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The summer has arrived and it's been a hot four weeks since the last update, during which we've been busy at the project making a new forest garden during our Design and Build Course , working on designs for other people's forest gardens, and tending the existing gardens. We've said goodbye to Ronan who has been with us for the last 3 months, thanks x 1000 Ronan for your help in the gardens, they are looking/feeling better for it :) We also said goodbye to Lily and Maria,and have welcomed Shahara and Christiana and Tobi to the team.

So here's a what we've been up to last few weeks. 


Ekpyrosis - A new Forest Garden 

The last week of June we welcomed participants from all over the world to take part in our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course, an intensive practical course where we go through the whole design process and build a garden within 3 days. Being the summer we did not plant the garden but we did undertake a soil survey, topographical survey, establish the irrigation channels, pathways and beds to be ready for planting in the autumn or spring.  



Ekpyrōsis - Specific Design Objectives 

The purpose of this garden is as follows

Primary Purpose - to produce fruits and perennial vegetables with all fertility to support growth produced within the garden (beyond initial set up inputs.)
Secondary Purpose -  to provide a range of habitat to support wildlife.

Our goal with the design is to encourage growth of existing biodiversity as much as possible and provide new habitat that enhances biodiversity. We also want to utilise the slope of the land and existing water source to irrigate the garden via a mountain stream.


Location: Bulgaria, Shipka
​Climate: Temperate
Köppen Climate Classification - Dfc borderline Cfb
USDA Hardiness Zone: 5b - 7a
Latitude: 42°
Elevation: 574 m
Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5 mm
Prevailing Wind: NW & NE
Garden Name: Ekpyrosis
Garden Area: 652m2



The water enters the garden from the north and flows into the channels that flanked by two 50 cm wide beds with a 50 cm pathway between each channel and bed layout as shown in the below diagram.



In the middle of the bed layout is a mini wetland/marsh habitat that is basically a rectangular area that we dug out, lined with an impermeable membrane, back filled with stones and sand and planted with a number of different emergent aquatic plants. I'm not sure how effective this will be, but the aim is to provide a micro habitat for the garden that will attract and house frogs, dragonflies and other aquatic organisms.  I'll be posting some photos next week of how we made the wetland along with some photos of how it's doing.




This illustration lists the species that will populate the garden 




You can find profiles of all the plants used in this design (apart from the aquatic plants) in the links below. 

Vaccinium corymbosum cv. - Blueberry 
Tetradium danielii - Korean Bee Tree  
Rhus typhina -   Stag's horn sumach
Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry
Ginkgo biloba - Maidenhair Tree
Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive 
Spartium junceum - Broom 
Allium cepa proliferum - Tree Onion
Asparagus officinalis - Asparagus
Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey
Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus


Here's a projection of how the garden will mature over time. 



If you are interested in Creating a Forest Garden you can find more information in our previous blog here  join one of our webinars here or come and experience it first hand during our next Design and Build a Forest Garden course this October


Wildlife in the Gardens

Great to see Lizards on slug patrol around the nursery. This is a juvenile Lacerta viridis. Thanks  Danka Dragomir  for the I.D.


This beautiful dragon fly was photographed by Maria Cruz 


Lily spotted this amazing Orchid on the way back from the garden. It's the first time I've seen this plant and I believe it to be Himantoglossum caprinum, (thanks Misha for the I.D). It's conservation status is vulnerable so it's great to see it growing locally. 


Ataraxia - The Polyculture Trial Garden 

We planted some late sweetcorn in one of the raised beds we prepared last year making small nests  for the seeds through the straw mulch and sowing 2 - 3 seeds per nest. The plants are growing well.  



Ronan digging the 30 cm wide 30 cm deep input channel for the new forest garden.


It's great to see Sideritis scardica - Ironwort  flowering in the gardens. The plant is endemic to the Balkan Peninsula, where it is found at high altitudes in rocky montane areas. This herb is under intense collection pressure from the wild, with increasing demand for its medicinal value. The plants has historically been a valuable medicinal plant. The name 'Sideritis' derives from the Greek word “sideros” meaning iron; in the ancient past, Sideritis was a generic reference for plants used to heal wounds caused by iron weapons during battles. It is also commonly used to make an excellent 'mountain tea (Mursalski Tea) and is rich in flavanoids, terpenes and essential oils, iridoids, coumarins, lignans and sterols. 



I've started to plant quite a lot of Hemerocallis fulva - Orange Daylily around the edges of our raised beds. These plants are very easy to propagate large numbers of via root divisions and establish relatively quickly to form large clumps that produce edible and beautiful flowers in early summer.


As you can see in the below illustration of a polyculture we have planted in one of the swales in Ataraxia, Hemerocallis fulva - Orange Daylily  is used as fringe planting. I'm hoping over time, as the plants mature into clumps, they will prevent the encroachment of grass from the grassed pathways that wrap around the perimeter of the bed.


Over in Aponia, the market garden, we continue to experiment with annual vegetable polycultures. This year we been trying out Buckwheat in a few areas in the vegetable garden, mainly to assess it's green manure properties and attractiveness to wildlife. Sophie sowed a patch in mid March which was a little too early and resulted in approx 20% germination rates and I sowed another patch in Mid may with some corn sown in rows at the same time. The germination rates were excellent but it seems the combination is not a good one as you can see in the below photo, the buckwheat has shot up and is starting to smother the corn. We'll see how the corn responds.    



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.





Upcoming Courses

Our next course is scheduled for October so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience do join us this Autumn. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.


Registration for our October course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).

Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 


This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom on a range of topics. You can register for a  webinar here.


Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 
We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March.

We also offer a range of products all year round from our Online Store 

Give a happy plant a happy home :) 


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It's been a productive week in the gardens and we've been busy chopping and dropping, digging water channels and pruning. It's starting to heat up in the gardens now and the fruits are ripening.

So here's what we've been up to.  


Aponia - Forest Garden Maintenance 

We have a combination of fruiting shrubs and trees planted along swales in the Forest garden including Rubus fruticosus cv. - BlackberryRibes nigrum cv.- BlackcurrantAronia melanocarpa - Black Chokeberry and Prunus cerasifera - Cherry Plum and Chaenomeles speciosa - Jap. Quince. The plants generally grow well together but over time the dense entanglement can reduce air circulation within the mixed canopy that can start to create stressful conditions for the plants, it also makes it difficult to harvest. To remedy this we practice thinning and lifting. Thinning is basically removing approx 1/3rd of the oldest wood within each shrub. We also remove the dead wood and any branches that are rubbing against each other. Lifting is removing the lower branches of the trees to above head height in order to access around the tree and provide more light and air flow under the canopy. All of the pruned material are chopped into smaller pieces and applied to the surface under the shrubs. Here are Lilly and Lea (in the thick of it) thinning the shrubs and trees on the Swale.  You can see the lifted Prunus cerasifera - Cherry Plum to the left of Lilly 



Forest Garden Fruits 

The first crop of Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry are ready. These fruits form on the unpruned canes from last year. The pruned canes will produce fruit around late September 


It's another good year for Prunus spinosa - Sloe. The shrubs are full of fruit that will ripen in late summer.


