Tuesday, 27 July 2021

A Visit to the Eco Community Blagodatie, Ura Gora - Week 8 - ESC - The Polyculture Project

This week together with the ESC team we were delighted to have the opportunity to visit the Eco community Blagodatie, home of the Ura Gora Foundation, and help out with their inspiring project. 

The location of the project 42°06'29.1"N 26°40'07.3"E

Here at Balkep we've known two of the members, Kosio and Sophie, for some years now, our paths crossing at various forest garden/permaculture events and occasionally during environmental festivals within Bulgaria. Kosio, Alex and their two children and Sophie & Krasi were inspired by the books in the series "The Ringing Cedars of Russia" by Vladimir Megre, and live close to nature and completely off-grid with their families in the community in Southeastern Bulgaria, in a remote and beautiful spot.

Kosio, Alex, Indi and Lybo

Sophie & Krasi

The land surrounding the eco-community is dry, deforested terrain which is much how it was when this community discovered it. I was expecting the gardens to still be in early stages of establishment due to heavy clay soils and the hot, dry climate presenting challenges. What a joy it was to arrive at a biodiverse forest, healthy and productive - much like the human inhabitants there!



The community is growing, and now has 2 - 4 families that are committed to developing and supporting healthy ecosystems on the land that encourage biodiversity. A wide variety of plants are growing to provide a significant amount of food needs for humans and other organisms, as well as supplying resources for infrastructure, construction, and for crafting.  Natural beekeeping is practiced on site with the honey being among one of the best I've tasted, and let me assure you that I am a well established honey monster :)



One of my first questions on arrival was about water. How are water needs for both humans and plants alike met in such a dry and remote region of Bulgaria? Coming up with creative solutions for water management has been essential to the success of the site, and as Sophie explained, the community designed and makes ram pumps. A ram pump is a very simple mechanical pump and a great example of appropriate technology used in many small scale development projects around the world. It works without and fuel, solar power or complex materials. Essentially, the water is led down a pipe (in this instance from a dam some metres above the height of the pump) and opens and closes two valves with hammer-like force, creating pressure for about 10% of the input water to be pumped up to a greater height. The community sell these pumps and design and install the whole system in places where they would be suitable. For more information contact Kosio or Krasi here.






There are a remarkable amount of apples, pears and quince trees growing, all looking very healthy and laden with fruit. Kosio has many varieties of apples and pears that he has successfully grafted onto wild plum or the pioneer wild pear rootstock, both of which grow abundantly in the region.  






The plant selection has been carefully considered and pathways are mowed to create pleasant walkways through the establishing forest gardens and landscape.



Among the wild native plants I observed many species of plants from the Apiaceae family, the umbels of which attract scores of beneficial organisms to the gardens.

Sophie and Krasi's garden layout had many islands of different polycultures. In the below photo you can see an example of one of these, the diversity of plant architecture being very pleasing on the eye and forming a dense cover protecting the soil from the relentless sun. From top left - clockwise: Tansy - Tanecetum vulgareApple - Malus spp, Cornelian Cherry - Cornus mas, Jerusalem Artichoke - Helianthus tuberosus and Yucca - Yucca filamentosa.




Check out our range of seeds, tubers and cuttings available all year around - delivery worldwide.

http://www.thepolycultureproject.com/store/c2/Grow_your_Own_Polyculture_.html

This year Kosio, Alex and their two children along with Sophie and Krasi teamed up to start a community annual vegetable garden. The idea was to co-operate on a shared garden to grow community spirit along with staple foods that are easy to harvest, store and process together, as well as to provide food for volunteers and guests to use. They are growing mainly open pollinated heritage kinds of potatoes, corn, beans, pumpkins and melons.


Setting up the garden


Corn developing well in the spring

Annual vegetables are also being grown on both of these families' plots. 




A greenhouse with a view :)


With such a lot to do and a team of six volunteers, we started creating a rhythm and flow to the days and week to make sure we were organized with the tasks we were to help with, but also to create a balance sprinkling creative non-formal workshops into the mix. With hot temperatures we rose at 06.00 to take advantage of the cooler mornings, helped out until 09.30 when we had a watermelon party together. Around 11.00 a creative workshop was held, with lunch around 13.00, rest until 17.00 and then help out again until sundown. The community members have many skills and talents, and offer a variety of workshops from an introduction to herbs and making healing remedies to clothes making, and also plan soon to start hosting retreats on site.







