Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Regenerative Landscape Design - Site Visit/Consultancy - Italy - Sardegna - 35.2 ha

Finally, after multiple thwarted attempts to make it, I arrived in Sardegna, Italy to meet Yvo Zanev and take a look at a 35.2 ha plot he and his brother have recently taken on. It's a magical spot!

Their plan for the site is to implement a regenerative landscape design with their primary goal being to create a small settlement on the site and grow food and resources to support those living there and run activities and events from the property. Yvo, his brother, and his brother's girlfriend have already moved onto the site last year and have installed access, water and electricity,  started to plant out a forest garden, and set up some very comfortable tents, a kitchen area, sauna and storage.


During this post, I'll share some observations from the site and cover my general approach to making a site visit. 


The Site 


Location: North Sardegna, Italy 
Climate: Mediterranean/ Warm Temperate 
KCC - csa
USDA Hardiness Zone: 9b conservative - 10b risky 
Latitude: 40° 
Elevation: 370m  high point - 230m  low point
Average Annual Rainfall: 553 mm 
Prevailing Wind:  W - N.W
Area - 35.2 Ha 
Soil - Sand with some Silt and low clay content. Rich organic matter deposits in gullies and fissures around the site and where woodland has established in the low lands.    

The site cadastral (property boundaries) in 2D and 3D view 


The purpose of the site visit was to gain a physical impression of the site, and to broadly observe topography, water, access, flora, and current cultivation practices in order to provide a quotation for regenerative design and development of the property. 

To make the most of a site visit it's important to plan out some specific objectives and if it is a large site plan a route so you can cover the entire site within the time allocated. The following information is very helpful to have in advance of the site visit

  • Information about any development restrictions there are on the property, specifically; are there protected zones (nature reserves), are there restrictions to pond building, and if so up to what size (in m3)?
  • Locations of Electricity, Gas, and Water Pipes/Lines  
  • Access -rights of way.
  • Ownership disputes/issues 
  • Locations of nearest public transport links, airports, etc.
  • A list of the client's objectives and goals.
  • A cadastral of the property on google earth with a topography map of the site or better yet a DTM at 1-2m resolution. This is really helpful to plan the route across the site and locate areas of interest to concentrate observations before arriving.
Yvo (pictured below, with one of his dogs) was a great host and showed me around the site, explaining what they would like to achieve and what they have done so far. 



Site Biodiversity 


The floral diversity was spectacular this time of year and the whole place with alive birds, invertebrates, and reptiles most noticeably Wall lizards -  Lacertidae. and Skinks - Scincidae. As common as they are I did not manage to get a clear photo. 


We did cross paths with Sardinian Marginated Tortoise - Testudo marginata and Yvo mentioned they are common on the site.



There are a number of medicinal herbs growing wild around the site including Helichrysum italicum - Curry Plant  (left) Hypericum perforatum - St Johns Wort (middle) and Lavandula stoechas. The aroma of these plants is often in the air while walking around the landscape. All of these plants are very easy to propagate and have great potential as groundcover for any future soft landscaping, that may be required on the site. Using native plants for soft landscaping in dry climates is always a great choice when the opportunity is there, especially when those plants are multifunctional, in this case  for medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary purposes as well as being excellent pollinizers and possible playing a role as "pest confusers"   


Arbutus unedo - Strawberry Tree, native to rocky slopes and hillsides in the Mediterranean is well established on the site, with small saplings popping up everywhere and large trees taking a share of the canopy cover. These plants are from Ericaceae,  a family of plants known to prefer acid soils. 


Other common trees growing in the area are Juniper - Juniperus phoenicea (i think ), Mastic tree - Pistacia lentiscus (looks like an excellent biomass plant), and various Oaks, Quercus spp.  A striking and common herb growing in a part of the site that used to be a vineyard was the royalty of Apiaceae - Ferula communis - Giant Fennel pictured below with Evergreen Oak in the background.


