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 

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

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Sunday, 21 June 2020

Forest Garden Fruits Galore, The Valley of the Roses (and Lavender), Biomass Plants and Sitting Ducks - Week 14 - The Polyculture Project

This week we've been enjoying the abundance of fruit from the forest garden and continue to witness the plants growing full throttle as we reach the midsummer solstice. With the dry period approaching, we're very grateful for the amount of rainfall we have experienced so far, filling the water tanks and soil in preparation for the coming months. Welcome to week 14 of the Polyculture Project.

We've been mopping up the last of the cherries this week, although with the wetter weather they have pretty much started to turn now.  I'm not sure what cultivar the two magnificent trees in our forest garden are, but I think they are an early-season croppers and so usually by mid-June are no longer edible.

The good news is that with many types of cherry cultivars available, and you can choose from early, mid, and late croppers to extend the harvest time.  Most Sweet Cherries benefit from cross-pollination and many of these will be compatible, so if you select your cultivars bearing this in mind, you can potentially gorge on cherries from around mid-May through to the end of June (depending on your location). You can check out the cultivars we have on offer here and we are accepting orders now for delivery in the autumn. 

There is a glut of fruit in the garden at the moment, including Mulberries, Blackcurrants, Redcurrants, Raspberries, and Sour cherries. Other fruits that are not yet ripe are full of promise. If ever there was a time of year that is an advert for growing a food forest, this has to be it! We've been adding to a Facebook album of photos of June fruits from the forest garden that you can find here.

          Mulberry - Morus spp. growing in the forest garden

Gooseberry - Ribes uva crispa

We grow our annual vegetables in raised beds in polycultures. In last week's blog post we talked about planning annual guilds in layers, much like a forest garden design. I mentioned that the native plants that grow on the edges of the bed can be considered the herb layer of this design, and as such I also consider them to be a valuable resource. They perform several functions such as preventing soil erosion, attracting pollinators, and providing a supply of biomass at the point of use. We never remove the plants but cut around 2/3 of the growth once they start to encroach upon the vegetable beds. Sometimes these wild natives are edible and make a tasty addition to the salad bowl.

    Wild native plants growing on the edges of the vegetable beds.

A close up reveals Clover - Trifolium spp. a nitrogen fixing plant, and Chickweed - Stellaria media, a wild edible, among others on this edge

There are some volunteers that are not so welcome and are better off being removed entirely from your productive beds, and should not be applied to the surface as a mulch. These are generally rhizomatous plants that spread fast and will quickly overwhelm a place and out-compete your plants for nutrients, water and light.  The network of rhizomes become entangled in clumps of herbaceous perennials, and among shrubs and fruit bushes causing great problems, as they are difficult to remove. It’s possible for these plants to grow from small pieces of rhizome hence they do not make great surface mulch. 

The following are the main culprits at our location:

Convulvulus arvensis - Bindweed
Mentha longifolia - Wild mints are excellent for attracting pest predators, but are best grown in patches away from the productive beds
Elymus repens - Couch grass and any grass that spread via rhizomes. The bunch grasses are fine to chop and drop (see image below) or pull from the roots and leave on the surface.

We look in more detail at biomass plants in our 20-week Regenerative Landscape Design Onlne Interactive Course.  There's still time to register for individual modules and weeks, and with lifetime access, you can register for the full 20 weeks and learn at your own pace.

Our project is located in central Bulgaria, in a place known as The Valley of the Roses.  Until around the late 1980's, Bulgaria was the world's biggest producer of Rose oil, although now its neighbour Turkey has overtaken this title. Still, Bulgaria produces a lot, and the roses that are cultivated for the oil are Damask Rose - Rosa damascena. They're best picked really early in the morning to retain as high a moisture or oil content as possible. The harvest time is just drawing to a close now,  but it's a wonderful time of year in the valley with an annual festival and celebration, and in past years we have got up in the early hours with some of the Polyculture Project crew to harvest roses.

Rosa damascena growing in the valley, photo by Natasha Barbier

One of The Polyculture Project crew, Marika, at sunrise in the local rose fields. The village in the background is Shipka, where our project is located. photo by Natasha Barbier

What Bulgaria does retain its title of is as the world's number one producer is Lavender oil. Unlike Rose oil production, Lavender oil production here has sharply increased since 2011 along with worldwide demand. The blossoms are famous for their antiseptic, antibacterial, and relaxing properties, and there are many Bulgarian cultivars available that have a high oil content. One of these is Sevtopolis, an early-mid flowering cultivar that is highly productive and tolerant of different soil types. The essential oil content of the raw material is above 2.5%, which is at the higher end of the spectrum.  We are delighted to be offering this cultivar in our bio nursery and are also offering a bundle of 50 plants for 55 Euro including delivery. We'll be starting to send out the plants towards the end of October. For larger orders please email us at We're looking forward to sourcing some of the other exciting Bulgarian cultivars in the future too.

