Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Seed Saving, Heavy Rain and Plants for Autumn Colours - Week 20 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project

This week the weather has been more like something experienced in Wales with cool temperatures and significant and persistent rainfall, quickly turning a pleasant transition into autumn into a quick dash inside to the warmth of the stove.


 Many of the end of season garden tasks have yet to be completed and the high winds have ripped some of the Sweet Chestnuts off the branches before they are fully ripe. We've spent a lot of time this week gathering up soggy walnuts from the muddy ground and drying them out inside by the fire.


The ESC volunteers made the most of the one dry morning and harvested the majority of the sun loving annual vegetables. There are still leeks, carrots and chard in their garden which can be harvested a little later on, so long as we continue to avoid frosts. The green tomatoes have since been processed into a tasty chutney, using spices brought from Istanbul to flavour.


It was a bumper harvest of squash again this year, grown from an heirloom seed we have named, 'Victoria's Granny'. The original seed came from a previous participant of The Polyculture Project, Victoria, who was given them by her grandmother in Belarus. Year on year they reliably produce enormous quantities of the most delicious tasting winter squash. As part of our ESC project, Misha from the Green School Village came up with the idea to start collecting some of the local heirloom seeds grown in Shipka and to create a seed library for the local community to use.  We've been sorting through what seeds we have as a base stock for the library, and also saving seeds from the tomatoes gifted to us by some of the local elderly people. Once the weather improves we will be asking local food growers to donate some of their favourite seeds to the library. 

Seed saved from a local variety of tomato

Translating the names into Bulgarian

The wet weather means that many of the plants suddenly seem to have developed their autumn colours with speed. Cool and windy conditions will encourage the leaves to drop, signalling the official start of the nursery season. Here are three of our favourite trees and shrubs for autumn colours that we are offering this season.

Rhus typhina - Stag's Horn Sumach

Overview: Hardy to Zone 4. Rhus typhina is more commonly known as Stag's Horn Sumach due to the branches being reminiscent of a stag's antlers. This interesting plant architecture is revealed once the leaves have fallen in the autumn and the tree is dormant. It is a large suckering deciduous shrub that can grow up to 8m, the red-hairy stems with large pinnate leaves turning pretty shades of red and orange in the autumn.   It can grow in a wide array of habitats and can thrive in dry and poor soil, making it a great choice for these conditions. Can also tolerate wind quite well. 


Mespilus germanica - Medlar 

Overview: Hardy to zone 6. Medlars are ornamental, flowering trees with pretty white blossom, really attractive autumn colours with different hues of red, orange and yellow and delicious late autumn/winter fruit that should be bletted before eating. They tolerate most soils and are most comfortable if planted in a sunny and sheltered position but also do well in partial shade.  A perfect candidate for the outer edge of a woodland garden and able to tolerate moderate wind. For a more detailed look at this plant see our Essential Guide to Growing Medlars.




Aronia melanocarpa cv. - Black Chokeberry

Overview: Hardy to zone 4.  Aronia is a deciduous Shrub growing to 2.5 m by 3 m. An attractive fruit bearing shrub that grows well in partial shade, making it a good option for the forest garden. Tolerates most soils and can handle moist conditions. The berries are edible  but should be fully ripe before being eaten, meaning that they are often still on the plant by the time the leaves turn a very deep red in the autumn. 




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 :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

A Butterfly Polyculture and Planting a Productive Hedge - Week 19 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project


As part of our ESC project we are maintaining and developing community spaces. The centre of our town, Shipka, was fairly recently developed to include a main plaza with a stage where numerous events take place throughout the year, particularly in the summer months.  Surrounding this area is a green space with several beautiful mature deciduous and evergreen trees, such as Horse chestnut - Aesculus hippocastanum, Linden - Tillia sp-  and Fir - Abies sp. Recent renovations to the park have included making pathways, planting more trees and installing new play equipment for children. It has a relaxed yet formal feel to it. We had an idea to design a polyculture for the park that will attract a range of butterflies, add a splash of colour to the area and appeal to children.