Ribes rubrum cv. - Red currant are starting to ripen




The meadows around the area are ready for a hay cut. The lack of a long dry period this spring has prevented a cut so far this season.  


Birdsfoot trefoil - Lotus corniculatus is one of many nitrogen fixing herbs that grow among the grasses in the meadows




Wildlife in the Gardens 

I found what looks like the beginning of a wasp nest among the stack of straw bales in the garden. 


We have a growing population of Grassnakes - Natrix natrix in the gardens. These are harmless snakes that can be useful pest predators feeding on slugs when they are young. This is the first time I have seen these snakes in the nursery area of garden. It was among the potted plants probably hunting for frogs that shelter among the pots looking for slugs. For more information about this snake check out Dylan's website Bulgarians Reptiles



Biomass Trials - Ataraxia

An ideal biomass/mulch plant grows fast, is drought tolerant, competes minimally with crop plants, does not contain seed that easily spreads, is easy to handle and cut, i.e,  not thorny/prickly or tough and fibrous, and can biodegrade relatively quickly (thereby returning the nutrients back to soil). It should also be inexpensive to produce lots of plants and easy to establish. We're experimenting with various plants in the trial garden to see which plants are most suitable for mulch production.  You can find out more about our biomass trials here.




Out of these three plants Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus  is certainly the easiest to propagate with a plant grown from a rhizome being able to produce up to 5 more plants within a year. Some care should be taken when choosing the location of the  Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus  as the plant spreads rapidly forming large impenetrable clumps. We plant on raised beds and mow the pathways aorund the beds to keep them contained. Here is Ronan dividing clumps of Miscanthus x giganteus for planting around the pond in Katalêpsis -The Polyculture Study Guest House. These plants are also useful in producing support material for vegetables in the gardens.


For more on growing your own mulch see our previous blog post - How to grow your own mulch 

For the Bulgarian translation of the blog see here - thank you Mihaela Tzarchinska.

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

  • Join our Patreon Page and receive exclusive content, store discounts and lots more   
  • Comment, like and share our content on social media.





Upcoming Courses

Our next course is scheduled for June so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience do join us this summer. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Design and Build a Forest Garden Course 

Registration for our June course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).

Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 


This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom on a range of topics. You can register for a  webinar here.


Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 
We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March.

We also offer a range of products all year round from our Online Store 

Give a happy plant a happy home :) 



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Another wet but warm week here in Shipka. May and June are the wettest months here and the native plant growth at this time of year is phenomenal. We do quite a lot of chop and drop and weeding at this time of year, to allow light and space for the cultivated plants to grow, and to utilise the incredible amount of biomass produced for mulch and compost material. This week we've also been keeping an eye on potential pests, making a June botany survey and preparing the site for a new garden we'll be designing and building during our upcoming course next week.

     This week we're pleased to be joined by Maria.


Pest Control in the Market Garden - Aponia 

Our chief strategy to deal with pest and disease in the vegetable gardens is to reduce plant stress levels as much as possible. We aim to achieve this by well timed planting out, providing adequate irrigation and building healthy soils with diverse microbiology to nurture the plants. Other steps we take are to try many cultivars and stick with the ones that perform best, grow our own plants from seed and only select the healthiest seedlings (for some species we save seed from the best performing plants). We also plant in polycultures to make it more difficult for pests to locate our plants and we introduce various habitats in the gardens for pest predators such as hedgehogs, birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, ladybirds, wasps, mantids and beetles. 


Finally, we practice manual pest removal for certain pests such as Cabbage White eggs, Brassica Bug adults and every few years snails. Our aim with pest and disease organisms is not to entirely eliminate them but to reduce them to a point where they do not make significant damage.  This week we have been on the look out for the Cabbage White eggs. We also collected a bucket full of snails, much to the delight of our ducks.  These are the eggs of the common butterfly  Cabbage White - Pieris rapae  a pest that can do considerable damage to all Brassica crops. 


Always good to see a nice diversity of organisms during a pest hunt including various species of nesting spiders. Spiders can be considered generalist predators and will eat beneficial insects as well as pests therefore we encourage and welcome them in the gardens!




The population of ladybirds, seen here on Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry,  are high in the gardens and they do a good job of controlling the aphids.


Thanks to Victoria Bezhitashvili, who joined us for the study last year, we have a general record of some of the pests and diseases in the vegetable garden. You can find Victoria's observations here.

Lettuce planted under garlic have done well in a somewhat shady bed next to the hedgerow. Both of these plants have been pest free. We harvested the lettuce a little too late as they were starting to extend a flowering stem. Rather than pull them out of the ground we cut them at the base so perhaps we will get some extra harvest from the regrowth.


Paulownia Coppice Trials 

The Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree I coppiced a few weeks back is ready for thinning already. After cutting the plant to ground level many shoots emerge from the stool. We remove all but one of the new shoots to provide shade to the sun sensitive plants planted below. The single stemmed plant will be cut in 2 years time to provide stakes and fence posts and the cycle begins again.  It's amazing how fast these plants grow. The photo on the far left shows the stool 2 weeks ago, the middle photo is the same stool 2 weeks later and the photo on the far right shows the stool with the  regrowth thinned to one stem.


We have the Paulownia trees planted 1.5 m apart running along the centre of the raised bed and have Beetroot and Kohlrabi planted under the plants.


As well as the phenomenal rate of native plant growth this time of year our Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey 'Bocking 14' plants are equally impressive. 


Misha and Philip cut back the Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey we have growing along the water channel. We'll let it decompose for a week and apply it to the new vegetable beds as mulch.


Ekpyrosis - A new Forest Garden 

Next week we'll be hosting our second course of the year where we will be designing and building a Forest Garden on the below plot of land. There is a wonderful diversity of plants already established on the site including a various trees and shrubs in the boundary hedging and shrubs such as these  Rosa canina - Dog Rose emerging from the mixed species meadow.


Before we start the development of a new garden I like to make a record of the existing plants as our intention is always to integrate out cultivated plants into the existing wildlife. Here are some photos of the flora on the plot taken by Cassandra.  


Here are Lea, Maria and Ronan surveying the plot in order to find the contour lines




The contour line pegged and out  across the plot. Thanks Misha for the photo



Upcoming Courses

Our next course is scheduled for June so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience do join us this summer. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Design and Build a Forest Garden Course 

Registration for our June course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).

Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 


This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom on a range of topics. You can register for a  webinar here.


Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 
We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March.

We also offer a range of products all year round from our Online Store 

Give a happy plant a happy home :) 



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

  • Join our Patreon Page and receive exclusive content, store discounts and lots more   
  • Comment, like and share our content on social media.





 
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It's been a rainy and stormy week here in Shipka and the gardens are loving it. Plant growth at this time of year is so fast you can almost hear it. Cassandra and Lily have joined us for the next 3 weeks and it's great to see their enthusiasm for and knowledge of wild foraging.

So here's what we've been up to.  


