Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Lutenitsa - the tastiest Balkan Preserve - Week 15 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project


This week we're dedicating a whole post to Lutenitsa, an incredibly tasty preserve that slightly different variations of are made all over the Balkans. If you successfully grow tomatoes, red peppers and aubergines or live in a region that does and can buy some in from a local food grower, then it's definitely worth the labour of love that it is to make some jars of the special stuff. One of the most important parts of getting the authentic taste is that the peppers are baked.  This can be done in the oven, but traditionally it is done on an outside fire and this adds a smoky quality to the condiment. A local friend popped in telling us emphatically to place a piece of metal on top of our fire to create a grill plate for faster baking. We ended up using both methods to roast our peppers.


Ingredients: (Makes about 12 jars of assorted sizes)

10kg red peppers

5 kg tomatoes

3 large Aubergines

8 medium sized carrots

1 apple

1 cup sunflower oil 

Seasoning - salt, black pepper, ground cumin and a little sugar to taste.


 

Method:

We have found it best to leave 2 full days free to make lutenitsa,  Day one for roasting the peppers and aubergines, peeling them and preparing the jars for preserving, and day two for mincing all the veggies up and cooking the Lutenitsa down.  This really works well, as the roasting process takes a while so it greatly reduces the stress factor in trying to achieve a lot in one day. Having said that, together with the ESC volunteer crew we were able to finish in a day, wrapping up late into the evening around 22.00 but still enjoying the warmth of the fire used to roast the peppers earlier in the day :)  Another tip is to take the freshly roasted peppers immediately from the grill and place them in a covered pot for at least 5 minutes.  Exposure to a little condensation makes them much easier to peel.

Once the peppers and aubergines have been roasted and we have boiled the carrots.  All the veggies and the tomatoes are ready to be minced.  Mince the tomatoes first and place them directly in the main cooking pot, which should be quite big. Start to cook them, stirring well. While you are doing this, your co-pilots can be mincing the peppers, aubergines and carrots ready to add next to the cooking pot. We have used a traditional meat mincing machine in the past but found this year a modern hand held electric blender worked just as well. If you use an electric blender, avoid blending too smoothly, it's nice to have a bit of texture to your lutenitsa, although ultimately it comes down to personal preference.

Using a meat mincer gives a thicker texture. Colour!

Add the minced or blended peppers, aubergines and carrots and cook on a medium heat, stirring all the time. After about an hour cooking add the finely chopped apple and oil. Keep cooking. In around another hour add seasoning to taste.  The Lutenitsa should be reducing well now. The sign that it is ready for jarring is when you can just about make a path through the sauce with your spoon and see the bottom of the pan.  Once you are at this stage, fill your clean and dry jars with the red heaven.  Seal cleanly.  Some folk just turn the jars upside down at this stage, but we always re-boil the sealed jars.  A friend of ours had her whole batch spoiled by missing this step, so submerging your sealed jars in water and bringing it to the boil for 10 mins is reassurance that this shouldn't happen.  And there you have it!



Thanks to Rushar for some of the photos used in this blog. You can check out the volunteer's personal blog here. Join us next week when we'll be showcasing some of the plants we have available this season in the Bionursery.


If you would like to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes we'll be running our third Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course that starts on May 4th, 2022. 

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

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code SUB2022 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

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


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

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Sunday, 12 September 2021

Cornus mas, Turkish tea and Softwood Cuttings - Week 14 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project

Last week the first fruits of the Cornus mas started to fall. The berries need to be a very dark red when eaten otherwise they are extremely astringent.  We gather the darkest fruits that have fallen and gently shake the tree to harvest the ripe ones. It's important not to shake the tree to aggressively, as otherwise the unripe fruit will fall. If that happens, you can simply remove them before processing or eating. We make a syrup or cordial with them, a very typical method of preservation in our area. 

Cornelian Cherry Cordial Recipe

-Prepare by washing glass jars and bottles well and leaving them to dry.

-Harvest the ripe fruit by holding a sheet under the branches of the tree and shaking them gently. Gather them into a large bucket and rinse with cold water to remove other tree debris or unripe fruit.  

-Weigh the fruit to know how much sugar should be added. It's all according to personal preference and how sweet the fruit is, but as a general guide, 300-500g sugar for every 1kg of fruit.