Type of Polyculture: Perennial - Amenity
Main Function: To attract butterflies in the central community garden near a child's playground
Secondary Function: To be aesthetically pleasing

The plants we selected were; Buddleia davidii - Butterfly bushPhlomis russeliana - Turkish Sage, Lavandula angastafolia - LavenderOriganum vulgare - Oregano and Echinacea purpurea - Echinacea. In a small design exercise, one of the ESC team, Ruxandra, was to illustrate the design and consider the following criteria when thinking about plant selection and placement:
  • The main function  - to attract butterflies throughout the summer months, so we're looking for overlapping and extended bloom times to maximize the butterflies' visits to the polyculture.
  • Hardy to zone 6 or lower
  • Drought tolerant
  • Low maintenance
  • Predominantly sun-loving plants
The ESC crew have played an active role in supporting the community by weeding and watering the existing plants in this area, a task that is usually carried out weekly by the local mayor's team. By planting polycultures in an area of the town that is regularly irrigated, we ensure that the young plants will receive the care they need to establish over the coming season, and except for a prune once a year to keep the desired shape, can be pretty much left to thrive and grow into an attractive feature in the central park/community space. 


Ruxandra chose to place the Oregano on the northerly aspect, as it can tolerate more shade than the other plants.


 The mayor loved the design and illustration and we'll be planting out the polyculture in the coming weeks. Here's a short overview of each of the plants featured in the Butterfly Paradise polyculture.


Buddleia davidii - Butterfly bush 


Overview: Buddleia is a deciduous shrub growing to 3m by 2m at a fast rate. Hardy to zone 4. It's often found on embankments or rocky riversides. It prefers full sun, can tolerate drought and blooms from July - October. Plants flower mainly on the current year's growth so a hard pruning in spring will encourage better flowering. Butterflies are highly attracted to the blooms, especially Fritillaries.




Phlomis russeliana Jeruselum/Turkish Sage 


Overview: Turkish Sage is a  is an evergreen shrub growing to 1.3m by 1.5m at a medium rate. It is hardy to zone 5. Often found on dry, rocky terrain or hillsides, it prefers full sun, can tolerate drought and blooms from May - September. It's possible to deadhead the flowers and create another cycle of growth and therefore extend the blooming time. It makes a great ground cover plant as it's leaves form quite a dense cover. 




Lavandula angastafolia - Lavender


Overview:  Lavender is an evergreen shrub growing to 1.2m by 1m at a slow rate. It is suitable down to zone 5 and is often found on rocky hillsides. It prefers full sun, can tolerate drought and blooms from June - August. It's known for attracting wildlife and grows very well in our region, which is one of the world's top producers of Lavender oil. In the below photo  Lavender forms part of this polyculture in the home garden along with Vitis vinifera cv. - White Grape, Zanthoxylum simulans - Szechuan pepper and Cytisus scoparius - Broom.



Echinacea purpurea - Echinacea, Coneflower


Overview: Echinacea is a perennial growing to 1.2m by 0.5m at a medium rate. Hardy to zone 4. It is often found on dry fields or wasteland. It prefers full sun, can tolerate drought and blooms from July - August.  The blooms start off fairly flat in shape, but once pollinated they form more of a cone shape shape as the seeds within develop. Butterfly wise, Painted Ladies and Swallowtails are among the frequent visitors to the flowers.




Origanum vulgare - Oregano


Overview: Oregano is a perennial growing to 0.6 m by 0.8m at a medium rate. It is hardy to zone 4 and is often found on dry grassy areas. It prefers full sun, but can tolerate some shade. It's able to handle drought and blooms from July - October.  The blooms are small, delicate and purple and attract incredible interest to butterflies, particularly the Common Blue.




A second polyculture we've been working on this week is on a small plot that we're developing into a forest garden at the crew house. Last week we sheet mulched an area for a boundary hedge and this week we planted it out. 

Type of Polyculture: Perennial - Infrastructure
Main Function: To provide a screen/boundary/privacy in the summer months
Secondary Function: To produce some edible fruits

The plants we selected were; Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive, Cornus mas - Cornelian Cherry and Chaenomeles speciosa - Japanese Quince. Our main considerations for this polyculture were:
  • The main function - to provide a screen throughout the summer months. We wanted plants that hedge well and can grow to 1.8m in height to provide privacy
  • Hardy to zone 6 or lower
  • Production of some edible fruits 
  • Drought tolerant species 
  • Sun loving
  • Tolerant of pruning
Here's a short overview of the plants featured in this polyculture.

Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive

Overview: A large deciduous shrub growing 4.5m high and 4.5m wide and hardy to zone 3.
Tolerates part shade and is very drought tolerant. Branches are often thorny with leaves that are bright green and silvery beneath. Yellowish white, fragrant flowers, are produced in May-June, followed by rounded silvery brown (ripening red) fruits in Sep-Oct that are edible. Nitrogen fixing. This plant is considered weedy in the U.S.



Chaenomeles speciosa - Japanese Quince

Overview:  A thorny deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub usually growing to about 2m tall and generally exhibiting a rounded outline, but can be variable in form.  Hardy to zone 4. The plants establish a very dense crown with a tangled jumble of branches which are either spiny or with spurs. The flowers come before the leaves and are usually red, but may be white or pink. The fruit is fragrant and looks similar to a small apple although some cultivars have much larger pearish shaped fruits. 




Cornus mas - Cornelian Cherry

Overview: Growing at a slow - medium rate, C.mas is a small tree or deciduous shrub growing up to 5 m in height and 5m in width. Hardy to zone 4.  A early flowering plant that slowly grows to form dense hedging that provides habitat, and often deep within the hedge, some fruit which birds enjoy. Plants grown from seeds make particularly great hedging plants. 

Cornus mas in late winter/early spring. It produces one of the first flowers to appear in the garden in late February


The Benefits of Propagating from Seed: When we first started growing shrubs from seed it was pleasantly surprising to see  how quickly they establish. In our experience with growing Cornus mas and some nitrogen fixing shrubs, seeds germinating in the spring can establish well and be ready to plant out in the autumn of the same year (subject to species hardiness and, of course, the weather conditions in a given year). The following spring after autumn planting, we practice formative pruning to encourage the shrubs to become denser and by the third summer after sowing, we've recorded growth of up 80cm high and 60cm wide (specifically for Elaeagnus angustifolia).  The growth we have witnessed is from our own stock have, in some instances, outperformed established 6 year old plants we have growing in the garden, purchased from a commercial nursery.

When propagating from seed you have the advantage of selecting the strongest seedlings.  Another significant reward is that you are promoting genetic diversity within your populations, something you are not likely to find in the majority of cloned nursery stock.

Cornus mas grown from seed planted into the hedge


It's important to think about spacing when planting a hedge. As we plan for each plant to spread in width to around 1m, we planted our shrubs 1m apart from each other, to allow for 50cm growth either side from the centre of the plant.


Ruxandra and Hekim parting the sheet mulch layers


Ru planting a Japanese Quince

Established Cornus mas and Chaenomeles speciosa shrubs, blending well together in the home garden


The ESC team were given a tasty local cultivar of Strawberry by a local elderly resident who they have been helping, and these were planted into the bed as a ground layer. We will hopefully harvest some fruit from them until the shrub hedge matures and shades them out which generally reduces fruit production, but they should create a decent ground cover for the hedge. We will also be planting some Alliums bulbs or possibly some annual garlic into the bed to take advantage of the current light levels.

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 :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

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References

https://www.nmnhs.com/butterfly_areas_bg/
https://monarchbutterflygarden.net/butterfly-plants/

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Sheet Mulching - - Week 18 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project


This week together with the ESC volunteers we continue to focus on garden design for the small area on the east side of the crew house. We pretty much have a blank canvas to work with, as the area previously housed an irrigation pond that was recently dug in. Last week we built a small wildlife pond on the upper western edge of the plot and this week we turned our attention to the boundary on the eastern edge where we are planting a hedgerow.


When planting trees and shrubs into grassland or fields previously used for agriculture, ideally it's best to prepare the area at least 6 months ahead of planting, and 12 months is even better. We often prepare the planting zones in early spring for late autumn planting, and call this process "Advance Planting Preparation" or APP. It's basically the addition of organic matter into the planting zone before planting to improve soil conditions for the incoming plants. This can be in the form of mulches that suppress existing growth and decompose in situ or in the form of green manures that replace the existing growth and improve the soil. 