The Market Garden - Aponia

We've been leaving 2 m long fallow patches in the vegetables beds as a way to integrate beneficial habitat around the crops.  The wild plants are left to grow in the patch and we cut back the sides when the growth starts to impede upon pathways.   Here is an example of how fallow patches can be set up within a raised bed garden. The example shown below has 180 m2 of cultivated land and with 6 fallow patches covering 14.4 m2  this is less than 10 % of the land dedicated to habitat and provides a refuge for wildlife and beneficial insects within a intensively cultivated area.  The below diagram assumes that there is no wildlife habitat around the perimeter of the garden, if there were the number of fallow patches may be reduced and concentrated to the inner part of the garden.      

Achillea millefolium - Yarrow and Trifolium pratense - Red Clover flowering in a fallow patch in the annual raised beds. 


Some invertebrates from the fallow patch 

The Fallow Patch, we've left this patch fallow for the last 2 years.  



We planted out squash and beans from the flats. Fortunately we sowed beans in flats as well as directly into the beds, as the majority of the directly sown bean seeds either decomposed or were eaten.  



The Kale seedlings are establishing well and ready for a first harvest following which we will thin them out.     


The growth this time of year is incredibly fast and we are mowing the pathways once a week. Here's Ronan mowing the pathways in the forest garden   


Allium schoenoprasum - Chives planted around the edges of raised beds attract a range of pollinating insects that in turn attract the Flower Crab Spider. These spiders will quietly sit and wait on a flower or on a leaf until prey comes close enough for them to grab. They have no problem taking on insects far larger then themselves. 



The Cherry Orchard - Eleutheria
In the north east of  Shipka we have a cherry orchard planted with early - mid and late cultivars that have been very productive over the years. We headed there last week to pick the early cultivars but to my surprise there were hardly any cherries on the trees. Having looked around at some of the wild cherry trees in the vicinity it seems they are also very light on cherries this year. I can only assume that the location was subject to some unfavorable weather during the blossoming period, perhaps a prolonged frost.


Fortunately the trees in the home gardens, located lower down the mountain, are full of cherries so we headed over there for a harvest. Although having plots in various places can be time consuming, it does offer some protection from the vagaries of weather. I've heard it was common in the past for growers to have a number of smaller plots scattered around a landscape rather than a large one for this very reason.       



The Perennial Trial Garden - Ataraxia 

Over at the perennial trial garden we've been chopping and dropping the native plants that surround the cultivated plants to allow space and reduce water competition. Here's Cassandra cutting back Clematis vitalba that seems like a great candidate for a biomass plant given how quickly it grows and how tolerant to cut back it is.  


The trial preparation is going well and we have all of the productive plants in place and various biomass plants establishing before we begin the actual biomass trials. You can find out more about the polycultures and biomass plants from this garden here. Here is an overview of the planting scheme. 




Found a nice patch of  Rumex acetosa - Common Sorrel in the biomass beds. Thank you Lily for the identification. This edible perennial has a sharp, citrus, taste with younger smaller leaves tasting best. There is a good profile of this plants on wildfood.co.uk



Upcoming Courses

Our next course is scheduled for June so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience do join us this summer. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Design and Build a Forest Garden Course 

Registration for our June course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).

Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 


This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom on a range of topics. You can register for a  webinar here.


Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 
We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March.

We also offer a range of products all year round from our Online Store 

Give a happy plant a happy home :) 



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

  • Join our Patreon Page and receive exclusive content, store discounts and lots more   
  • Comment, like and share our content on social media.





 
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What a lovely week! we were pleased to be joined by Amy and Karo on the polyculture study who stopped by for a short visit and helped us out in the gardens planting out basil and peppers, preparing a new swale in the market garden (Aponia) and working on the irrigation channels, raised beds and wildlife pond in Phronensis.  We've had great weather with the rains falling at night and warm sunshine in the mornings. Ivana from  Permakulura(cs) in Czech Republic also popped by for a morning to see the gardens. It's always a pleasure to learn of the many projects all over Europe. 

So here's what we've been up to this week


Market Garden - Aponia

Experience has taught me that the warm season plants (apart from Tomatoes) are better planted out later than earlier in our location, even if this means leaving the seedlings in a crowded pot for a few weeks longer. The plants that are planted in late May always outperform the early May plantings. This week we planted pepper and basil seedlings into the annual beds. 


Allium schoenoprasum - Chives flowers are perfect for eating right now. The nectaries are full and although onion and sugar probably sounds like a combination you could give a miss it actually tastes pretty good :)


The broad beans - Vicia faba are in flower and we should get some beans next week. Soph planted these in early March mixed with potatoes and garlic, everything is doing well. I love the green, black and white of Vicia faba, it's the same colour theme of our logo.  


Here's this weeks photo of the  Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree regrowth. This is 3 weeks of growth. more on Paulownia Coppice here.


We have four Swales in our Market garden, we made the fourth swale during our PDC back in 2012 and we have not got around to planting it out. Unless i have a plan for planting  and the plants ready to go i prefer to let places grow wild so in this case the swale has  been fallow for 7 years providing great habitat and plenty of biomass. Here's some shots of the PDC group making the swale. 


 This Autumn we're planning to plant out the area with a perennial polyculture featuring Vaccinium corymbosum cv. - Blueberry  and Scorzonera hispanica. To prep it for planting we cut back the existing vegetation with a scythe leaving the cuttings on the surface, broad forked the area to create some air pockets and fissures in the soil, applied approx. 30L per m2 of partially decomposed farmyard manure and mulched it like it was going out of fashion.  


Lea, Amy and Karo bringing buckets and barrows of manure for the swale.


Ronan, Lea, Amy and Karo applying the straw mulch.  


Phronensis 

Over at Phronensis we finished off the raised beds using the soil from the pond excavation along with straw mulch, card and wild vegetation trimmings. We'll add another layer of fresh manure topped with straw to these beds over the next few weeks. 


We put the liner in place for the wildlife pond and lightly secured the edges with some rocks so that it does not blow away in the wind. We'll fill and plant next week.  For more info on liners, why to use, when to use, what to use and how to do it. check out our previous post Small Pond Installations for Irrigation and Wildlife - Part 2 - Liners 


Great job on the pond even though it currently does looks like a giant "inny" belly button as Karo pointed out :)   


The Cherries are coming. If you search around a while you can pick some nice sweet ripe ones now. It's a good year in terms of quantity of cherries but how the weather pans out will determine how good the crop is. Too much rain now will produce watery fruits that eventually split but a week of hot sun will be cherry heaven. 


It's another great year for Prunus dulcis cv. - Almond . I've only one of these trees in the forest garden planted up against a west facing wall protected from the wind but seeing as the tree is providing quite regular yields i'm looking to plant more of these. We'll have some great cultivars available from the nursery this season.     


I love Nectaroscordum siculum - Bulgarian Honey Garlic  not only because it makes a great seasoning known locally as Самардала (Samardala) but because it has very impressive flowers. These plants grow among the Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey and as you can see the inflorescence extend well above the comfrey leaves. After the flowers have set seed the plant will wilt back to bulb until next spring.


One of our forest garden nitrogen fixers and mulch machines  Spartium junceum - Broom
has started to flower. These plants produce great quantities of biomass but the leaves and stems are tough and break down slowly. Makes a great mulch in the perennial beds under the currants and raspberries. 