-Place the fruit into a large saucepan and bring to a gentle boil for around 30 minutes, with the lid allowing a little steam to escape. Allow cooling.

- Use a piece of cheesecloth (we use a pillowcase) and strain the mixture through it, squeezing the life out of the pulp and seeds, which can then be composted.

- Bring the red liquid back to a gentle simmer, and add the sugar, stirring until well dissolved. Remember, this is a syrup, so you can test for sweetness by pouring a little of the liquid into a glass and diluting it to taste. syrup:water (1:5).

Once you are satisfied with the sweetness levels, you can pour the syrup into the glass jars and bottle while still quite hot, seal and leave them to form their own vacuum. 

I would estimate that we can harvest at least 50kg of fruit from our oldest tree in the residential garden. According to some studies, in its natural habitat, the Cornelian cherry can yield from 500 to 1000 kg of fruit per hectare but in orchard plantings, fruit yields can reach up to 5000 kg per hectare. This gives the species huge potential. For a more detailed look at this quite marvellous plant, including how to grow it in polycultures see our Essential Guide to Growing Cornus mas.


One of our favourite plants for a herbal brew is Lemon Verbena - Aloysia citrodora. I decided to try and take some cuttings from it, just sneaking in time at the end of the season for softwood cuttings using a technique from Richard Young, a fellow plant enthusiast here in Bulgaria, who shared his YouTube video with us. Richard recommends cutting plastic bottles of different sizes to create mini greenhouses, and by opening and shutting the bottle tops, you can adjust the level of humidity to suit the plant that you're propagating. We had a stack of plant pots that fitted together like a glove with the cut bottles. Together with the ESC volunteers we took cuttings of Lemon Verbena using this technique and to our delight can report a 100% success rate so far. You can watch Richard's video here. Cheers Richard!

 

Earlier in the summer we harvested herbs from around the local area and our gardens to dry and make tea blends with. One mix we are experimenting with is a relax blend, featuring the forementioned Lemon Verbena - Aloysia citrodora along with Lavender - Lavandula angustofolia, and German Chamomile - Matricaria recutita

Our 'relax' blend :)

We're really happy with the flavour combination, but wanted to get some more feedback and were delighted to have the opportunity to share the tea with some guests of the Shipka Fest that was held this weekend by Open Mind Foundation.  The Shipka Fest celebrates traditional arts and crafts and was a great opportunity to meet people and learn new skills. We attended a herbal remedies workshop hosted by Bulgarian expert herbalist Nadezhda Maksimova. The feedback on our tea blend was very positive, and Turkish ESC volunteers Ruhsar and Hekim also made traditional Turkish tea which was immensely popular with the festival goers. We plan to package our blend with a logo design that represents the 2021 ESC experience for the volunteers to take with them, and to share with our friends and supporters. 

The ESC volunteers learning from a local artisan blacksmith


Zanthozylum piperitum is a truly remarkable tree that can be grown as a spiny shrub or a small tree and always seems to capture the attention of visitors, especially when they can see the pepper corns framed by attractive red husks. 


We're harvesting the seeds at the moment, some of which we'll sow now directly into seed trays as we have yielded better propagation rates this way that waiting until the spring, and others will be stored and sent out to customers of the plant nursery this spring.  It can grow in the deep shade of a forest making this an ideal candidate for the forest garden but also tolerates full sun and our trees little little attention throughout the dry season, we apply around 30 litres of water every month or so. 

Thanks to Rushar for some of the photos used in this blog.

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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Thursday, 2 September 2021

A New Design, Access and Tomato Jars - Week 13 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project


You may remember that we built an irrigation pond over at the crew house to provide for the water needs of the plants growing in the garden, as currently the garden doesn't have access to the mountain stream. The pond was fed by harvesting the rainwater from the roof of the main house and directing it through guttering pipes directly into the pond, as seen in the below image. In 2019 this was very effective and the volunteers that year were able to transfer the water from the irrigation pond to the plants using a pump.



Since then, things haven't worked out quite so well with this design. Firstly, we encountered problems with the actual guttering which requires maintenance at least twice yearly, and secondly, one of the stones placed at the edge of the pond to help support the liner fell in and ripped the material. Three failed attempts were made to fix the liner, which eventually started to deteriorate in other places due to being exposed to the strong summer sun. From then on, the water level only reached around 30cm in depth and although it became a haven for frogs and grass snakes, essentially we were left with a gaping hole in a prime piece of land, and no solution to the irrigation issue.  So earlier this year, we decided to dig in the pond, salvaging what we could of the liner, and are now in the process of creating a new design for the area which will include a small wildlife pond.


