Sunday, 26 July 2020

A Vegetable and Herb Polyculture, Five Layers from the Forest Garden and Summer Fruits - Week 19 - The Polyculture Project

With the forest garden churning out new delights and the successful hatching of broody duck number two's eggs, it's been a productive week here at the project.  The annual vegetables are flourishing and the first hint of autumn is in the air with the swelling walnuts. Welcome to week 19 - The Polyculture Project.


The forest garden continues to keep giving, with berries mainly giving way to figs, pears and cherry plums. The blackberries are the thornfree cultivar, yielding an abundance of juicy blackberries from July-Sep even under fruit trees in the semi-shade.  Being a vigorous plant, it provides a good amount of mulch material and/or animal fodder when pruning time comes around.   Check out our range of fruit and nut cultivars available from our nursery this season. 


Lupin - Lupinus polyphyllus grown from seed saved by Sophie's mum. This ornamental plant provides food for a range of useful pollinators, has good polyculture potential, and as with many plants from the Fabaceae family, can fix atmospheric nitrogen. In fact, Lupins are somewhat up and coming in this area, and although it seems more research is needed in this area, findings from this 2016 study are encouraging.


It looks like an excellent year for Juglans regia. Walnuts are monoecious, but the time the pollen sheds from the male flower does not always overlap well with the time of female flower receptivity to pollen. This condition is referred to as dichogamy. To overcome this problem growers can select another walnut cultivar (a pollinator) the male flowers of which open at the same time as the female flowers from the main cultivar. The pollinator should be situated upwind from the main crop. If you have other walnuts upwind from your site, as we do here, you should not have problems with this. 

If you are interested in finding out more about Walnuts, you can check out our previous blog posts here and here. We also offer a range of cultivars from our nursery and we are taking orders now for this autumn.


Cornus kuosa - Korean dogwood


Basil - Ocimum basilicum growing in our annual polyculture, Zeno



A couple of weeks ago, the participants of our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course were designing annual polycultures for a Week 11 exercise. I've included below a great  example from one of the participants, Kate Goater.  Kate says, "This annual vegetable polyculture is designed to provide a reliable harvest of kale, french dwarf beans, spinach and garlic. The primary goal is to establish a permanent vegetable bed that makes use of the growing space throughout all seasons." Running through the center of the bed are perennial herbs that are not only useful in the kitchen but are selected to provide support to the Brassica crops. 




We're looking forward to seeing this polyculture come to life in the future with some photos from Kate tracking its progress. Thank you Kate.

Photos from the Forest Garden 


Below is a labeled photograph of a 5 layer polyculture we have growing in an open area of our forest garden. 

The bulb layer cannot be seen as it has died off now and consists of Tulipa sp. - Tulip - Nectaroscordum siculum - Bulgarian Honey Garlic - Muscari neglectum- Grape Hyacinth and Narcissus poeticus - Poet's Narcissus. We're looking forward to planting some of our new Allium spp. into the available space this autumn. 


There is also a new layer that has emerged over the last few weeks - a third duck nesting in there with eggs due to hatch in 2 weeks or so :) 


A side note that you may find interesting. The Spartium junceum was reduced by approx 50% in early spring of this year and the regrowth has produced flowers that have just opened. Normally this plant flowers in early June. A second Spartium junceum I pruned at the same time that was in a more shady position did not produce any flowers.

How to Design and Build A Forest Garden Webinar 


Would you like to know How to Design and Build A Forest Garden?  We have a Webinar on the 28th of November 2020 - 19.00 GMT+3, that will provide you the basics of how to start out and what you will need know. You'll also have access to our deisgn spreadsheets and plants 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

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Monday, 20 July 2020

Spring and Autumn Raspberries, Forest Garden Ground Cover, Summer Flowering Herbs for Beneficial Insects - Week 18 The Polyculture Project

This week, we are taking a look at some ground cover plants, experimenting with pruning Raspberries and thinking a bit more about beneficial insects and how we can categorise the kind of support they provide us with in our gardens. We also have some glad tidings to share from our feathered friends....welcome to The Polyculture Project - Week 18.