Pleased to see our Schisandra grandiflora flowering for the first time (maybe second time) and hopefully we'll see the first ever fruits this year. These plants are native to Asia  and are commonly grown in gardens as ornamentals. the fruits are edible and they are very hardy surviving the coldest winters here in an exposed location.  I'm going to try propagating the plant via cuttings of the semi ripe shoots in August.


Something has taken a liking to our Viburnum opulus 'Xanthocarpum' - Guelder Rose ​ leaves. It seems to only be feeding on the leaves on the lower half of the shrub for now and i assume that it's a nocturnal feeder as I could not see any signs of the culprit. 


Rosa canina - Dog Rose in flower and a reminder of the coming rose season. Shipka is located right in the heart of the Rose Valley. The valley is famous for its rose-growing industry which has been cultivated here for centuries, and produces close to half of the planets rose oil. For a few days around early June the aroma of roses fills the air, it's quite intoxicating.         



Wildlife in the Gardens 

A common site in the gardens this time of year are the Araneus diadematus - European Garden Spider nests. The adult spiders are chiefly responsible for those face-full-of-web moments during a morning stroll in the garden . During the night the industrious spider spins its silk and weaves it into a web ready for the following day.  The adults are large for european spiders withfemales growing to 15 mm (body length), and males to 9 mm. 


Panorpa communis - Scorpionfly on Viburnum opulus 'Xanthocarpum' - Guelder Rose ​. They eat dead insects, sometimes live aphids and are known to poach food from spider webs. They also feed on plant sap. Although fully winged, the adults rarely fly very far and spend much of their time crawling on vegetation in damp, shaded places near water and along hedgerows. Thanks Peter Alfrey for the I.D


Upcoming Courses

Our next course is scheduled for June so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience do join us this summer. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Design and Build a Forest Garden Course 

Registration for our June course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).

Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 


This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom on a range of topics. You can register for a  webinar here.


Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 
We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March.

We also offer a range of products all year round from our Online Store 

Give a happy plant a happy home :) 



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

  • Join our Patreon Page and receive exclusive content, store discounts and lots more   
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It's been another productive week here in Shipka thanks to our amazing team :)  May and June are the wettest months of the year in our area and although it does not rain continuously, when it does rain it pours. It's quite similar to tropical weather this time of year and often the rainy spells come at regular intervals such as the early hours of the morning, while it is still dark, and in the afternoons. I love this weather and this time of year, the plants seem most content, healthy and full of vigour.

Forest Garden/Wildlife Garden/ Polyculture 

Grape, Blueberry and Jostaberry Polyculture - Hecate

Our productive polyculture of Grape, Blueberry and Jostaberry (nicknamed Hecate) is coming along nicely. I forgot to get a photo of the bed but here is an illustration and some photos of the plants.





Plants look even more beautiful during and after a rain, adorned with little water droplets sparkling in the light. This Vaccinium corymbosum cv. - Blueberry 'Sunshine Blue' is a Dwarf Blueberry and tolerant of a higher pH than most blueberry cultivars. They have delicious fruits and are very productive when grown in pots. We have 8 of these plants in the polyculture planted beneath the Grape Vines.  


I found a local supply of a great pest and disease resistant  Vitis vinifera cv. - Grape cultivar called 'Moldova'  The first shoots are coming along nicely. We'll be growing these in the polyculture trained along wires, a method known as the kniffin system.   


We put a few Iris germanica - Bearded Iris on the edges of the polyculture just because of the outrageous flowers! We also have Rubus × loganobaccus - Loganberry planted on the south edge and a trim of  the very edible Hemerocallis fulva - Orange Daylily planted 20 cm apart. These plants make a good ground cover and I'm hoping they will provide a barrier to prevent the meadow grasses creeping into the bed.  



Phronesis - Forest Garden 

We started work on the wildlife pond for our new forest garden this week. Dylan and his friends dug out the bulk of the pond a few weeks back and this week we levelled the banks, defined the shape,  created some shelves and dug out a little more depth in preparation for lining.  The pond is located at the bottom of the garden as shown in the below illustration. 



Installing a pond is probably the single most effective thing you can do in a garden to enhance biodiversity and wildlife 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.  For full instructions on how we build our ponds you can read our previous posts - Small Pond Installations for Irrigation and Wildlife - Part 1 and Small Pond Installations for Irrigation and Wildlife - Part 2 - Liners. I'll be writing Part 3 - Planting The Pond using this pond as an example in the coming weeks. 

Here is Ronan defining the shelves of the pond that will be used to locate the emergent plants such as Iris psueodocorus and Thypa latifolia 


The soil from the excavation is very useful. we laid down some tarps around the edges to make it easier to move around.  


We put the soil from the pond to good work separating the top soil from the sub soil and using the sub soil as a layer for the raised beds that are located either side of the pond (as you can see in the above illustration of the garden). We'll be adding layers of the freshly cut surrounding wild vegetation, spoiled straw and fresh manure next week and these beds will be ready for planting next spring.

Pierre Barbieux the founder of Bois de Rode Bos in Belgium visited for the day to see what we're up to here and helped out in the morning with the raised beds. Pierre is growing an excellent variety of rare fruit and nut cultivars at his 3 ha site just outside Brussels.


When making deep mulched raised beds it's important to relieve the compaction in the bed area before applying the layers of organic matter. It's also preferable if the ground is thoroughly soaked before mulching. In this case we had some beautiful rain recently. Here is Ronan and Lea using the broad forks to de-compact the bed area. Note the existing vegetation is not removed or turned over.


With regular rains and warm sunny spells forecast for this month it's a great time to add a few last plantings and sowing to the channels we created. Here is Misha planting Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey cuttings along the central irrigation channel of the garden at approx. 50 cm  apart. These plants will provide a valuable source of mulch for the trees and shrubs we have planted in the garden and being located right next to the irrigation channel with access to abundant water they should produce very high yields. I 'd estimate within two years we will be able to make 5 cuts per season with yields of 8 kg of biomass per plant per season. We''ll certainly leave the plants to flower during the season as they are very attractive to wildlife. You can read more about this amazing plant here.



Lea and Ronan sowed Trifolium repens - White Clover into the berms that were created when establishing the irrigation channels. Trifolium repens - White Clover provides excellent cover and as long as you don't sow the cultivated variety (often referred to as Dutch Clover) they are very tolerant of foot and light vehicle traffic. We have these seeds along with other green manures and ground covers available from our online store
 

Wildlife in the Gardens

I photographed this array of insects enjoying the blossoms of our Zanthoxylum simulans- Szechuan Pepper  during a cup of coffee in the home garden - Apatheia. It's remarkable how attractive this plant is to a range of invertebrates many of which are great pollinators and pest predators. Zanthoxylum simulans- Szechuan Pepper produces a great spice too.