The area has grown up, mainly with wild native plants


Together with the ESC volunteers, we have identified 3 main purposes of the new design, listed here, in order of our priority;

1. To produce food in both annual, perennial and possibly mixed polycultures. The area is close to the house and composting zones so makes perfect sense when considering zoning.
2. To enhance biodiversity. Our aim is to include a variety of different habitats within the design.
3. To be aesthetically pleasing. This area is the first place you see as you enter the property, and 



Access is one of the most important aspects to consider in any design. Some of the main things to consider when designing access include:

Visualizing Future Growth - Visualize the mature size of the growth within your polycultures when designing access. Will the access you have put in place be overwhelmed by plant growth? Will you be able to harvest effectively when the plants are mature and what pruning management might be required to keep the access clear? Plants can grow very quickly and even after rearing 1000ʼs of plants, it's still surprising to see how fast certain plants quickly dominate a space.

Avoid Compaction - It's extremely beneficial to keep the access within your polyculture restricted to the same area to avoid compaction. In fact, one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to create healthy soil and plants is to avoid compaction. Compaction reduces the spaces between the soil particles. These spaces store vital gases when the soil is dry, water when the soil is soaked and are the primary habitat for the soil microbes that protect and feed the plants and that build long term water and fertility storage in the soils. So permanent fixed access should be a priority of your polyculture design

Comfortable Access - Access should be comfortable -  even, smooth ground, without the need to duck or swerve as you walk, and should drain well to avoid puddling during wet weather. You should be able to comfortably reach where you need to for management task such as chop and drop, pruning and harvesting without stretching or treading on the soil. The below measurements are some recommended widths for general purpose access;

600mm - comfortable for one person

800mm - comfortable for one person with wheelbarrow or trailer

900mm - allows two people to just pass

1200mm - allows one person with wheelbarrow and other person to pass

We'll be posting more about this design in the coming weeks and photos of our progress as we start to implement it so keep an eye out for that :) You can also check out the ESC volunteer's personal blog of their experiences here.

While on the subject, would you be interested in learning how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity? If so join us on our  Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course  next spring. 

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

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and use the registration form to sign up for the whole course or individual weeks or modules.


The hot balmy weather broke this week with huge thunderstorms and at last, significant rainfall. I love the first rains after the summer that bring about a spring like quality to the garden again, along with a new flush of edible greens. 




Green School Village, co-funded by Erasmus hosted a 10 day seminar here in Shipka this week all about the ESC initiative and what is involved in hosting volunteers and project writing. The participants seemed very inspired and hopefully have gone off with a lot of ideas and thoughts about how they may integrate an ESC project into their own creative ventures. 




Speaking personally about our own experience, the community building aspect of the ESC project we are running with Green School Village has been something that has created a lot of joy and solidarity among both the volunteers and the local people. It's been great to watch that inter-generational and cultural exchange, and of course, be able to help local people in need while learning skills from them and observing how they garden.


Markus, Ru and Fanny helping an elderly family to pick figs

We processed tomatoes this week, jarring them to experience that taste of sun drenched summer in the middle of winter. Of all the food we process, tomatoes is definitely a firm favourite because they are relatively easy to prepare, keep well and form the basis of so many meals.  




To prepare the tomatoes for jarring, wash the fruit and gather clean large jars. We cut the tomatoes into quarters and push them well into the jar, almost compacting them to be able to store a good amount in each. Add a teaspoon of salt to each and then close the lids,  making sure the rim of the jar is clean and dry.  Rusty lids can contaminate the tomatoes so avoid using any lids that have visible rust on the inside. 



We have a wonderful industrial sized pot for jar water baths. I always place a towel or other suitable material on the bottom, and then add the jars, cramming them in quite tightly to avoid them moving around. Lukewarm water is added that must fully cover the lids of the jars by a few centimetres. Stones are placed on top to prevent movement, as when the water is boiling the jars have a tendency to start moving around.