Rampant patches of Allium triquetrum - Three-Cornered Leek grow in the valleys where organic matter builds up over time and the soil is deep and moist, the plants were just starting to fade as were many of the other species of bulbs but even towards the end of June the diversity of ephemeral bulbs was striking, many of which I have not encountered before.


The rocky outcrops scattered throughout the site provide a prehistoric vibe and indeed it's likely people have lived within the caves and hunted for boar on these lands for tens of thousands of years. 



In fact, around the plot numerous sites of historical significance have been discovered, many of which date back 5000 years, possibly longer. One in particular that I visited was designed to interact with lunar eclipses. Li Mizzani Giants' Tomb, pictured below. 



Mosses and Lichens inhabit large areas within the rocky areas and soil is building within the crevices' with herbs and shrubs starting to grow out. As the roots of the plants expand with growth the rocks will shatter into smaller and smaller pieces over time. Amusing to think that over enough time these boulders will be pebbles in the soil.


Beneath the layer of organic matter on the north sides of the mountains,  the soil has a deep and rich layer of organic matter and a number of species of fungi can be seen.


It was clear from walking around the site that building soil here would not be a problem with the abundance of diverse organic matter and various water sources both perennial and ephemeral,  but there were areas around the site where organic matter was very sparse the soil very thin and eroding away from rainwater runoff. These areas tended to be where the soils and vegetation had been disturbed for access, clearing vegetation and below the Cork Oak Orchard that was planted on the site in the 1980'. 


 Tracing signs of water erosion to the source, locating water sources, and finding areas where flows and gathers during heavy rains is always a priority when observing a site in a dry climate and the first two days were dedicated to this. The site has great potential for rainwater harvesting and with some relatively simple earthworks, much of the water currently draining off the site and causing erosion could be either, distributed more evenly over the landscape or, stored in reservoirs.  There were already a few places on the land where water was naturally accumulating, the most prominent being a wetland area that appeared to be fed with a slight trickle from a natural spring.  You can see the wetland pictured below, easily identified by the dark green clumps of rushes (Juncaceae), and in the very low area, the ground was moist with water on the surface in places. 


On the third day, we ventured up into the mountain. The mountain makes up a significant % of the property and is predominantly wild vegetation. Yvo and his brother had previously cut a trail through.   


The plan is to run activities from the project and the high terrain is perfect for mountain climbing with spectacular views from atop. A local climber joined us to plan routes with Yvo.



During the visit, we spoke about the challenges facing them and I offered some general advice on how to improve the soil erosion issue and how this could also provide a design framework for the site, 

Pretty much every place I visit or person I talk to I find myself repeating a few key points so I thought I'd include them here. 

  • Create a master plan/ vision for the site. Start to map your plans and make numerous iterations until a clear option presents itself
  • Get your water/irrigation sources worked out first and ensure they are reliable throughout the year (especially during the heat waves and droughts) If you have a very wet site, get your drainage and flood relief worked out. 
  • Establish access around the site that works with the topography e.g. eliminates erosion, harnesses water harvesting potential, or drainage.
  • When managing water flows across the site (rainwater runoff or pumped water) have the overflow route planned and implemented.
  • The access layout will make apparent subdivisions within the plot that can be assigned to purposes that best suit the locations, i.e orchard, wild area, intensive forest garden, vegetable garden, meadow, etc. Create a broad vision of what you want to do in each subplot.
    • Break down your plan into manageable pieces, focus on the most relevant/essential aspect of the plan first and only move on when you are comfortable and confident it is complete. 
    • Clear only the areas that you intend to immediately work on, otherwise, leave them to grow wild
    • Be aware of the maximum width and height of the trees and shrubs you will grow to avoid overcrowding them when they are maturing and just starting to become productive.
    • Size your access up to the width of the machinery you will be using and design your corners so that the machinery can comfortably and safely turn corners 
    • Annual vegetable production for domestic production is best concentrated in a very small area that will get daily attention. Load up this area with the best soil and have a reliable and easy-to-use irrigation system in place for the crops and make it easy and comfortable to walk around and work in. 
    If you are interested in Yvo's project and would like to get in touch you can reach him at yvozanev@gmail.com 


    Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course 


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    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
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    We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know, the very first of its kind. 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!

