4m wide with an upright habit. It grows vigorously. Flowers are borne from buds on the previous year's wood and are typical of flowers from this family. Flowering occurs in May. Pollination is via bees, usually wild bumble bees Many bee species are attracted to the flowers. Pods develop from flowers - looking like small pea pods, they are 4-5 cm long. The pods ripen to amber or brown from June -July onwards and seeds fall by August. The plant is extremely hardy tolerating winter temperatures of -40, USDA Hardiness zone 2 - 7. Prefers a continental climate with hot dry summers and cold winters.


Uses: The young pods are eaten as a vegetable, lightly cooked. The pods become tough later in the season. The seeds are rich in fats and proteins (12% and 36% respectively) about the size of lentils and can be cooked and used in any way that beans are used (the cooked flavour is somewhat bland, so best used in spicy dishes). The young raw seeds have a pea-like flavour although it is not clear whether they should be eaten raw in much quantity. 

The plant is widely used in windbreaks and shelter belts and used in wildlife-erosion control plantings stabilizing soil with an extensive root system. Good wildlife fodder and can be used to as poultry food. A fiber is obtained from the bark and used for rope making.

Nitrogen Fixing Potential: The species is classified by USDA as being a MEDIUM Nitrogen fixer with estimated yields of 85-160lbs/acre or 39-72kg/4050m²  or 0.014g /m2

Biodiversity - The shrubs will begin to flower in the 4th or 5th year after planting and are attractive to a wide range of pollen and nectar feeding invertebrates from April - May.
In time as the hedge thickens up with regular pruning, suitable nesting habitat will form inside the lower part of the hedge. Birds such as Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes, Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita and Robin - Erithacus rubecula are commonly found in dense low hedging. These birds can help to keep common vegetable pest populations low.

Propagation: Seed propagation is the norm. Seeds germinate better after a short period of stratification and/or soaking in warm water prior to planting.

Caragana arborescens seed pods
Caragana arborescens seed pods 

Planting Material – 5 year old plants will provide an instant hedge effect but can prove to be expensive when planting out large areas. 2nd - 3rd year whips are cost effective and with proper pruning and some attention during the first few years of development will quickly fill out.

These plants are easy to grow from seed. The first 2 years of growth are slow and they are best kept in nursery beds until approx 30 - 50 cm tall when they can be planted out into their permanent positions.

We supply seeds and 2-3 year Caragana arborecens plants from our plant nursery.  Click here for more info.


You may remember a few weeks back we introduced a new annual polyculture we have been trying out this year, inspired by the developing Garlic plants. It's a successional design, so as one crop comes out, another goes in. This week we harvested the Garlic, tying it into bunches of 10 - 15 bulbs ready for hanging. creating space for the next plants.

                                         
                         Sophie harvesting Garlic                              Getting ready to be hung up to dry
                                                                               
Removing the Garlic was great news for the Carrots and Cabbage, which are now beginning to develop well and could use the extra space and light. On the north side there was space available from where the Garlic was harvested, because the Dill has gone to seed and finished now. We weeded this area, created another strip, and have sown some beetroot seeds.




Carpenter Bee feeding on Spartium junceum - Broom 


Would you like to come and join our autumn 'Design 'n' Build a Forest Garden Course, Oct 18-21, 2020? Registration is now open and early booking discounts are available!

Register before July 20th and receive a 10% discount from accommodation and food fees. Register as a group (2 or more) and receive 15% discount from accommodation and food fees. More info and registration can be found here.





Welcome to our Online Store where you can find Forest Garden/ Permaculture Plants, Seeds, Cuttings, Bulbs, Rhizomes and Polyculture Multi-packs along with digital goods and services such as Online Courses, Webinars, eBooks, and Online Consultancy and finally we've added a Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree order form for Farms, Orchards, Nurseries, and Large Regenerative Landscape Projects. If there is anything in the store you would like to see but is not there, please let us know. We hope you enjoy the store and find something you like :) It's your purchases that keep our Project going. Thank you. Enter Our Store Here

Plants, Seeds, eBooks, Consultancy, Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree Orders for Permaculture, Polyculture, Forest Gardens and Regenerative Landscapes.




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.