The water should boil for 15 minutes before carefully removing the jars and placing upside down on a protected worktop, to help create a vacuum seal. Once sufficiently cool turn right side up and voila - you can look forward to delicious lasagnes and sauces all through the winter months.

Thanks go to Ruhsar for the tomato photos :)


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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Friday, 27 August 2021

Hosta flowers, Figs and Heirloom Squash - Week 12 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project



The Hosta - Hosta spp. started flowering in the home garden this week, and with it brought a sense of peace in an otherwise hectic week.  The dense, basal leaves of this plant are striking and highly attractive, overlapping each other to form a spreading mound of foliage. A highly ornamental plant, it's perfect for shady borders, as grown here, but also for woodland gardens or shade gardens. It can be planted as an understory to a shrub layer, and we're planning to use this plant in the centre of Shipka when we plant out a shady area. Ground cover plants play an important role in the forest garden, protecting the soil, providing refuge for wildlife at ground layer, preventing unwanted plants from establishing and can provide some food such as berries or leaves.




A tomato ripening in the home garden. We haven't had many of those this year, and this one is huge, possibly weighing in just shy of a kilogram. The plant was given to us by a local elderly man, and we'll be saving the seeds to grow next year, share, and add to a seed bank that we're starting as part of the ESC project. To see what the volunteers have been up to, you can check out their personal blog here.



Another seed we'll be adding is that of this heirloom squash, which we call 'Victoria's Granny'. One of the participants of our past Polyculture Market Garden study, Victoria Bezhitashvili, gave us some winter squash seed that originated from her Granny in Belarus. Year on year they provide a reliable harvest of bright orange, tasty fruit, and we save seeds from the next generation every year too. To avoid cross contamination with neighbouring courgettes, sometimes we use rubber bands to protect the newly emerging male and female flowers, the next morning removing the rubber bands to pollinate the female flowers with the uncontaminated pollen from the male flower, and then protect the pollinted female flower by replacing the rubber band and tying a piece of wool or ribbon around the stem so that, rather like a piece of luggage at an airport, it can be easily identified and the seeds from that particular fruit saved.  We learned this from Real Seeds who have a wealth of great information on their website as well as quality seed.

In the below photo you can see the Victoria's Granny squash migrating into the forest garden area of the home garden, making itself at home on a Guelder Rose.



Here are some of the other plants in the wider polyculture



We've been harvesting figs from all the gardens and drying them on baking trays in the car. They take around 10 -12 hours to dry in a dehydrator and around 2 -3 days on top of the car dash board (parked in a sunny spot). Dried figs can be stored for six to eight months.





Figs must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before they are picked. They will not ripen if picked when immature. A ripe fruit will be slightly soft and starting to bend at the neck. The fruit should be harvested gently to avoid bruising. Fresh figs do not keep well and can be stored in the refrigerator for only 2 - 3 days.  

A note on Fig reproduction and pollination, which is fascinating but not great news for fig loving vegetarians :)

What we call the fig fruit is actually a flower or to be more precise an inflorescence - a cluster of many flowers and seeds contained inside a bulbous stem. Because of this unusual arrangement, the seeds—technically the ovaries of the fig—require a specialized pollinator that is adapted to navigate within the fruit and here begins the story of the relationship between figs and fig wasps. 

The queen of the fig wasp is almost the perfect size for the job and enters through a tight opening in the fig called the ostiole.





Once inside, the queen travels within the chamber, depositing her eggs and simultaneously shedding the pollen she carried with her from another fig. This last task, while not the queen’s primary goal, is an important one: she is fertilizing the fig’s ovaries. After the queen has laid her eggs, she dies. Once the queen’s eggs hatch, male and female wasps assume very different roles. They first mate with each other and then the females collect pollen while the wingless males begin carving a path to the fig’s exterior. This activity is not for their own escape but rather to create an opening for the females to exit. The females will pollinate another fig as queens. The males will spend their entire life cycle within a single fruit.


Bad news for vegetarians thus being when you eat fig you probably eat wasp,  however, common fig types have all female flowers that do not need pollination for fruiting as the fruit can develop through parthenocarpic means. Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Brunswick, and Celeste are some representative cultivars. More from our Essential Guide - Dig the Fig here.



Would you like to learn how to  to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity? If so join us on our  Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course  next spring. 

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

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and use the registration form to sign up for the whole course or individual weeks or modules.

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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