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    Friday, 10 June 2022

    A Welsh Project, Pathways and Pollination Support

    It's Sophie here writing from Wales again and here to share an excellent local food growing project, I've been helping out with, Einion's Garden.

    Welcome to part 1 of a part mini-series I plan to write about the interesting gardens and projects that I visit in West Wales. It's always a joy to roam around the Dyfi Valley and I'd always wanted to visit Einion's Garden, run by John and Ann, as my good friend Susannah volunteers there every Friday and I'd heard a lot of good things about it. I'd also seen a video presentation by Ann before on what plants tend to do well in the local area. It was wonderful to get the chance to volunteer and visit in person, just as the growing season was getting underway. 


    The garden is located on the main road between the town of Machynlleth and the city of Aberystwyth, in a village called Furnace, easily accessible yet with a very rural feel, surrounded by rolling hills. Two polytunnels packed full of different species of annual and perennial crops greet you as you enter the plot.

    Susannah preparing a bed outside the polytunnels


    Inside one of the two polytunnels. A fig tree not yet in leaf sits in the center bed

    The relatively mild winters experienced in this region mean that there are usually always fresh greens available to eat then, although likely not enough to send to market. Einion's garden offers their products in a local veg box scheme which other growers also contribute to, local food co-operatives, and in some local shops. They also mentioned that they are part of an emerging food system that is a possible model for a lower carbon future, but more on this coming up in the second post as I hope to uncover more details when John and Ann are a little less busy with garden work :)


    Scrumptious green goodies :)

    The productive beds are mainly next to and behind the polytunnels, laid out in a rectangular formation with pathways, not dissimilar to how we have laid our own beds out in our Market Garden, Aponia. Our raised beds are each 23m x 1.2m and approximately 30cm high with 50 cm paths between the beds. These dimensions enable easy access to the soil and plants without ever having to tread on the beds.

    The raised beds in Aponia

    It's extremely beneficial to keep the access 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, and 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 design priority.

    Surrounding the beds in Aponia is a diversity of perennial plants including herbs, shrubs, and trees with some small ponds and various microhabitats such as rock piles, old tree stumps and stick piles, something I observed also in Einion's garden.

    Early season in Aponia, our market garden. The productive annual beds are surrounded by lots of different habitat types and the boundary is a hedge of native trees and shrubs, including many Prunus insititia - Damson trees


    Einion's Garden is also flanked by native trees and shrubs

    I really appreciated that the width sides of the beds were growing a selection of flowering plants, attracting a lot of pollinators to the garden. Pollinators are a diverse group of animals that pollinate crops and wild plants. The pollination support offered by these organisms is huge and it makes sense to do as much as we can to both attract them and encourage them to take up residence in our landscapes. Many of our pollinators also play a role in protecting our productive plants from pests.

    Diversity of flowering plants on the edges of the productive beds at John and Ann's






    Just to clarify the difference between a polleniser and a pollinator. A polleniser (sometimes pollenizer, pollinizer or polliniser) is the plant that provides pollen and a pollinator is the biotic agent that moves the pollen. The word pollinator is often mistakenly used instead of polleniser.



    It's a good idea to factor pollination support into our designs, and one idea that could work for a rectangular bed formation is to design a combination of flowering plants in a strip and repeat this throughout the bed every 4m or so. If plants with different flowering times are selected hopefully the pollination support they provide can be maximized as the polyculture can be designed to feature plants whose bloom times overlap to always have flowers available to pollinators.

    We have also experimented with leaving a section of our annual productive beds to go fallow. The benefits of leaving land fallow to improve the fertility of the soil have been well known by growers ever since humans started growing and a wide range of beneficial organisms love these plants. 

