Sunday, 26 January 2020

Balkan Ecology Project - Finalist for 2019 Permaculture Magazine Prize

In 2019 our project was nominated as a finalist for The Permaculture Magazine Prize Fund. We did not win a prize but we're grateful to be included and grateful for their initiative to fund projects around the world.   Here's the article about our project that appeared on their website. For more details on the projects that won and on the prize fund see here.

The Balkan Ecology Project - Monday, 6th January 2020

Paul Alfrey shares the story behind the Balkan Ecology Project, creating polyculture trials, an abundant market garden and their work with permaculture. One of the 2019 Permaculture Magazine Prize finalists.



The Balkan Ecology Project is a family-run project, founded in 2010. The main aim being to develop and promote practices that provide food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity. Running and overseeing the project are Paul and Sophie, a couple originally from the UK and their then two young children Dylan and Archie - more about us here.

In the beginning…


Having spent some seasons here, charmed by the relaxed pace of life, climate and natural beauty of rural Bulgaria, we eventually decided to stay. The environment seemed ideal for bringing up our two sons at the time aged 5 and 3, and living in Bulgaria provided us with the time to develop our interests without the pressures of running a business seven days a week, meeting mortgage payments, and generally living the life that is somewhat inevitable when trying to make ends meet in a London suburb.

Southeast Europe, Bulgaria - Shipka. The home of our project


Introducing Permaculture


Coming from a manicured and highly managed part of the UK it was a real pleasure to observe the wildness of a landscape and how this intermingled with residential and commercial areas and the high levels of biodiversity associated with this. It was also very inspiring to see how many of our neighbours produced large quantities of food including fruits, vegetables, meat and diary, and how remarkably tasty the food was. It was around this time that a friend who had recently returned from a Geoff Lawton course gave us The Permaculture Home Garden by Linda Woodrow. Read during a winter when back in the UK, this book changed how we started to view gardening. Returning to Bulgaria the following spring, and fully inspired, we set out to permaculture our gardens!

The home garden - inspired by Linda Woodrow - The Permaculture Home Garden  

How the Project Evolved


After a few years in Bulgaria, it became clear that as the country integrated into the EU and with EU funded backed agricultural practices, the ecology around us was deteriorating due to the shift in land management. We started to consider the possibilities of how food production could be achieved while enhancing biodiversity and embarked on purchasing land around us to prevent it from being used for industrial agricultural purposes.

Approximately 4.5 hectares of land is now owned by the project, much of which is divided up into scattered plots. This means that effectively a much larger area of 53.5 ha is essentially protected because these plots break up large areas of land that may otherwise be earmarked for industrial agriculture. You can see a map of our project gardens here. The wonderful diversity of wild flora and fauna coupled with an extraordinary quantity of heritage fruit and nut trees on some of these plots are now much more likely to survive for the local community and future generations to enjoy.

Some of these plots, we realized, were perfect to start experimental designs on to really examine how we might achieve food production while enhancing biodiversity. A lot of the plants and trees selected for the design process could not be easily sourced within Bulgaria or Europe at the time and were expensive so we began to grow the plants and trees that we wanted to experiment with ourselves. Excess plants from our nursery formed the foundation of our plant nursery, which has evolved to now include not just individual plants but communities of plants for forest gardens. You can find our list of plants for forest gardens here. We are pleased and proud to have sent our plants to farms and gardens all over Europe.

You can visit 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 a Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree order form for Farms, Orchards, Nurseries, and Large Regenerative Landscape Project. Enter Our Store Here

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


Research and Trials - The Polyculture Project


To communicate our vision with other growers, specifically farmers and landowners, it became clear that we would need working examples of productive and biodiverse cultures and experimental data to share. Rather surprisingly, it was difficult to find any data to support many of the practices advocated within the main permaculture literature, so we started to gather some ourselves and The Polyculture Project was born.

Thanks to the regular participation of volunteers, interns and specialists that join us for our polyculture study every year from April – September, we are able to establish and maintain new trial and demonstration gardens where we aim to test various popular permaculture practices and publish our results online, sharing what does and does not work. Our trials include how productive polycultures can be, what are the best plants for biomass and fertility, and we undertake wildlife surveys specifically insect and bird diversity in and around the gardens.


We publish all the data that is gathered from the trial gardens on our website and blog in order to provide a broad guide as to what can be expected for other growers and, more crucially, to inspire further amateur and professional research and study in this area. In our opinion, the more people that try out ways of producing food that encourages biodiversity the better. You can find our results here  and more about our six month study and internships here.  Our work is pertinent to anyone growing in Temperate, Mediterranean and Subtropical climate of the planet.

The Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden in Year 2


Courses and Education


Since the early days we have invited people to come, learn and take part in our project by attending courses and events. Ranging from the early days of Permablitz weekends to 72 hour PDC courses. We now mainly offer three day Design and Build a Forest Garden Course where participants have the opportunity to experience the process of design from the initial survey to actually installing some of the main design features into the landscape. It’s a great opportunity to network and connect with like-minded individuals and groups, share our experiences and develop new gardens for the project.



For the Future…


We feel optimistic about the future of the project where we aspire to continue our research and grow our demonstration gardens to become a world class example of a regenerative landscape. We aim to provide information and models for large-scale land management as well as small-scale home and community gardens.

We make no claims that our methods can feed the world, but we do claim that anyone can grow polycultures, and by doing so they are taking a small yet likely significant step in reversing at least a small portion of the damage that industrial agriculture creates. We thoroughly enjoy both the design and work in our gardens and highly recommend it to anyone looking for an intellectual pursuit as well as a physical one. It’s a bit like working on a 3D amorphous puzzle, just one that you may eat.

Lastly, we are eternally grateful to friends, family, volunteers, donors and our customers that support us and help us on our mission to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity.


Upcoming Forest Garden Courses 


If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands-on experience come and join us for our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course. 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 - Forest Garden Course  - Regenerative Landscape Design Course

Registration for our course is now open with a 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more). You can also take advantage of early booking discounts if you book 3 months before the course starts.


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Please Consider Supporting Our Efforts 


Our project grows with our desire to provide better quality information. Our overheads and demands on our time also grow along with our development and this presents a challenge for us to maintain the project and activities. We do not receive any government, institutional or NGO funding for our project and rely on revenue from sales of our courses, plants, consultancy, and design work along with the support of our amazing volunteers to develop and manage the gardens and are very grateful for this. So please consider joining us for a course or event, purchasing products and services from our online store or plants from our bio nursery, participating in our online educational platforms and support the project while we support you. Feeling super generous today? You can also support us directly with a one-time donation or become a sponsor of our project providing monthly support. With your support, we will continue to improve on producing quality information and data for the community, building a world-class demonstration landscape and progress on our mission to develop and promote practices that can produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

 

We also accept donations via bank transfer in USD - EURO - GBP - AUD - NZD  - (please email for account details) and via peer to peer distributed ledger - BTC - ETH



If you are not in a financial position to purchase our products and services or donate please comment, like and share our work. This helps us to spread our work further afield and is much appreciated.

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Would you like to be involved in the project next season?  1-6 month placements on our polyculture study are now open. 


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships


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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 


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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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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.

 


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