We've been experimenting with pruning the raspberries at different times of the year in order to try and prolong the fruiting period. The raspberries we did not prune from last season are producing their final crop (photo on the left) and the raspberries we did prune are just starting to flower (photo on the right). We're finding pruning half of the raspberries in the autumn is an easy way to get fruits from late May through to October. 


While on a road trip with my brother in the Rhodopes mountains 4 or 5 years ago, we came across a small landslide where several upturned plants lay. I rescued some of the plants from the pile and planted them under the relatively deep shade of a mature cherry tree in the home garden, seeing as the plants had come from a shady mountainside. 


5 years later, one plant, in particular, has done extremely well, that is Circaea lutetiana - Enchanter's nightshade. 


Circaea lutetiana - Enchanter's nightshade

Circaea lutetiana - Enchanter's Nightshade makes excellent ground cover in a woodland area.  You can see the ground cover below the cherry tree in this photo, where C. lutetiana it has established itself well while not being overwhelming.  This is probably because it is growing alongside other plants that prevent it from overtaking, including Dewberry - Rubus caesius. C. lutetiana is often considered a weed, but what's great about designing layers in a polyculture, is that when grown with other plants, the ability of a plant to spread and monopolize the area is greatly reduced.



Circaea lutetiana growing with Rubus caesius


Rubus caesius - Dewberry, another excellent plant for ground cover. One plant can grow to around 1m in width, thereby covering quite a large area. Lots of beneficial insects are attracted to the blooms, and the fruits are palatable and can be used to make preserves. 


We are always encouraging Heracleum sphondylium, commonly known as Hogweed, in our gardens. The plants grow at the base of fruit trees, among our  Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry. patch and in wild strips and islands throughout the gardens.  Part of the Apiacea family, this plant can grow up to 2m long, with hairy, ridged hollow stems. It's an excellent plant for animal fodder (the pigs and rabbits love the leaves), biomass production, and for attracting beneficial insects that feed on the pollen and nectar and use the hollow stems to overwinter. 


We speak a lot about beneficial organisms, so I thought it would be good to expand upon this term a bit. All organisms are beneficial, at the very least all organisms past, present and future decompose to nourish something else, but when we speak of beneficial organisms we are speaking of those organisms that provide clear and present benefits, specifically to our polyculture activity. Beneficial organisms, or Borgs as I prefer to shorten it, are a very decent group of organisms that make great partners in the polyculture landscape offering, as the name implies, benefits to our activity of growing the stuff we need. They seem to be happy to carry out these duties providing we supply (or at the very least don’t destroy) suitable living conditions for them, i.e, their habitat.    

The benefits these organisms offer come mainly in the form of increasing the productivity of our crops via pollination support, protecting our crops from pests via pest predation and providing fertility to our crops via their roles in decomposing organic matter and supplying nutrients, fertility provision.

If you're interested in learning more about the support Borgs can provide us within our landscapes, and how to attract them Week 9 of our Regenerative Landscape Design Course -  Working with the Wild, is available to purchase as a stand-alone module, or as part of our current online Regenerative Landscape Design Course. We're about to move into the design phase of the course, but with lifetime access to the material so can sign up at any time.


Hibiscus syriacus - Rose of Sharon, flowering in the home garden. It's a beautiful shrub, that takes well to pruning and can be used as a very pretty hedge or a stand-alone ornamental.


Hypericum perforatum - St Johns Wort in flower in the nursery. A herbaceous perennial that giving the correct conditions will spread forming a very attractive drought tolerant ground cover. The plant has a long history of medicinal use and has established a place in modern medicine as a treatment for depression. 


We're thrilled to announce the first clutch of eggs have successfully hatched! The little ducklings not even a day old made a bee line for the pond and spent a happy hour diving into the depths before we moved them, and mother, safely into their house and secure area  We've lost very small ducklings before, so this year we'd like to try and protect them until they are a few weeks old and big enough to roam the gardens. For more on our work and gardens, and a video of the ducks, you can follow us on Instagram.
   



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, 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.



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.