Forking over the beds in Ataraxia garden, placing a layer of card and cloth, adding 30 L of manure and covering with 15-20 cm deep layer of straw.


Sheet mulching in its simplest form is adding sheet-like alternate layers of carbon and nitrogen rich material to the ground with the main outcome of improving soil. You do not have to use so many materials - straw, autumn leaves, freshly cut grass or weeds and manure of any kind will do, but the more diverse your materials are the more diverse your microbe population that feast on the organic matter will be.

Step 1 - Place a layer of cardboard to cover the soil surface. If your goal is to supress the growth of unwanted native plants or weeds then make sure the cardboard is overlapping by at least 15cm. It's definitely a good to take the time to remove the plants that grow via rhizomes and runners such as couch grass, as these may grow around or sometimes even through the sheet mulch.  It is worth noting that an optional layer of compost or animal manure is sometimes added before the cardboard to speed up the whole process. You can apply water to the cardboard also, but as we were expecting a very rainy week we didn't do this.

Step 2 -  Add a layer of manure on top of the card. We used 4 month old quite well rotted horse manure, adding approximately 30L of manure per m2.


Step 3 - Add a 20cm layer of straw. We mixed ours with some fresh grass clippings.




It's fine to sheet mulch an area before planting out as long as you don't use fresh manure, which can damage the plant roots. A hole can be made into the cardboard and soil below it which incoming plants can be planted into. The card layer surrounding the new plant acts as a weed suppressant and along with the rest of the mulch layers, slowly breaks down, adding organic matter to the soil and improving it. 

Making a hole right down to the lower sheet of cardboard for an incoming shrub.  Dig the soil underneath with a trowel to make a hole and plant out, adding a little compost as a dressing before replacing the rest of the mulch.


We didn't pre-dig the entire area that we sheet mulched first as it had already had some Raspberies planted into it in the spring and had been mulched with a little straw resulting in soil that was not compacted by footfall and in reasonable condition. We discovered in our Advance Planting Preparation (APP) trial that sheet mulching without forking over the beds provided the highest levels of fertility and also optimal pH levels when compared to the base sample. Mulch also provides good habitat for a range of invertebrates many of which are beneficial in our garden ecosystems. Invertebrates largely rely on plants for food and shelter and are often relied upon by birds and mammals further up the food chain as they make up a significant portion of the larger animal's diet. It seems that within our environment at least when you have high levels of invertebrate diversity you will likely have high levels of plant and larger animal (vertebrate) diversity too. Perhaps the most beneficial of all the soil dwelling organisms, earthworms, will settle and multiply under the mulch slowly bringing the material down into the soil, providing micro drainage, improving structure and creating some of the best plant fertiliser around - vermi-compost. 




To check out the ESC volunteer's personal blog see here.  

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 :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

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Monday, 4 October 2021

Making a Small Wildlife Pond on a Slope - Week 17 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project


We have been thinking about how to best design the small space at the volunteer house that used to be occupied by an irrigation pond. Earlier in the year we took the decision to dig this pond over, due to the fact that it wasn't fit for purpose as the liner had ripped. We generally use tri-laminate LDPE liners for our ponds as they are relatively light, easy to install and good value, but the downside of this material is that when it tears or rips, in our experience it is difficult to repair. For more on pond liners see our previous post here. We did manage to salvage some of the old liner material to re-use and make a small wildlife pond as part of the new design that we're working on with the ESC volunteers.


Garden Overview   


Climate: Continental Temperate
Latitude: 42°
Elevation: 580 m
Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5 mm
Co-ordinates:42°42′N 25°23′E

The area below highlighted in red is the area being designed and is around 30m2 and situated to the east of the house with a southerly aspect. The dark shadow is actually the old irrigation pond before it was dug in.




To limit overwhelm when starting to think about a garden design, we've found it helps to define the main function that the area will serve, and in this case, it is to be productive and supply the kitchen as it is situated right by the kitchen window that is large and often doubles up as a door. The secondary purpose for this area is to enhance biodiversity, so we have been looking at how we can incorporate the following different habitats into the space. 