ESC volunteers left - right Rushar, Tara, Fanny & Hekim

One of the tasks that benefitted from having many hands involved was bringing in the hay for the winter for Kosio's young horse. We recycled a child's paddling pool and a large supermarket banner as vessels to transport the hay from the lower fields to higher land by the horse's stable.





It really was a pleasure to be part of such a beautiful, growing project. Special thanks go out to all the community for being our hosts for the week,  Blagodatie's long term vision is to be a larger community that continues to appreciate and enjoy common activities together. For enquiries about purchasing or trading some of the products that are produced by the community, or for more information on how you can get involved and support the community, contact Sophie here. Huge thanks go out to all the ESC volunteers for their goodwill and support, and also for many of the photos that were used in this post taken by them.

Would you like to learn 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.

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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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If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

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Monday, 19 July 2021

Mowing Pathways for Mulch, Natural Building and Herbal Remedies - Week 7 - ESC - The Polyculture Project




It's been a busy week, with the hot, dry weather continuing and more water channels needing to be dug to ensure that we can successfully irrigate Aponia, our forest garden and old site of our Market Garden Research. In the home garden, the pathways by the beds double up as water channels, with native herbaceous plants growing alongside the edges of the beds and pathways.  These plants are a valuable source of biomass and we mow them every 2 weeks, collecting the valuable clippings as mulch.  This week, we needed to trim back some young Black Locust - Robinia pseudoacacia plants that were encroaching too far into the pathway and blocking access. The trimmings from these plants were left on the pathway for the lawnmower to shred and collect whilst also cutting the herbaceous growth. This added a nice supplement of Robinia leaves to the clippings.

Pathway/water channel between two garden beds. On the left,  Zeno, our annual productive polyculture and on the right, Robinia plants freshly trimmed back to clear access

Robinia clippings fell onto the pathway and were left there to be mown with the herbaceous growth

The end product is a mix of nitrogen rich clippings that are perfect to use as immediate mulch on beds or in plant pots


We recently cut back the Lovage - Levisticum officinale as it has just finished flowering and it generally starts to topple over and obstruct access. A few days later and the plants underneath in the ground and herb layers have really started to take advantage of the light levels now available to them.

Bottom left - Turkish Sage - Phlomis russeliana 

I've seen a lot of Turkish Sage in our gardens in more exposed positions that flowered a while ago now. This plant was under the fairly dense cover of the Lovage, and will likely bloom quite quickly now it can access more light. The hooded, yellow flowers put in a long appearance are attractively arranged up the stem in intervals. It makes great ground cover forming a pretty carpet in the herb layer and is easily divisible in the autumn or spring.

This week we welcomed Hekim from Turkey to the ESC volunteer team, and at the beginning of the week we headed to my friend Jo's house. Jo lives in a neighbouring village and is undertaking a great project - renovating her home and using natural building techniques. The first task was to dig out a trench for the stone foundation of a mud brick wall that Jo wants to build to help contain her dog, who is an acrobat extraordinaire and master escape artist! Once the pit was dug around 50cm deep, it was lined with geotextile to keep the weeds and soil from ingressing and filled with gravel and small stones, some of which we got from sifting earth and sand on the property. We then compacted the stones by walking on top of the stone filled line with heavy boots.


Markus, Tara and Ruhsar pouring and shovelling in the small stones and gravel


Next we laid large stones on top that had been fetched from a local river and neighbouring property and began to lay them on top of the rubble trench, and tried to fit them to size, a bit like a giant jigsaw or tetris game. It's important to get the positioning right to make a solid weight bearing base for the wall. Once satisfied with our positioning, we made a lime mortar using hydrated lime, sand and water and placed it in between the stones to secure them in place.




Just a little lime plaster to add and stage one is completed. We'll be returning to Jo's to start building the wall in a couple of weeks


Inside her house, Jo's building bathroom walls out of cob. Cobbing is also described as mud daubing, and is a mixture of clay, sand and straw. Here Hekim, Fanny and Ruhsar have a go at adding a layer of plaster to the wall Jo built.