Lavandula angustifolia - Lavender Young 'Sevtopolis' plants growing in the nursery

The Ribes nigrum cv - blackcurrants are doing really well in all locations that we grow them.  They seem to reliably crop year on year and are packed with vitamin C. They are also rich in anthocyanins, a type of flavanoid that produces a red, purple, or blue hue. Some studies show that Blackcurrants may contain up to 15 different types of unique anthocyanins, and why this is wonderful news for us is because their effect on human health is powerful. They act as antioxidants and are thought to play a role in cancer prevention, cardiac health, and diabetes.  

We also grow Blackcurrants in a perennial polyculture named Demeter, which is doing well in the forest garden, despite receiving little attention this year. We have two rows of currants one Ribes nigrum cv.- Blackcurrant one Ribes rubrum cv. - Red currant with Allium cepa proliferum - Tree Onion planted in between and two Cornus kuosa - Korean Dogwood trees on either side with a Lavandula angustifolia - Lavender planted on the corner. I think we can probably fit in a few  Allium giganteum - Giant Onion among the Currants and a few Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey plants that we can use for chop and drop mulch feed.

Demeter, photographed last year in the forest garden

I think I mentioned in a previous post that we were hopeful that one of our female ducks would go broody, and we're pleased to leave you this week with some lovely news! One of our females has been sitting on a clutch of eggs for the past 4 or 5 days, and has decided on her preferred place for the incubation period  - in the understory of the shrub layer, underneath the Raspberry plants and nestled between the Periwinkle! We hope to bring you the happy news of ducklings in a month or so :)

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, 14 June 2020

Floating Aquatic Island Update, Annual Polycultures, and some Perennial Flowers - Week 13 The Polyculture Project

This week brings some new flowers into bloom, the first flush of blackcurrants and Mulberries, and with some frequent and heavy bursts of rain the annual polycultures are really starting to put on some growth.

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

Last year together with The Polyculture Project 2019 crew, we built a floating aquatic island to support the wildlife in the irrigation reservoir over at Katelepsis, the volunteer/crew house. Unlike our other ponds that have been designed primarily to attract wildlife, this reservoir has no edges which would make life difficult for any aquatic plants or amphibians that decide to reside here. In addition, rectangular water bodies do not provide the proper habitat for wildlife to flourish and can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes due to the fact that frogs and fish that prey upon the mosquito larvae are unable to survive in such conditions, so it's definitely a good idea to come up with a solution. In the below image you can see the reservoir on the east side of the property with the two downpipes diverting rainwater from the roof into the lined pit. 

In the above photo, the reservoir was empty because it was at the end of the season and the water had been used to irrigate the garden.  Today, in the below photo, the reservoir is still empty, but this time because one of the surrounding stones fell in and ripped the liner with its sharp edge! The liner used for this pond is tri-laminate LDPE, and according to a specialist in an aquatic center, it is unfortunately notoriously tricky to fix. We have ordered the product that was recommended to us and hope to successfully repair the tear in the coming days in order to capture the rainfall in what is normally the wettest month of the year in our location.

The reservoir in June 2020. You can see how well established the plants in the rockery in the foreground have become after just one season's growth.

So, back to the small aquatic habitat island for the reservoir. The design is basically a wooden pallet that has empty plastic bottles with lids attached to the bottom with wire. This allows the pallet to float in the water. We then added some plant pots, pushing the wire through the top of the pots, and placed them in position.

                    The wire threaded through the top of the plant pots will help secure them in place.                           

The aquatic plants do not need the soil in the pots to survive as they will take their nutrients directly from the water, but for this to work, it's essential that the bottom of the plant pots are in the water. The soil should provide the extra weight needed to make sure the bottom of the pots are submerged. You could also use pebbles or sand.   


On the left the plants on the floating island are getting ready to go into the reservoir. Nine months later on the right, in full leaf. The straw you see on the right-hand side of the island was mulch on a nearby plant bed that fell in, but the lizards and snakes love it and hide out there. For a more detailed description of how we made the island, please see here.

The first Orange Day Lily - Hemerocallis fulva is in flower today, and what a beautiful bloom it is too. 