Viburnum opulus 'Xanthocarpum' - Guelder Rose ​ is another plant that is extremely attractive to wildlife and generally very beautiful. The fruits of these plants are edible and I waited eagerly for 4 years for my first and last fruit. The fruits of these plants fall into my 'apocalypse food' category. I might make this a  new category for the nursery website :)   


This is a Morus alba - White Mulberry pollard we have been growing for about 8 years now. These new shoots will probably reach over a metre by the end of summer. The lush new regrowth makes excellent rabbit and pig food. Here is a video by Arch of cutting the trees a few years back and feeding them to the animals. For more on Mulberry check out our article Mo' Mulberry 



Mid week we bio blitzed Phronensis and a new garden we will be developing for our upcoming June Design and Build a Forest garden Course. Bio blitzing is basically taking a careful look at the flora and fauna of the site and photographing the flowering plants and invertebrate activity. We'll do this once per month during the growing season to keep a record of the biodiversity we have on our sites. These are some of the photos from the blitz. Thanks Ronan, Lea, Misha and Philip for these. 

Bioblitz - Wildlife Gardens 

Other News 
Shipka Festival 

For all you happy people living nearby, next weekend our friends have organised music, film and crafts in Shipka and you are welcome to come along! 

Our gardens will also be open during the day if you would like to have a look around. You can find out more about the activities and schedule here 



More news..... 

If you are part of the Swedish Permaculture Associataion - Permakultur Sverige you may be interested in this opportunity to attend a range of courses across Europe (all expenses covered) including our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course and Regenerative Landscape Design Course. You can find out more about this opportunity here.

Thank you Misha and Philip from Green School Village -  for partnering with Permakultur Sverige to include our project courses.


Upcoming Courses

Our next course is scheduled for June so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience do join us this summer. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Design and Build a Forest Garden Course 

Registration for our June course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).

Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 



This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom on a range of topics. You can register for a  webinar here.


Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 
We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March.

We also offer a range of products all year round from our Online Store 

Give a happy plant a happy home :) 



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

  • Join our Patreon Page and receive exclusive content, store discounts and lots more   
  • Comment, like and share our content on social media.



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It's been a relaxed week here in Shipka. The main focus has stayed on the market garden where we are sowing and planting out the warm season annual crops. The weather has been warm with cloudy cool spells and the wild vegetation is really starting to take off. The fruits are forming on the trees and shrubs and the promise of summer, albeit 6 weeks away, is in the air.

So here's what we've been up to this week.



Ronan Delente a chef who has been travelling the world cooking across the continents has joined as for the study this year. Ronan has been experimenting with various recipes using the wild plants and perennial vegetables from the gardens. He started a blog this week to share his recipes and love for cooking with perennials. Check out his Falafel recipe here - looks very tasty!

The Forest Garden - Aponia  


It's going to be a good year for plums it seems especially the wild Prunus cerasifera - Cherry Plum that grow in abundance in our area. These plums are great, each wild tree has unique tasting plums and I reckon about 1 in 10 have the perfect amount of juiciness, sweetness and acidity that I love in these fruits.



Mespilus germanica - Medlar  is flowering. This is seedless local cultivar and provides us with great fruit from late November into December. 


Looking forward to the fruits from this Rubus fruticosus cv. - Blackberry cultivar 'Reuben'. This cultivar is unusual for blackberry in that it produces fruit on new growth, known as a primocane. We get some great fruit from this plant in the summer and it continues to flower into late October and although the fruit does not ripen that late in the season the flowers do provide scarce forage for pollinators.


As the warmer season approaches we will be needing to irrigate the gardens. This week we went for a walk up the mountain to show the team the source of our irrigation, the river in the valley above us, and how the town diverts the river to supply water for gardens and farms in the area. 


Here's a map showing the channel we use to irrigate the market garden and home garden on the west side of town . The red markers are places where the stream can be diverted to irrigate the other gardens of the town. The end of the blue line in the bottom left hand corner is the market garden. The above photo was taken at the other end of the blue line on this map. 


For the East side gardens we use a different river . Here's a short video made by Archie of the our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course this April that shows the irrigation channels in the new forest garden we built during the course 

 
Design and Build a Forest Garden Course - April 2019 - YouTube

I spotted the first flowering Chamomile of the season. This is one of our favourites to collect and dry for a supply of herbal teas. The first time I collected chamomile I was confused in trying to identify the plant . Browsing through herb books to look up the herb I found many names, both common and scientific. First of all the word chamomile is sometimes spelled camomile then there’s Roman (or English) chamo­mile, a perennial, and German (or Hungarian) chamomile, an annual. The German species might be listed as Matricaria chamomilla, Chamomilla recutita, or Matricaria recutita. Roman chamomile is referred to in some sources as Anthemis nobilis, in others as Chamaemelum ­nobile. I wrote a blog post years ago to help with identification. You can find it here if you are interested  



Paulownia Coppice Trials 

I've been experimenting with growing Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree in the garden. Our experiments include growing the plants in the center of our vegetable raised beds for shade and mulch, growing the plants for tipi poles, fence posts and stakes in the vegetable gardens and generally to see how much biomass these plants can produce in the polyculture garden.  

Here is a photo of Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree  used for shade support in our vegetable polycultures. This photo was taken in the summer of 2016 just 3 months after planting the 1 year old whips, already providing some nice shade that helps preventing the parsley from bolting to seed.  


This photo shows the trees after planting in 2016 and then in the summers of the following years. 


This spring about 3 weeks ago I cut down the trees and the largest tree (shown below) was approx 4 m tall and approx. 15 cm wide at the base. You can see 3 weeks after I cut the tree the new growth is already emerging. I expect these new shoots will reach at least 1 m tall by the end of the season. I'll post some photos in the future.

   
Here's a photo of some of the pole wood we harvested from the two beds.  We used this wood to stake the tomatoes and the thinner diameter wood for bean poles. The larger diameter wood is not shown here and will be used for fence posts at some point.  


Based on some trials with coppicing paulownia in the home garden, I expect much faster growth from the coppice stools than from the original whips we planted.  

If we get enough people sign up for our patron I'll write up a detailed report of all of our Paulownia trials for our patrons. Speaking of Patron,  if you are interested in learning how you can grow food and other resources while enhancing biodiversity then why not become a patron of our project?  As a patron we will be sharing more in depth elements of our work with you, including monthly detailed polyculture profiles (such as this) video tours of forest gardens, and we'll provide you with access to our webinars and unique design spreadsheets. You can also participate in monthly Q&A sessions where you can bring your own projects to look over and discuss with the group. 


Our goal is to educate and build a network of designers and practitioners while raising funds to help support and develop our project's activities. Join us !

Become a Patron of our Project 


Bees in the Gardens 

Xylocopa violacea, the violet carpenter bee is one of the largest bees in Europe. These solitary bees hibernate overwinter and emerge in the spring, usually around April or May. The female creates the nest alone. The eggs are laid within a series of small cells, each of which is supplied with a pollen ball for the larvae to feed upon. The adults emerge in late summer then hibernate until the following year They hibernate in dead wood boring tunnel in the material hence they are called "carpenter bee"  and they will use the same nest of abandoned nest if available, a good reason to leave some old logs around the garden. 



Honey bees are loving the Allium schoenoprasum - Chives in the nursery. These bees were moving very slowly over the flowers, almost as if they were drunk on the nectar.