Lovely finish!


Outside, Jo has started to sculpt a cat on the wall by the porch entrance and ESC volunteer Ruxandra finished the project creating a beautiful cat and a wonderful eulogy for a much loved kitten lost this week to a virus.

Ode to Moon, by the very talented Ruxandra. You can check out more of  Rux's incredibe work here. She also makes commissioned pieces.


Part of our ESC project is to explore the medicinal qualities of local herbs and plants and experiment with making homemade remedies. We have been infusing oils over the last month ready to make some ointments. To make a herb infused oil, all you have to do is harvest the part of the plant that you would like to use early in the day, and leave it to dry out of direct sunlight for 24 hours. This usually reduces the water content sufficiently to prevent water leaching into the oil and spoiling it. Then place your plant into a jam jar, cover with olive oil and leave on a sunny windowsill to infuse over the next month, shaking occasionally and finally straining into a clean jar and labelling.




Using our infused oils, some essential oils and high quality Bulgarian beeswax, we created an ointment using Comfrey and Elder leaf to help with bruising, and a Chamomile and Yarrow one for bites that Rux aptly named, 'Ditch the Itch' :)



We've been trying out different tea blends too, and will be introducing our first blend, complete with branding, in the coming weeks. One of the main components are the flowers from the Linden tree - Tilia spp. which actually came into flower almost a whole month later than usual this year.


Linden flowers


Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees or bushes, native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. More commonly referred to as Linden or Lime, this tree is not to be confused with Citrus medica, the tree that produces actual lime fruits. Tilia cordata - Small Leaved Lime and Tilia platyphyllos - Large Leaved Lime are probably the most well known in Europe, although it can be difficult to differentiate between them sometimes as they tend to hybridize, resulting in Tilia vulgaris - Common Lime. Both trees and the hybridized form have edible leaves, in addition to producing a flower that is much valued as a herbal tea.

To read about the ESC project from the perspective of the volunteers, you can see their blog here.


Would you like to join us next spring on our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course?  We 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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Support Our Project 




If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

  • Donate directly to our project via PayPal to balkanecologyproject@gmail.com
  • Comment, like, and share our content on social media.





Friday, 16 July 2021

Eastern Walkabout - Istanbul - The Asian Side

 Still in Istanbul and have been spending more time on the Asian side the last few weeks, visiting new places, accidentally finding others such as Küçüksu, and returning to some of my favorite spots including Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Garden (NGBB).  During this post, I'll share some more plant observations from around the city and some photos from the Botanic Garden.


The most enjoyable way to travel to the Asian side is certainly via the ferries. They run every 15-20 minutes from multiple locations on both sides of the Bosporus and no matter how many times I've made the journey it never fails to make a favorable impression, especially so when the sun is setting and you spot a group of dolphins making their way through the waters too. I managed to get a short, very bad video of some dolphins swimming beside the ferry crossing between Beşiktaş and Küçüksu , it's on our Instagram page here. There are 3 species of dolphin that inhabit the Strait,  bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), and harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena).  I've no idea which is which.  

Photo by Oleksandr Ryzhkov

Usually, I'm here in the winter and I'll bring some old bread with me to toss to the 100's of Gulls that follow the boats. The goals will eventually fly down and take the bread right out of your hand but during the summer, it seems, the birds have plenty of food elsewhere and don't bother with the people on the boats. 


Plantings around the City


Whilst traveling around the more recently developed areas of the city such as Levent and Atasheir, it's notable that many of the new housing developments have paid special attention to their landscaped gardens within and around the properties and it is generally apparent that there are more green spaces and plant cover. The below photo was taken from the top floor of the Istanbul Sapphire in Levent where you can find an incredible view of the city. It clearly shows the contrast between the older parts of the city with the newly developed areas.

One example that really stood out for me was a 5m wide border of Sedum ground covers planted adjacent to the pathways in a residential block. The cover is composed of at least 3 species of Sedum, Sedum album on the right, Sedum acre with yellow flowers that can be seen in the third wider angled photo, and Sedem spurium - Caucasian Stonecrop on the left. We grow all of these plants in our gardens in Shipka as clumps of ground cover in dry sunny spots but it was really interesting to see them grown this way.


