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Winter Arrives, Planting Garlic, Bird Life and a New Forest Garden – The Polyculture Project

The winter has arrived, two days of sub zero temperatures and some strong wind and there is not a leaf left to vouch for the growing season. It’s just a short cold spell we are having here and it’s expected to be mild until the new year, so we’ll use the last of the good weather to make some final planting in the gardens and then go into hibernation until the spring. Meantime here is a short update on what we’ve been up to.

Ataraxia – Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden

A view from Ataraxia, you can see the mountain peaks are fully snow covered now and the only green to be seen are the coniferous  Austrian and Scots Pines and some Douglas Fir that were planted some 50 years ago as part of a reforestation plan. The native woodland on the slope is mainly Oak, Hornbeam and Juniper and it’s great to see this vegetation making a comeback in parts of the slopes where severe winds have pushed down the conifers during the years.
Crataegus sp. commonly called hawthorn berries liven up the hedgerow this time year. The small trees of the Crataegus genus are well distributed across the planet and have been used for food (and drink) by humans in the temperate areas of all continents. The indigenous people of North America dry the fruits, and grind to a flour. In Russia and China they candy the fruits, in Cyprus they make a delicious jam called ‘Ladhapi. The fruits are used to make a tasty pie in the Lebanon. In Bosnia, the macerated fruits create a liquor that has a bitter almond taste and in Denmark, a schnapps is made from the fruit. Here is a good post from Robin Harford about the edibility of Hawthorn.

Aponia – The Market Garden

I like to plant our garlic in late November as well in the spring. The November planted garlic is great to pick green from March onward and is ready for the proper harvest in early June. Here are Archie and Stoyan preparing a bed for planting winter garlic using the very fine Gligans Broadfork to relieve compaction before planting the cloves approx 10 cm apart in all directions. The broadfork is a different model from the single handed fork we were gifted in the spring. This double handle model is wider at 52 cm. We are really pleased with both of these excellent quality handmade tools.


Bird life In the Gardens

The winter is a great time to see birds in the gardens, the leafless trees make it very easy to spot them moving around. Many of the summer residents such as the swallows , swifts, martins , hoopoe, golden oriel and bee eaters have returned to warmer climes but the winter brings in new visitors such as Hen Harrier and Fieldfare. Here are a few photos taken by brother who came to visit last week.
Marsh tit – Poecile palustris
Photo by Peter Alfrey
The ciril bunting – Emberiza cirlus perched in a Cherry Tree
Photo by Peter Alfrey
 The Syrian woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus) is common visitor in our gardens and spends quite some time in the Morus alba – White Mulberryand Juglans regia – Persian Walnut trees.
Photo by Peter Alfrey

A Future Forest Garden

Following the success of our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course last month (photos from the course here)  we have set dates for another Design and Build course in late April when we will be working on a new forest garden situated on the 500 m2 plot pictured below. The plan for this garden is to plant fast growing Paulownia tomentosa – Foxglove Tree for fuelwood with an understory of fruit, nut and perennial vegetables. We’ll utilise the high light levels when the garden is immature to grow the Paulownia that can reach suitable felling size in 8-10 years (when irrigated) after which we will transition to a fully productive garden with fruit and nut trees and the paulownia regrowth cut out biannually for use as pole wood. I’m looking forward to designing this garden over the winter. This Forest Garden will be dedicated to Joost van der Laan who kindly made a very generous donation to our polyculture project this summer.


This is probably the last blog update post of the year. I’m planning to post the results of the Polyculture Market Garden Study shortly and a write up of the Design and Build a Forest Garden course and then full focus will shift to finishing the book which is due in end of March.
Here’s a lovely shot that Pete took of the sun setting on the west side fields.
Photo by Peter Alfrey
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.

Paul Alfrey

Hi I'm Paul, Originally from the UK I moved over to Bulgaria with my family 12 years ago and set up the Balkan Ecology Project. Prior to that, I worked as a freelance Arborist in the UK for 15 years. Balkan Ecology Project is a family project run by myself, Sophie and our two boys Dylan and Archie, and supported by the amazing volunteers we have hosted here over the years. We aim to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity and work to achieve this by: - Researching, designing and implementing systems on the ground - Providing working examples of our designs at our sites open for the public to visit - Providing quality education and training to aspiring growers and landscapers - Providing consultancy and design for landowners and farmers across Europe - Practicing an open source policy, whereby we disseminate our results freely and share all aspects of our work - Growing, selling and promoting the use of plants and plant communities that have high ecological and nutritional value Our activities currently include: Biological Plant Nursery, Educational Courses, Local Land Stewardship, Polyculture Research, Market Gardening​, and Consultancy and Design.

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