Kale we sowed last year and harvested all of last summer and through the winter is flowering at the moment.  Not all of our kale survive the winters here (winters can be very harsh), but there is a patch in a protected spot that does well.  Kale is a biennial plant the life cycle of which span two years.  They flower and produce seeds in their second year after which they whither away. You can keep the plants alive for many years by cutting back the flowering growth but I like to let some plants go. As you can see below they are extremely attractive to a range of bees and other pollinators. For more info on plant life cycles see our previous post here 



Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 


This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom on a range of topics. You can register for a  webinar here.


Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 
We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March.

We also offer a range of products all year round from our Online Store 

Give a happy plant a happy home :) 




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

  • Join our Patreon Page and receive exclusive content, store discounts and lots more   
  • Comment, like and share our content on social media.





 

Our next course is scheduled for June so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience do join us this summer. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Design and Build a Forest Garden Course 

Registration for our June course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).
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It's been an eventful week here at the project, planting out the market garden crops, digging wildlife ponds and launching a Patreon Page!! We also welcome Ben, a landscaper from the UK, that joined us for the course and is staying on for a few weeks for the polyculture study.

At the beginning of the week we said farewell to the participants of our Design and Build a Forest Garden course after a marvellous three days of design and build that resulted in the creation of a new Forest, details of which will follow. 

So here's what we've been up to last week.
    

The Design and Build a Forest Garden Course

Our Design and Build courses are exactly that. We start with the design and end with the build. For  this particular course the location for the new garden was just east of our Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden, Ataraxia, in a new area we are developing called Phronesis. The forest garden is named after and dedicated to  Joost W. van der Laan who made a generous donation to our Polyculture Project Crowdfunder last year. Thank you Joost :)  


It was an eclectic group of people that joined us for the course this spring including young farmers, fitness trainers, a landscape gardener, a journalist  and a Hollywood actress all coming together from all over the world to create a fledgling forest garden. This occurred at about the same time 10,000's of people were laying down on the floors of London to protest government about biodiversity loss and environmental damage. I wonder whether if just 5% of them (of those have not already) were to build a forest garden whether the result might be 50 x more effective than expecting the government to do something?  but hey, people love a "lay-in" it seems :)   


The primary purpose of this garden is to produce round wood for fence posts, light construction wood and stakes and pole wood for the market garden crops. The secondary purpose is to provide fruits and nuts in the under story and a range of habitat to support wildlife.  Here's an illustration of the garden.



The goals of this design were to ;
  • encourage growth of existing biodiversity as much as possible and provide new habitat that enhances biodiversity
  • utilise the slope of the land and existing water source to irrigate the garden
Here's a before an after shot 

 View of the planted out garden from the east 


View of the planted out garden from the west 


  This image provides a growth projection from initial plant out to year 3, year 8 and year 15-20 when the garden is mature.  



We did not have time to dig out the wildlife pond for the garden during course but Dylan and his friends completed the dig the day after (and stage a little "lay in"). We'll be lining and planting this out in the coming weeks. 



Here are the marvellous participants of the course. For more photos of the course see here


Our next course is scheduled for June so if you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience join us this summer come and join us. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Design and Build a Forest Garden Course 

Registration for our June course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).

The Market Garden - Aponia 

After the Design and Build a Forest Garden Course our attention shifted to the market garden where we are starting to plant out our annual herb and vegetable polyculture - Zeno.  We have been growing this polyculture for 7 years now and have for the last 4 years been comparing yields of the polyculture with the same crops planted in blocks nearby. You can find the previous 4 years results of this trail here and more information and diagrams of the polyculture Zeno here

I actively encourage the growth of wild plants in our beds whenever we are not growing crops in them. From October through to April the beds are generally full of native plants that provide a winter cover, offer support to wildlife and provide a significant amount of biomass for the beds when we prepare them for planting in May. The first step is to spread approx 100 g of ash per m2  over the surface of the bed. Next we  broadfork the beds and pull the native plants out of the clods removing plants with rhizomes such as nettles and mints (for the compost pile) and leaving all of the other plants on the surface to decompose in situ.   


Next we add approx 20 L of compost per m 2 to the surface 


and then we mulch the bed with 1 bale per m length of bed 


The compost is spread evenly over the surface and the straw mulch is applied 


We are growing 6 cultivars of Tomatoes this year. Sophie started the tomatoes from seed in mid March and transplanted the seedlings into 10 L pots when they were approx 8 cm tall. You can comfortably fit 7 or 8 seedlings in each 10 L pot . We removed the plants from the pots and sat them in buckets of water prior to planting out.  The cultivars we are growing are Tigerella - Ukraine Purple - Chocolate Pear - Alicante - Yellow Pear  and Rozavo Magia  


Using pole wood harvested from the Forest garden  from plants including Juglans regia - Persian Walnut - 
Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree - Alnus cordata  - Italian Alder Corylus avellana - Hazelnut  and Prunus insititia - Damson we erected the stakes to support the tomatoes.

These stakes also serve well as bird perches which is great as the birds will often rest on the perches while hunting for larvae in the vegetable beds.  


The bed on the right will be planted with the Zeno Polyculture and the bed on the left will have the same crops planted in blocks.



You can find the results from the last 4 years of this study here

We're Launching a Patreon Page! 

If you are interested in learning how you can grow food and other resources while enhancing biodiversity then why not become a patron of our project?  As a patron we will be sharing more in depth elements of our work with you, including monthly detailed polyculture profiles (such as this) video tours of forest gardens and we'll provide you with access to our webinars and unique design spreadsheets. You can also participate in monthly Q&A sessions where you can bring your own projects to look over and discuss with the group. 


Our goal is to educate and build a network of designers and practitioners while raising funds to help support and develop our project's activities.We're in seedling stage at the moment but with you on board we're on our way to grow this to a mighty tree:)


Become a Patron of our Project 


The Forest Garden - Edible Perennials 

There is a brief window of opportunity to harvest Elm seeds in the Spring, when the seeds are green, leafy and coin sized. Just as the plant embryo is forming they have an oiliness and taste not too dissimilar to peanuts. According to plants for a future  the seeds contain about 34.4% protein, 28.2% fat and 17% carbohydrate. Here are some photos by Ronan of the Ulmus sp. seeds ripe for eating. 




Chaenomeles speciosa - Jap. Quince and Aronia melanocarpa - Black Chokeberry  are dominant in the shrub layer of the forest garden. The fruits of these plants are not particularly suitable for eating freshly picked but both plants are great for juicing. With the quince juice being super rich in vitamin C. You can read more about Japanese Quince in our previous post here 



 Great to see a Mulberry tree we planted last year flowering this year, hopefully we will get some fruit in a few months. This is Morus kagayamae - 'Kinriu' a dioecious female plant that will produce fruit with a male pollinator mulberry nearby.  For more info on Mulberry check out our previous post dedicated solely to these marvellous plants here


Our  Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive shrubs are flowering  profusely this spring. The flowers are very attractive to a range of pollinators and pest predators and come October will have transformed into  sweet little red balls of fruit.    