The result is very low maintenance and low input ground cover that provides excellent forage for bees and other pollinators looks stunning during the flowering period and also provides year-round evergreen cover. The below photo does not really do it justice.



Over in Fulya, I found this excellent example how effective climber, Parthenocıssus trıcuspıdata - Boston Ivy can be to soften new buildings. It's often used on new office buildings and apartments in and around the central areas.

At first, I did not recognize the plant as  Parthenocıssus trıcuspıdata - Boston Ivy as the leaves I am familiar with have sharper lobed leaves but google and two different plant ID apps seem convinced it was indeed Parthenocıssus trıcuspıdata - Boston Ivy. I would imagine you could find a large diversity of invertebrates within the vegetation and the plant produces small black berries in the Autumn which according to some reports feed over 30 species of birds. 

I'd love to see a multi-year time-lapse of these plants wrapping buildings!  

The majority of the residential properties in this city, which has been inhabited for over 2000 years, are no more than 40 years old and often younger. This is a result of Istanbul being within close proximity to the North Anatolian fault, a boundary between two major tectonic plates where devastating earthquakes occur frequently.  There are, however, parts of the city where wooden Ottoman-style houses built from pine and oak in the 19th century, have been preserved in excellent condition but occasionally you will find one of these homes standing among the new concrete buildings. They are quite delightful, especially so this one in Besiktas that has been claimed by Vitis vinifera cv. - Grape and Prunus armeniaca ​- Apricot espalier.  


It's the first time I can recall seeing Ligustrum lucidum - Chinese Privet Tree from the Oleaceae family. It's a beautiful tree with large glossy leaves and produces clusters of small white flowers that are highly desirable to honey bees. The flowers are just starting to emerge this time of the year. The plant has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 1,000 years and is planted as a specimen tree in residential areas and used for hedging around the city. It being USDA hardiness 8-11 it would not survive in Bulgaria but I'm surprised I have not come across it before in the UK. According to pfaf.org, the shoots contain a glycoside and are probably toxic but there are some reports that young shoots can be cooked and eaten, a food source of last resort. 


Mediterranean classic, Nerium oleander. I learned recently that the whole plant is deadly poisonous and there are even accounts that using the wood for a skewer when cooking can lead to death.


 Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Garden (NGBB)


I've visited this garden many times over the last 8 years and have really enjoyed witnessing the growth of the place. The whole project was conceived just 26 years ago in 1995 and open to the public in 2002. The below photos were taken from the Central Island that you can see in the below image from the garden's website. 

Opuntia spp. growing in the Arid and Saline Garden where you can find a collection of xerophyte and halophyte species. I'm not sure of the species, but when we were kids we would travel to Malta, my Mother's home country, for the summer holidays and would enjoy feasting on the fruits of these plants that are quite delicious, if you know how to get into them,  and even better when chilled in the fridge. Beware of the tiny spines, they look harmless but get them on your hands and it will feel like they are on fire. 

 The Crevice garden on the top of a hill in the central garden is quite a spectacle featuring 145 taxa of mostly Turkish natives. These plants are generally from rocky habitats often found at high altitudes where they are protected from grazing animals by growing in rock crevices. The rocks have been arranged beautifully and the views from the hill of the surrounding city are amazing.

The crevice garden on the central island. The views of the surrounding city are awesome.  In the left photo you can see the new financial district under construction and on the right, a mall, residential zone, and university that was completed five or six years ago. 

Always impressed by the prostrate Rosmarinus officinalis - Rosemary used extensively around the gardens, particularly the cascading shoots over the dry stone walls. This cultivar is 'Prostratus' 

That's all for now. For what's going on in Shipka check out Sophie's blog here and here

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Would you like to learn 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.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Check out our range of seeds, tubers and cuttings available all year around - delivery worldwide.

http://www.thepolycultureproject.com/store/c2/Grow_your_Own_Polyculture_.html

Check out our range of trees, shrubs , herbs and bulbs for Forest Gardens 
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