Demonstration Sites

Asparagus, Slowworms, Duck Havoc and an upcoming Spring Open Day

After a three year wait the Asparagus officinalis – Asparagus spears from our perennial vegetable polyculture bed have arrived. Such a fine vegetable to start the season with. The bed also includes Allium tuberosum  – Garlic Chives  that are also delicious in early spring and we should have some Fragaria x ananassa – Strawberry next month that we grow as ground cover among the Asparagus.

If you are interested how we made the asparagus bed you can find more info in our previous blog here 
Also from the Asparagaceae family (subfamily Scilloideae) are the non edible but deliciously aromatic Hyacinths. These plants are native to the eastern Mediterranean (from the south Turkey through to northern part of Palestine) and seem to handle our harsh winters here, emerging with striking inflorescence’s in early spring. They are pollinated by bees but I don’t notice too much insect activity around the plants.  If you have around 6,000 kg of the flowers (as you would) you can press around 1 kg of essential oil that is used in perfumery. It’s also possible to obtain a blue dye from the flowers according to Ken Fern.

Forest Garden

The cherry tree blossoms are out in force, vying for the attention of the bees and other pollinators that fill the air with an invigorating buzz this time of year. The rapid wing beats of bees create vibrations in the air that our human ears detect as buzzing. It was always seem louder in the spring perhaps because there are far fewer leaves to absorb the sound waves. 


Chaenomeles speciosa – Japanese Quince is only just started to flower this year. Normally we see the flowers by the 1st week of March and sometimes in the last week of Feb. Honey bees love this plant.

Garden Wildlife 

Sophie loves cats  – I’m like, meh, are the nose rubs of one feline mammal worth the lives of countless slow worms, lizards and birds that serve to protect the lives of hundreds if not thousands of baby plants? The utilitarian in me thinks no, but I still can’t resist those nose rubs. I’ve heard putting bells on is meant to help so I should really try this out. Another trouble is that we have many semi wild cats in Shipka and the word is out that our garden is gourmet hunting ground. The other day, the supreme hunter pictured below, Cynthia, dragged in a Slowworm.  

Fortunately the slowworm was unharmed, give or take a few scratches, and soon disappeared under the mulch upon release back into the garden. Not a great start to the season for this Slowworm – Anguis fragilis , who probably just woke up from hibernation recently.

Slowworms generally start to mate around May and the females incubate the eggs internally, ‘giving birth’ to an average of eight young in the summer. I find few things cuter than a baby slowworm :)  If you would like more info on Slowworms and other reptiles of Bulgaria check out Dylan’s new website here.

The Bionursery 

It’s been the driest spring I can recall. I don’t think it has rained since I have arrived back from Istanbul 3 weeks ago. It’s not a problem for the established plants as the soils are still moist from the winter rains and snow melt, but we are having to water the nursery plants and new plantings every 5 or 6 days at the moment which is very unusual for this time of year. 

I’ve often said on this blog that our ducks are great in the gardens and nursery and indeed these Mallard hybrid farm ducks have been great picking off slugs and snails and leaving the plants alone. However, this is the first year we have overwintered them and it now appears that they are not quite so harmless. For starters every wildlife pond in the garden (1 large pond and 3 small tyre ponds) can now be renamed wildlifeless ponds and the heavier weight of the growing birds is causing a smeared cap to form on the beds which prevents air flow to and from the soil and decreases rainfall draining into the soil. Lastly, I was wondering why the comfrey plants had not emerged this year and have since  discovered the ducks are rather partial to the emerging Symphytum x uplandicum – Comfrey shoots.     

Here is a photo of a 2nd year Elaeagnus umbellata – Autumn Olive root. These plants are nitrogen fixing and like all plants from the Elaeagnaceae partner up with a group of Actinobacteria called Frankia. You can clearly see clumps of these bacterial colonies on the plant roots. 

Elaeagnus umbellata – Autumn Olive  nitrogen fixing nodules – Frankia spp. 

 One of the benefits of plants from our bionursery is that many of the plants form excellent relationships with beneficial microbes such as the nitrogen fixing bacteria and Mycorrhizal fungi. Standard nurseries rely heavily on synthesised pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilisers, all of which will destroy these beneficial microbes.   You can find more info on nitrogen fixing plants in our previous blog here

Open Day

 On 20th April 2019 we’ll have an open garden. From 10.00 – 16.00, everyone is welcome to join us for a look around the gardens and share ideas and plans. We’ll also have a range of fruits, herbs, flowers and trees from the bio nursery available, and a seed swap. At 14.00 we’ll make a tour and talk of our market garden and establishing forest garden and welcome questions relating to any of our practices and ideas. For more info see here

Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars 

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

On April 13th UTC 9.00 am I’ll be hosting our second live webinar with Q&A on How to Design and Build a Forest 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.

If you would like to take part you can sign up for a webinar here and we’ll get back to you once we have a fixed date.

We’re super excited to start what we hope will become a regular activity to engage more people around the world.  If you are interested in other webinar topics drop a comment below on what you would like to see.

Video clips from the Gardens

Archie has been making short videos of what we’re up to in the gardens this year and posting them on our Instagram Account.  Here’s a few of his videos from last week:

Fruit Tree Blossoms from our Forest Garden

Taking Soft Wood Cuttings from Helichrysum italicum – Curry Plant:

If you enjoyed this post please leave us a comment and a like and even better share it with your friends on social media. The more our articles are shared the more likely they are to appear in search engines and the further we can reach people with our message and grow our project. Thank you.

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



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. Those dreadful cats, bothering slow worms and other creatures. Hint: cats are also creatures and the many roaming cats are the fault of humans that let them breed non-stop and discard them when they feel like it, while blaming them for all the deaths and ignoring that humans are the most toxic creatures in the planet, what with their useless lawns and chemicals. Plus most birds are killed by birds.

  2. Thanks for helping me solve my own comfery mystery :) mine seemed awfully slow this year, as it usually keeps up with the rhubarb. I may have to enclose it so it can get a head start on the ducks, actually I need to keep the ducks out of the garden entirely at this stage…but they are so cute and one of them is sitting on close to 30 eggs.

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