Forest Garden Maintenance - It's been about two weeks since I last cut the pathways in the forest garden and leaving it any longer this time of year makes the job twice as hard as the lush vegetation grows so tall it clogs up the lawn mower. It takes around 40 minutes to mow all of the pathways and this includes emptying the nutrient dense cuttings onto the surface of the raised beds where we grow our annual vegetables. I would estimate that we receive approx 60 kg of trimmings each time we cut in the spring which is a decent quantity of fertiliser. As long as you spread the trimmings thinly on the surface they will quickly decompose.  Here are some photos of the freshly cut pathways within our 8 year old forest garden in Aponia. We established most of these pathways with the lawn mower and some of them we dug out when we first developed the garden and sowed with Trifolium repens - White Clover.




Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 


This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom on a range of topics. You can register for a  webinar here.


Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


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It's been a busy week here, getting the last of the trees and shrubs planted around the gardens and  preparing beds for the annuals. We also had an open day last weekend and was great to meet people from all over Bulgaria with shared interests in regenerative gardening. At the end of the week we started our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course and had a great time with an awesome group. I'll write a post on the course and the garden we created during the course in the coming weeks.


It's been sunny and warm for the first time this month and a good opportunity to get a team photo of the polyculture study crew. Misha, Philip, Eileen,  Ronan and Lia (left to right) have been doing an amazing job in the gardens this season.     


Ataraxia

Forest Garden Maintenance - November last year we created a 150 m2 forest garden in Ataraxia during our Design and Build Course (you can read about how we created this garden in a previous post here).  The plants are establishing well although it seems the shrub layer has been under attack from rabbits during the winter with some browsing damage evident. Forest gardens require little maintenance when they are young, but do need close observation and some important tasks carried out from time to time. For example, last week we added some more mulch to the plants and removed some of the grasses that were starting to grow at the base of the plants and may likely compete with the establishing plants for mineral nutrients, light and water.   


Here is an illustration of how the mature Forest Garden should look. 

Forest Garden 

We've been planting out more perennial polycultures into the over flow swales in Ataraxia. The over flow swales (as the name suggests) catch the overflow from our reservoir in the garden. They consist of a 1 m wide basin and 1 m wide berm. The berm makes great raised beds where we plant out perennial polycultures, whereas we sow Trifolium repens - White Clover in the basins that can tolerate some foot traffic and can be mown periodically providing a nitrogen rich mulch for the crops planted on the berm.  Misha and Lia planted Vaccinium corymbosum cv. - Blueberry 'Sunshine Blue' to join some Vitis vinifera cv. - GrapeHemerocallis fulva - Orange Daylily and Iris germanica - Bearded Iris plants already planted a few weeks ago.


Lia and Ronan planted out Asparagus officinalis - Asparagus  and Fragaria x ananassa - Strawberry for ground cover in a deep mulched raised bed we made last June. The soil is beautiful. You can read about how we created this raised bed last June in a previous post here.


The bed was full of what I think are Prunus cerasifera - Cherry Plum seedlings. The seeds most probably got there from the manure we applied to the bed last year. Cherry Plums are abundant in this area and grazing animals will gobble them up from under the trees. The seedlings should make great root stocks for grafting so I've potted them up.    



In case your interested, we've been adding some new stuff to our online store 


Apatheia  - Home Garden  

Akebia quinata - Chocolate Vine, so impressive this time of year :) The beautiful flowers feed the bees for 3 - 4 weeks and transform into odd looking edible fruits by mid October. We grow this plant up an arbor to provide shade to the bio-nursery plants during high summer.





 A late ripening apple tree in our garden is always the last apple to blossom. I think it's a Granny Smith. Delicious, crunchy, sweet with a hint of acidity, one of my favourite apples.  




Local native Alliaria petiolata has spread nicely around the garden.  This biennial flowering plant is from the mustard family, Brassicaceae and when picked young makes a nice addition to the salad bowl. The flowers are also extremely attractive to a range of solitary bees.   


Ribes nigrum cv.- Blackcurrant blossoms are transforming into fruits, looks like it will be a good year for currants.



Philip with bags of goodies - edible greens from the Market Garden including Nettles- Urtica dioica - Chickweed - Stellaria media and Rumex spp. known locally as Лапад -(Lapad)



If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience join us this summer. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and making a small wildlife pond. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Design and Build a Forest Garden Course 

Registration for our June course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).


Mountain Hike  

We went for a hike up to the beech forests to pick some Wild Garlic - Allium ursinum (also known as buckrams, ramsons, wood garlic or bear's garlic). It was still quite damp in the forest from all the rain fall from the previous weeks, conditions that  Fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) feel comfortable moving around in. I spotted a few of them on the way up. 


About 1.5 km up the mountain the floor of a west facing slope is adorned with a carpet of Allium ursinum - Wild Garlic   under the Beech - Fagus sp. trees. We picked bags full for pesto and salads.


Among the wild garlic you can find small patches of this beautiful legume,  Spring Vetchling - Lathyrus verna. This nitrogen fixing herbaceous perennial is native to forests of Europe and Siberia. The flowers attract bumblebees among other pollinators.   



Wildlife in the Gardens 

We found this beautiful European rhinoceros beetle - Oryctes nasicornis in the Nursery compost pile that includes branches and stumps which makes sense as the larvae grow in decaying plants feeding on woody debris. The development period of the larvae can lasts 2 - 4 years with the adult beetle emerging at the end of March, April or May. Adult beetles as shown below only live several months and do not feed relying on reserves accumulated during the larval stages. They will mate and lay eggs before the Autumn. 


Me and Dylan came across this Toad - Bufo bufo crossing the field where our new forest garden will be created. It's unusual to see toads out in the open especially around midday. Close inspection of the toad revealed some damage to the animals head. Dylan suggested it may have been caught by a Stork and dropped when the bird was in flight. We moved the toad into some damp shade.  


Always a pleasure to see what is in my opinion the most princely of amphibians in our gardens. This Agile Frog - Rana dalmatina leapt across my view and landed in perfect pose on a  Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey plant.  


Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 

This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom to discuss in more depth and answer any questions related to polyculture/regenerative landscape design.


The next session will be live on May 4th UTC 9.00 am on How to Design and Build a Forest Garden. and is based on the design of this garden

If you would like to join us you can book your place here.


The session will be around 2 hours long and will include :

  • Overview of the Design - Design Goals and Objectives 
  • Starting Point - How we approached the design of this landscape
  • Rationale - Why we laid out access, water, drainage, and planting locations where we did    
  • Species Selection   -  How and why we selected the various species    
  • Technical Discussion - Software and tools we used 
  • Closing Questions and Answers 
  • Access to design spreadsheets and databases including a number of unique species lists.



The participation fee will be €30 (or the equivalent value in the currency of your choice).  I hope to be able to share my experience and attract people that are interested in polyculture design in order to build a network of designers and practitioners while raising some funds to help support and develop our project's activities.

Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 
We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens 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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We're pleased to be joined by Lia this week who will be part of the team for the rest of the season. I'll get the team photo up next week. It's been productive week with planting out more trees and shrubs for our perennial polyculture trials, almost finishing the planting of out of small polyculture orchard (ran out of fruit trees) and preparing the annual beds and some sowing in the market garden.    



Ataraxia - Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden

The last couple of weeks we have been planting out the tree layer of a small polyculture orchard in Ataraxia. 





