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Fastest Growing Trees in the Temperate Zone, Seed Harvesting and a Green Toad Gathering – The Polyculture Project

If you follow our project you will probably know that I like to name our gardens after concepts and terminology from the classical period of Ancient Greece or at least you may have noticed that the gardens have weird names . Ezekiel who joined us last week asked why the market garden did not have a such a name which prompted me to fix that, so from now on the market garden will be referred to as ………drum rolling …..

Aponia – The Market Garden

It’s quite amazing how fast Paulownia tomentosa – Foxglove Tree can grow. We use these trees amid some of the vegetable beds to provide shade, biomass and the massive leaves make good temporary containers for small fruits and veg. When the trees get too big (within 3 years) we cut them and use them for fence posts or stakes. Multiple stems grow back from the stump the following year which we thin down to one and can grow tall enough by summer (around 1.5 m tall) to start providing shade to the crops again. We should have the cut the trees last year as they do consume considerable quantities of water. To get an idea of just how fast these trees grow, here is Victoria tying cucumber nets to the trees in June.
8 weeks later and you can see the radial growth of the Paulownia stem has extended beyond the string. This will likely kill the tree above the string as the cambial layer of cells will be disrupted and minerals and water from the soil will not be able to relocate to the leaves, while the photosynthates (sugars) produced in the leaves will not be able to relocate to the roots.  You can see a dormant bud just below the string has emerged to take over the role of photosynthesis should the above leaves die. Our intention was to cut these trees to ground level this autumn so we will not remove the string this year but it’s a good lesson to remember when using trees for structural support.
We’ve been loving the Melothria scabra – Cucamelon this year. These are perennial plants but being sub tropical plants they will not survive the winter outdoors in our climate but you can bring them in and replant next season. They are also very easy to grow from seed and produce good crops in the first season.
Nice little crop of Cucamelons in a little biodegradable Paulowina leaf container :)
An excellent companion to Cucamelons in a salad are these equally ridiculously miniature Currant Tomates. Ezekiel was telling me how these tomatoes are likely to have higher health benefits than larger tomatoes due to the higher quantity of skin you ingest. Tomato skins are full of lycopene, a phytochemical that provides red pigment and health benefits. Lycopene helps eliminate skin-aging free radicals caused by ultraviolet rays—in other words, protecting against sun damage.
The hot summer days are certainly no friend to the slugs and snails in the gardens. In order to survive a summer here they must find a suitably dark and moist place, not too far from a food source. Such a place appears to be the inside edges of plank framed raised beds that we use for dense sowing of crops such as carrots. We don’t often use this types of raised beds as I prefer to grow wild plants around the edges of our beds but for a densely sowed bed they do have some benefits.
Great to see Sagittaria sagittifolia – Arrowhead flowering in the pond. These are great plants to have in your wildlife pond providing dense lush green cover on the margins, beautiful flowers in the summer and like other aquatic plants they offer resting and sheltering places for aquatic insects like dragonflies and damselflies. Another benefit is that they produce good quantities of round edible tubers. I’ve not tried them yet but according to reports the taste is bland, with a starchy texture, similar to a potato but somewhat crunchier, even when cooked.
French and African Marigolds loving the summer it seems

Ataraxia – Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden

We continue to prepare new planting zones in Ataraxia, this time we’re experimenting with using plastics from our poly tunnels to kill off the vegetation during the hot summer. Ezekiel is scything the vegetation before laying the plastic and then we top with stones to prevent it from blowing away and let the sun do the rest. In the Autumn will scarify the bed and sow green manures such as Cereal Rye – Secale cereale, Einkorn – Triticum monococcum and White Clover – Trifolium repens.See here for more info on these green manures.
As we clear the vegetation for the incoming plants we removed a patch of Origanum vulgare – Pot Marjoram that we’ll plant out in a new garden we’ll be starting next spring, Eudaimonia (see below).

Eudaimonia – A Polinator Garden

I’ve been keeping an eye on the local wild plants to see which ones are preferred by local pollinators and waiting for the seed to ripen so we can propagate these plants to include in the herb layer of our new pollinator garden Eudaimonia.
 For many of these herbaceous perennials summer is the time of year to harvest seed so we set out on a seed collection mission.
This was an unusual find by Victoria who identified the plant as Medicago sativa ssp. varia. There are 17 species of Medicago in Bulgaria.
3D impression of the garden. This garden is named by and dedicated to Fergus Webster who kindly made a generous donation to our project. Thanks again Fergus.
Always go a little short of bowls this time of year :)
Seeds we harvested include the following
Cotton Thistle – Onopordum acanthium
Globe-thistle – Echinops bannaticus
Hares Foot Clover – Trifolium arvense
Hemp-leaved hollyhock – Althaea cannabina
Lilac Sage -Salvia verticillata


Every summer in the village, late at night you can find the streets peppered with these little beauties – the European green toad – Bufo viridis. Dylan came back home with this young specimen who I hope did not mind a quick photo shoot before re-joining the mob :). I believe the gathering is related to breeding.  They are probably the most beautiful toad in Europe and certainly useful pest predators in the gardens, dining on a variety of insects and invertebrates, mainly crickets, meal worms, small butterflies, earthworms, moths, beetles and caterpillars.

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.


  1. Just make certain it’s legal before planting it. In most areas it’s a pest. It has nothing that feeds on it. I’d rather capuli cherries, which can grow to 45 feet in a few years, and they produce a very hard wood, as well as tons of sweet cherries. Zone 7 is as far as they go, but honey mesquite is another winner, AKA Mother of the fields.

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