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Bio Pest Control, Green Manure Trials, Oeschberg Pruning and Wildlife in the Gardens

Week 2 - The Polyculture Project

It’s been a wet but wonderful week here on the polyculture study, here’s what we’ve been up to in the gardens.

Aponia – The Market Garden

We’ve started a few new trials in Aponia this season.

I was looking into the science behind the pest repellent properties of Amaryllidaceae (Garlic/ Allium family)  this winter and was introduced to a great text called Garlic and Other Alliums – The Lore and the Science by Eric Block (thanks Lorenzo Costa for the link). The author looked at various studies on this topic and found that field trials confirm the ability of Allium-derived organosulfur compounds to repel predators and kill insect pests.

I thought to see if we could use some of the plants from this family to tackle two of the most harmful pests in our gardens both of which target Brassica crops. The pest are Eurydema oleracea and Pieris brassicae.

The idea is to flank patches of  brasscia crops with plants that contain these organosulfur compounds and to cut the plants and spread the material around the brassica when we first notice the pest arrive in the gardens and then cut again at regular intervals throughout the growing season. We’ll look at the quantity of pest in each patch and the amount of damage that occurs from the pests.

The two pest repellent species I have selected for the trial are  Allium cepa proliferum – Tree Onion and Nectaroscordum siculum – Bulgarian Honey Garlic.  Bulgarian Honey Garlic is the strongest plant from Amaryllidaceae that I have come across and has brought me to tears on a few occasions, just from handling the plants, so seemed like a good candidate.

Here is the planting plan of the patch

Ronan, Misha and Philip set up 3 patches one with Allium cepa proliferum – Tree Onion another at the opposite end of the bed with  Nectaroscordum siculum – Bulgarian Honey Garlic. and one will be in the middle with just the brassica crops. We will use Siberian Kale as the Brassica crop for this trial. The trial will begin properly next season as we need the young ‘repellent plants’ to establish so that when they are cut they will have the ability to grow back easily and quickly.

Ronan, Misha and Philip set up 3 patches one with Allium cepa proliferum – Tree Onion another at the opposite end of the bed with  Nectaroscordum siculum – Bulgarian Honey Garlic. and one will be in the middle with just the brassica crops. We will use Siberian Kale as the Brassica crop for this trial. The trial will begin properly next season as we need the young ‘repellent plants’ to establish so that when they are cut they will have the ability to grow back easily and quickly.
We’ll separate the trail patches with blocks of Symphytum x uplandicum – Comfrey (just because we have a lot of root cuttings to plant out and i thought i’d give this plant a shout out as I hardly ever mention it ;)
Here are the two patches planted out. We’ll sow some Kale this week into the patches. Looking forward to see the results of this.

The second trial is a Green Manure/Cover Crop Trial –  This is a comparative study and is a very simple trial where we sow 3 m2  patches of three different Nitrogen fixing ground covers

The species and quantity of seed used for each patch is as followsOnobrychis viciifolia – Sainfoin – 55 g (husked seed)
Trifolium repens – White Clover – 30 g
Medicago sativa – Alfalfa/Lucerne – 45 g

We’ll look at how fast each species takes to provide cover, the quantity of biomass produced and how attractive each species are to wildlife in the gardens.

Green manure/Cover crops can be grown to protect and/or enrich the soil. It’s an important part of a vegetable crop rotation plan in order to biologically maintain soil health and manage insect, weed, and disease pressure. Green manures/Cover crops offer many benefits, but not all at once, nor from one species. You may want to protect the soil from intense erosion, alleviate compaction, suppress weeds, build organic matter, add Nitrogen or mop-up available nutrients after the growing season.

We have these cover crops/green manures available from our online store here

Oeschberg Pruning 

Leo and Misha, who are back on their travels now, carried out some pruning techniques on a Pear – Pyrus communis – “Early Boliarka” in the market garden and various Apple trees at the guest house. The pruning method they practice is called Oeschberg and was developed in the late 1920’s by Hans Spreng in Oeschberg, Switzerland.

Photo by Misha
The main goal of this pruning technique is to  develop a stable crown framework by pruning the crown to 3 or 4 relatively steep angles, self-supporting boughs and a central leading shoot. This allows the fruit trees to maintain a state of vigour and productivity and ease of harvest into old age. It’s very well suited for standard trees, the type of trees that filled orchards all over Europe before the days for dwarf rootstocks. During the first 4-7 years the idea is to prevent the tree from producing fruit while the main frame boughs mature to a size where they can support the weight of fruit.
Here’s a short video made by Archie of Leo pruning the Pear tree  :

and some before and after shots of the apple trees  at the volunteer house:
Thank you Misha and Leo for the pruning and for the photos :)

Wildlife in the Gardens

Here is a photo of one of the two wood ant colonies (Formica sp.) in Aponia our market garden. These colonies have been with us since the beginning of the garden development. These incredible ants work around the clock, albeit  much slower and less active during the night. They appreciate the straw we lay down as mulch and use this to cover their sizeable nests. The resulting formations soak up sunlight and keep the ants warm.
Over in Ataraxia I noticed 100’s, if not 1000’s of these insects (Diptera) this week mostly stationery on the leaves and branches of the shrubs and trees in the garden.  I also noticed 100’s of larvae the week before so perhaps these are the adults that have emerged. Still need to confirm identification but it looks like the adults are probably Bibio sp. – Hawthorn Flies (thank you Karastojanov Viktor)
Super chuffed to see the European mantis – Mantis religiosa  cocoon (ootheca) this week . Dylan’s eagle eyes spotted the cocoon on the underside of one of the rocks placed on a rock pile in the gardens. We build the rock piles to provide basking zones for reptiles and nesting sites for spiders and Mantids :)  among others. Great to see them working.
Here is the rock pile located between a newly planted Corylus avellana – Hazelnut  and
Diospyros kaki – Japanese Persimmon.  I’ve exposed the rock for the photo which you can see in the bottom centre of the pile. When the Female lays the cocoon it will do so in a sheltered area away from wind and rain. Females lay about 100 eggs in a 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.
Here’s a photo of young Mantid from the guest house garden in the summer
and another photo of an adult dining on a cricket
Taraxacum sp  – Dandelion always a favourite source of food to a range of solitary bees and other pollinators in the gardens.

Apatheia – The Home Garden

It’s great to see this Ribes aureum – Golden Currant, a native currant of West North America, flowering for the first time in our home garden. Looking forward to trying the fruits from this plant. The flowers have a pronounced fragrance similar to that of cloves or vanilla.
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.

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. 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 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.

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).

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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