● Grassland/Wildflowers
● Woodland and forest 
● Hedgerows and Scrub 
● Rocky terrain 
● Wetland 
● Aquatic

Water bodies such streams, rivers or ponds are probably the single most beneficial habitats you can have on a site to attract and sustain biodiversity and the majority of the wildlife that will be attracted to the pond will be of great benefit to your garden or farm, i.e, pollinators and pest predators. 


Some of the pond life in our gardens

 Based on the topography of the site we selected the optimal location for the pond considering the inlet (where the pond receives water) and outlet (the exit point for overflow from the pond).  In this instance we decided to place the pond at the top of the garden underneath the rainwater harvesting guttering to the north of the pond (inlet) and the overflow (outlet) was constructed on the southern side of the pond to take advantage of the slope and soak into the productive beds, the location of which we had pegged out the week before.

It was helpful to use a garden hose and look at how the water flowed across the land from the different possible places at which we could have made the overflow in order to make sure the water will be flow and be captured exactly where we want and need it to. On average, soil absorbs only about 8mm depth of water per hour. When water is applied to the soil faster than it is absorbed it will either run-off or puddle on the surface. Both can lead to erosion of the soil. To reduce water run-off we can use light earthworks such as tree pits, sunken beds or swales that keep the water around the root zones of the plants while infiltrating slowly into the soil.


So here's our step by step guide on how to build a small pond on a slope.




Step 1 - Peg out the proposed area of the pond and make sure you have enough liner. As we were working with an oddly shaped cut-off from the old pond liner, we had a limit to the size and depth that our pond could be. ESC volunteer Markus had designed the shape of our pond to fit well into the landscape -  a concept known as landscape congruity. The idea is that your design or elements of it take advantage of site climatic and geographic properties in order to decrease energy and resource expenditure. This often results in a positive impact on the aesthetic qualities of the landscape too, in this case the pond seems to fit naturally and nicely like a jigsaw puzzle piece into the landscape.




Step 2 - Start digging. It can be useful to separate the subsoil from the top soil as you may want to use the seed containing top soil to place around the pond after construction. Use rocks and the sub soil you are digging out to create a level bank on the low ground side.




Step 3 - Continue to dig and build up the bank on the low ground. Use a spirit level to check the bank is level with the upper ground.




Step 4. Make shelves to support and encourage different types of plant and animal life. Providing various depths within the pond caters for a range of aquatic plants and ideally you'll need a gentle slope for animals to enter and exit. 




Step 5 - Dig to your chosen depth and consider the winter temperatures in your area, and if you are placing fish in your pond, the minimum recommended depth for fish to survive. We had been offered some goldfish by a friend in a neighbouring village who is experienced keeping them. He said a minimum of 0.6m depth is satisfactory for the fish to survive. Different species of fish have different requirements so it's essential to research this.




Step 6. Once you are happy with the form of the pond, check that the pond is level from the high ground of the land to the newly created bank on the low ground, and also on the the non sloping sides by using a spirit level.




Step 7 - Once we were happy with the shape we smoothed it out and removed any sharp stones. This helps to prevent the liner from being punctured. As further protection, we added a layer of straw before placing the liner in position.



Step 8 (3 mini steps in 1:))-  Add the liner, create the overflow and fill. Place the liner making sure the top remains well above the pond, as when it fills it will come down a little with the weight of the water. Start to fill. We mainly used tap water topped up with a couple of buckets of rainwater. If you use tap water it's important to leave the pond to sit for 24hrs before adding any aquatic life, in order for the chlorine to evaporate. Using some more cut-offs from the recycled pond liner, we created our overflow with small stones on our selected location on the banked edge of our pond.


 

Step 9 - Once the pond is full the liner won't shift position and you can add large rocks on top to create an edge. Use round stones without any sharp edges to avoid a ripped liner in the case of a falling rock.




Step 10 - Adding features such as tree stumps or hollow rocks to the pond will provide hiding places for fish and other pond life and basking territory for amphibians.




You can see our previous blog post for more information on building small ponds for wildlife or irrigation. Thanks to Rushar for some of the photos used in this blog and you can check out the ESC volunteer's personal blog here.  Special thanks to Darren Currah who helped us hugely with the pond, and to Steve and Vanya for the fish :)

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 :)

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.

  • Comment, like, and share our content on social media.