    The power of ecological succession is quite remarkable!


    Here's a more detailed look at a few of the plants I found growing in the strip at the edge of the productive beds at Einion's Garden.

    Borago officinalis - Borage


    Image from Tamar Organics

    Overview: Borage grows up to 0.6m and is hardy to USDA zones 6-9. An easily grown plant that can tolerate poor soils and really flourish and grow large in rich ones. Although an annual, it usually is a reliable self-seeder and is a good companion plant for many annual vegetables including tomatoes and courgettes. It's in bloom from May-August and the flowers are reportedly edible although we haven't tried them and there are some contraindications for those with pre-existing liver conditions. The flowers are attractive to many beneficial organisms including bumblebees, wasps, and hoverflies, making it a great choice for pollination support.

    Bellis spp. - Daisy

    Overview: Daisy grows up to 0.2m and is hardy to USDA zones 4 -8.  Frequently found in lawns and meadows, it's an easily grown perennial that prefers a sunny outlook and good drainage. A good ground cover plant. It blooms from early spring until late autumn from May-August and the flowers may be eaten and are often added to salads. Butterflies, bees, and other types of flies enjoy visiting the blooms.


    Allium schoenoprasum - Chives 

    Overview: Chives are a bulbous perennial plant growing up to 0.3m and hardy to USDA zones 3-9. They like to grow in rocky pastures and damp meadows, generally preferring calcareous soils. They grow well with most plants, especially roses, carrots, beet, and chamomile, but may inhibit the growth of legumes. Beautiful purple flowers are much loved by pollinating insects such as bees and wasps and like other Alliums, the plant is said to have pest-resistant properties.

    If you are interested in looking into pollination support in greater detail you might like to check out The Early Polleniser Polyculture which aims to provide pollination support for farms and gardens, nutritious fruits and nuts, valuable nesting sites for endangered native bees, and spectacular flower displays to shake off the winter blues :)

    Huge thanks to John and Ann for the visit and for creating such an inspiring edible landscape! We're looking forward to visiting further on in the growing season and learning more about the plans in progress for the future. During the next post we'll be revisiting the beautiful garden of Claire and Ems and finding out what they're up to in the garden.

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

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    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
     RLD2022 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. 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!

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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 :)


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    Tuesday, 7 June 2022

    Egypt - Winter 2022 - Herping with Dylan - Red Sea Coral Reef and the Nubian Desert

    I'm still finishing up some blog posts from last winter trip to Egypt and during this post, Dylan comes out, we herp in the dessert, scuba dive in the red sea, and head into gold mining territory in the Nubian dessert. 

    After spending a few weeks in Luxor I headed over to Hurghada, a tourist town on the red sea coast, to meet my son Dylan who was keen to see Egypt and discover some of the reptile life in the region. After spending the night in Hurghada, we set out south along the coast to reportedly, one of the best Scuba diving spots on the Red Sea, Marsa Alam. 


    We hired a car for this part of the trip and although I'd not consider driving in Cairo, the coastal and desert roads are for the most part in great condition, pretty much empty and the scenery is perfect for driving. Every new town you enter and leave is guarded by various different branches of armed police and I believe a permit is needed for moving around certain parts of the country via vehicle, ours being issued as part of the car hire contract I assume.   

    We didn't get far down the road before stopping to take in the shifting desert scenery of the Arabian Desert  - Al-Sharqiyyah and for Dylan to take a look around for reptiles.


    It seemed like we were the only organisms as far as the eye could see but look carefully and we could make out small patches of unidentified shrubs on the horizon, spots Dylan seemed hopeful to find some reptilian life around. We did not see any at this location but did spot various burrows as pictured on the right that we believe to be inhabited by Uromastyx aegyptia - Egyptian Mastigure  (or some similar dessert dwelling lizard) that are known to grow up to 70 cm long  


    Further south where the coast is visible from the road the landscape shifted and larger areas of vegetation were present on what looked like old flood plains, coming in off the mountains in the west and draining into the sea. We had another mooch around and found insect and bird life, and some interesting plants but still no reptiles.