                                              Orange Day Lily - Hemerocallis fulva in flower

Famous for it's beautiful orange flowers, which are edible, the Daylily is adaptable, very tolerant of lots of different soil types, and highly attractive to a range of pollinators including butterflies. PFAF gives the plant a 5/5 edibility rating, listing the tubers and leaves as also being edible. Reportedly, Daylily flowers last just one day, but each of the many stalks bears numerous flower buds, so the actual bloom time is much longer - more like weeks. Having started writing this yesterday and making a point of checking the flower today, I can indeed confirm the reports are true - the flower in the photo above has gone. Due to its spreading nature it's great for mass plantings and erosion control.   The plant in our garden is really happy growing in the shade, creeping along the boundary wall of the property, making it an ideal candidate for shady groundcover or a border.

                          Hemerocallis fulva - Orange Daylily  growing by the perimeter of the garden at Katelepsis

We are also growing Orange Daylilly in this polyculture that you can find more about here 

The annual vegetables are doing really well at the moment, enjoying the balance of the recent heavy rains with long, warm and sunny periods. We've been experimenting with a new annual polyculture of tomatoes, french beans, basil, marigold, cabbage and garlic. 

                                                          Annual polyculture with cabbage

 We're also growing our usual annual polyculture Zeno at the residential house.

                                                           Some photos from Zeno

Zeno Plant List  - The following plants are used in this polyculture;

Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 
Basil - Ocimum basilcium 
French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris 
Courgette - Cucurbita pepo
Butternut Squash - Cucurbita pepo 
African Marigold - Tagetes erecta
French Marigold - Tagetes patula
Pot Marigold - Calendula officinalis 

It's been very successful in our home gardens for the last 10 years, and back in 2015, we scaled it up for the market garden for a 5-year comparative study. You can find the results here. For more info on plant spacing, management and maintenance of this polyculture see our previous post here

It's interesting to think about planning annual polycultures in terms of layers like you might design a forest garden. When working with herbaceous plants, the tallest plant in the polyculture becomes the canopy. With good selection, the benefits of plant layering i.e, resource sharing in time and space, can work well with whatever plants you use. For example in the below photo, you can see the layering of Zeno - where tomatoes are the canopy layer, basil, and marigold the shrub layer, butternut squash a ground layer, beans a vertical layer and the wild natives that grow around the edges could be considered a herb layer.

                                                      Layers in Zeno, an annual polyculture

We've been looking at layering in more detail this week on our Regenerative Landscape Design Online Interactive Course. It's been quite wonderful to meet all of the participants and learn about all of the regenerative landscapes that are being worked on or planned out there. There's a diverse mix of projects from conceptual designs for home self-sufficiency crops including for textiles, constructions and plant-based chemicals, to an 8-acre plot focusing on the development of a Walnut orchard. The course is running for 20 weeks and will teach you how to create for yourself or for others, regenerative landscapes that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.  

If you would like to take part there's still time - you can register for individual modules or weeks according to your areas of interest, and if you decide to sign up for the whole course, there is lifetime access to the materials, so plenty of time to catch up. Registration can be found here.

What we think is a Spanish Dagger Tree - Yucca gloriosa, is just starting to bloom in the garden of Katelepsis, the crew house. It ain't called a 'Dagger Tree' for nothing - the leaves are very sharp and can easily pierce the skin and probably tougher substances. I'm not surprised to learn that they are often used as security guards and planted outside windows or near houses, like a living security hedge! Native to southern regions of the US and Mexico, and hardy to zones 6 - 11, Spanish Dagger Tree has been used for centuries in basket making, clothing, and footwear.  PFAF gives it an edibility rating of 3/5 and many sources describe the flowers as edible, absolutely delicious, and can be eaten raw or fried (I haven't tried it yet).  Highly ornamental, this interesting plant could be a worthy candidate for a spot in a dry area due to its ability to be drought resistant, as well as tolerating maritime exposure. It gets pretty tall, growing to 2m by 1.2m, which gives it quite a striking appearance.
Spanish Dagger Tree - Yucca glorisa, The flowers of the Spanish Dagger Tree - Yucca gloriosa

If you are would like to learn how to  Design and Build A Forest Garden ,we have a webinar coming up on the 28th November 2020 - 19.00 GMT+3.  It's a live session where we'll go through step by step what you need to know to get started and end with a Q&A session. We'll send you a recording of the webinar when it is finished along with our design spreadsheets and plant lists to help get you started with your own Forest Garden Design.  

The webinar will be hosted on zoom and you can book your place here - Looking forward to it!

How to Design and Build A Forest Garden - Webinar

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.