All of the fruit and nut cultivars in this polyculture orchard are available from our nursery for delivery in the Autumn

We prepared the planting areas for these trees last summer by pegging out a contour line across the field to mark the tree row, mowing a pathway through the existing vegetation and placing straw bales on the planting locations with a shovel full of compost under each bale.  This spring we dug the holes and planted the trees.



This advance planting preparation works really well at killing off the existing vegetation under the bales and provides a nice layer of composted material to plant into and, of course, the bale is in place to mulch the tree following planting out.  We'll be adding shrub, herb and bulb layers to the rows in the future.


Perennial Polyculture Trial Beds - Ataraxia 

We're continuing development of the polyculture trial garden. The below photo shows the garden when we first installed the beds 2 springs back.



Philip and Ronan planted  Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive shrubs in between Cornus mas - Cornelian Cherry trees for one of our perennial polyculture trails in Ataraxia 


The plants are spaced  2m apart in a 1.3m wide raised bed. The  Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive will be trimmed to form 1m  x  1m tall shrubs with the trimmings used to mulch the  Cornus mas - Cornellian Cherry trees. We're growing 3 Bulgarian Cornus mas cultivars, 'Pancharevski', 'Shumenski' and the local 'Kazanlushki'. We'll have these cultivars available from the nursery this autumn, you can find out more about them here



The Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive plants are two years old grown from seed and have established excellent root systems and formed associations with Frankia spp. nitrogen fixing bacteria which you can see are the white nodules on the below photo. For more on Nitrogen fixing Bacteria see our previous post here  


In another perennial polyculture bed in this garden, we replaced some low quality Jostaberry plants that I bought from the market last year that did not survive with some home grown Ribes nigrum cv.- Blackcurrant and Ribes rubrum cv. - Red currant  between the Corylus avellana - Hazelnut  trees. We also added some ground cover Ajuga reptans - Bugle and will plant some more Fragaria x ananassa - Strawberry in the ground layer next week. 


A row of Allium ursinum - Wild Garlic  and Asparagus officinalis - Asparagus will be added into this bed in the future as illustrated in the below plan. 


In the biomass beds we added Alnus cordata  - Italian Alder a fast growing, drought tolerant, nitrogen fixing tree that we are growing to see how much biomass we can grow in concentrated plantings of these trees. You can read more about this trial here. Here is Ronan broad forking the bed to prepare the area for the incoming trees. 

Aponia - The Market Garden
The Fragaria x ananassa - Strawberry ground cover in our Asparagus officinalis - Asparagus beds are starting to flower. I'm not expecting much from the strawberries as their main role to provide ground cover to reduce weeding in the aspargaus bed, but nonetheless it will be interesting to see how they produce. 


Vinca minor - Lesser Periwinkle and Muscari neglectumGrape Hyacinth flowering profusely in the ground layer. These plants take a few seasons to establish but really settle in well with the V.minor forming an excellent evergreen cover and the Grape Hyacinths forming ever expanding clumps. Both plants play a role in preventing nutrients from washing out of the soils during the winter rains and snow melt and provide a valuable source of forage for bees and other pollinators during early spring.  


Our new tree plantings in the Forest garden are coming along well. Here is a Apple 
Malus pumila - "Karastoyanka"  with a Tulipa sp. - Tulip  bulbs planted underneath. A week or so after the tulips have flowered we'll cut back the tulips and the emerging native plants and apply a thick layer of straw mulch. We'll probably plant some Allium schoenoprasum - Chives into the mulch and I'm trying out planting some Tayberry around the young fruit trees this year to see whether the trunk can be used to support the Tayberry growth.  


The native herb layer in the Forest Garden is gorgeous this time of year, lush green and radiating vigor. Every couple of weeks from now until mid summer different plants will be flowering. Cruciata laevipes - Crosswort  is the yellow flowering plant here and Veronica sp. is blue flowering plant. We'll cut this vegetation for hay in late June before the dry season starts. 


Eileen who is volunteering with a neighbouring project in the village through the EVS program  has been joining us in the gardens on Mondays and was helping out sowing the Brassica seeds for our Allium trial where we are looking at the pest repellent properties of Amaryllidaceae (Garlic/ Allium family). We are sowing a central row of Borecole- Kale 'White Russian' and to rows of Kohlrabi "Purple Vienna' with  Allium cepa proliferum - Tree Onion and  Nectaroscordum siculum - Bulgarian Honey Garlic  around the borders. You can find more info on this trial in last weeks blog here   


The Carex spp. Sedges are starting flower in the wildlife pond 



Wildlife in the Gardens 

So many unusual bees in the gardens! The social bees are very familiar to many people (honey bees and bumble bees) but there are huge diversity of other bees that go largely unnoticed. These bees are important pollinators for wild plants and cultivated plants and crops that we rely on, and are some of the species that are most often displaced in the environment as wild plants and habitat is replaced by industrial farm land and development. I'm proud to see that our gardens have a place for these organisms along with our food crops.     


I found another Mantis religiosa cocoon (ootheca) this time at the base of the Cornus mas tree we planted last year in the windbreak row. Females lay about 100 eggs in these white hardened foam ootheca (cocoon). Although Mantids are generalist predators and will eat a range of insects including those that are beneficial the young mantids have an appetite for aphids and the adults will often prey on pests such as crickets and caterpillars.


Philip spotted this Angle Shades - Phlogophora meticulosa  (thanks Peter Alfrey for ID) that was resting on a straw bale, perfect camouflage. This moth is found throughout Europe as far east as the Urals and also in the Azores, in Algeria, and in Asia Minor, Armenia, and Syria. The larvae(caterpillar)  of this moth will feed on many crop plants including beets, grape vine, Prunus spp. . We'll keep an eye out for the larvae   


The boys found this little beauty under the straw in the garden the other day - I think it is Northern White-Breasted Hedgehog - Erinaceus roumanicus.


Hedgehogs feed on a wide variety of animals (especially insects) and plants, and are thought to control insect pest populations in some areas. Contrary to popular belief only approximately 5% of their diet will be slugs or snails with their preferred food being caterpillars and beetles. We often find holes in the raised beds where they have been rummaging around for food at night.


Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 

This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom to discuss in more depth and answer any questions related to polyculture/regenerative landscape design.


The next session will be live on May 4th UTC 9.00 am on How to Design and Build a Forest Garden. and is based on the design of this garden

If you would like to join us you can book your place here.


The session will be around 2 hours long and will include :

  • Overview of the Design - Design Goals and Objectives 
  • Starting Point - How we approached the design of this landscape
  • Rationale - Why we laid out access, water, drainage, and planting locations where we did    
  • Species Selection   -  How and why we selected the various species    
  • Technical Discussion - Software and tools we used 
  • Closing Questions and Answers 
  • Access to design spreadsheets and databases including a number of unique species lists.


The participation fee will be €30 (or the equivalent value in the currency of your choice).  I hope to be able to share my experience and attract people that are interested in polyculture design in order to build a network of designers and practitioners while raising some funds to help support and develop our project's activities.

Registration for our June course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).

If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience join us this Spring. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and making a small wildlife pond. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.
Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 
We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens 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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