    With all the stops a 3.5 hr drive turned into 8 hours and we arrived in Marsa Alam in the dark but not before stopping one last time to photograph the first tree we'd come across since leaving the city. Still no reptiles.


    Red Sea Coast and Marsa Alam 


    The Red Sea coastal towns certainly lack the charm and diversity of the Mediterranean however the sea life is truly incredible. The first realization of this came to me whilst walking to the shore for the first time and seeing such a diversity of shells all over the ground. The below photo is just a small collection gathered around me in about half a minute. Btw, the airport security guys informed me, (as they dumped my collection into a wheelie bin) not to put collected shells in hand luggage if you want to take them back.


    I'm no expert on marine life and had no idea how a land so void of life could have a sea so full of it, Google popped out a reasonable explanation,  "because the air is arid and the water is clear, the algae that live inside corals are able to photosynthesize and provide the corals with nutrients. The nutrients are very efficiently recycled within the ecosystem and the result is an area with astonishing biodiversity. Three hundred reef-building corals and more than a thousand fish species call the Red Sea home." it does not explain how the corals got there, I guess it will turn into a chicken and egg conundrum at some point down the investigation.


    In Marsa Alam we met a diving instructor, Mattia from Deep Ashri while looking for accommodation for the night and arranged an early start dive the next day driving 25 km northeast to Monkey Divers Diving College, adjacent to Elphinstone resort. We passed many of these types of resorts on the way, and for a large stretch of the journey, they are the only places around. They cater to tourists on packaged holidays, with golf courses, masseurs beauticians, etc. The tourists are not allowed to leave the premises without permission, although given how cozy it is inside and how, literally, deserted it is outside. I don't think that would be a problem. 


    I've never seen a coast quite like it. The shallows were vast and teeming with fish of all sorts. The edge of the coral reef was half a km out and we reached the depths via a wooden pier. You can see the point from which we dived marked with a red dot on the map above.  


    It was the first-time scuba diving for both of us so Mattia took us in one at a time. Here's Dylan with his gear and getting used to breathing underwater. We dived to about 8m and along the reef edge. It was an incredible experience.


    Next time and I'm certain there will be the next time, in sha'Allah,  I'll bring a camera and spend time learning about the life down there. It was an amazing experience that cannot be put into words, the photos below were taken from the same section of the reef we dived at but do not come close to capturing this bizarre and beautiful part of the world.



    After the dive, our plan was to travel west through the Nubian desert to reach the Nile and try our luck herping on the way  and, along the banks of the Nile. We were told by locals the road was good about half of the way, patchy in some places,  and very bad towards the end but passable if you drive very slow and very carefully. Off we went.


    The Nubian Desert is gold mining territory and the road through was heavily guarded at each of the 4 checkpoints we crossed. The only vehicles we passed were trucks and 4 x 4s from the British mining company, Centamin who along with the Egyptian Ministry of Mineral Resources, exploits the Sukari mine/Al-Sukkari mine. Egypt was known in the ancient world as being a source of gold, and one of the earliest available maps shows a gold mine at this location.



    It's a surreal landscape, that created a craving to explore deep into Africa. 


    We saw birds of prey on the way and being top of the food chain they are evidence of many trophic levels that exist in this dessert. Still no reptiles 


    At the last check point where the mining territory ends and the roads become almost roads, we were asked if we could give a lift to two of the police guards to Edfu, the Nile side town at the end of the road. We obliged and set off on the way to Edfu. 

    That's all for this post, the final post on Egypt will be about Edfu, probably the most authentic place we traveled to in Egypt, the incredible Horus temple located there, and our exploration along the banks of the Nile where Dylan finally found his reptile and what a reptile it was.


    Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course 


    Want to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes?  Join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course from May 1st to Sep 13th, 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
     RLD2022 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. 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 

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


    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.
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