Food ForestsPermaculture Projects

Planting a Polyculture Orchard, Biomass Trials, the Forest Garden and Wildlife

Week 3 - The Polyculture Project

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 a productive week with planting out more trees and shrubs for our perennial polyculture trials, almost finishing the planting of a small polyculture orchard (ran out of fruit trees) and preparing the annual beds and sowing in the market garden.

Ataraxia – Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden – The Polyculture Orchard

The last couple of weeks we’ve been planting out the tree layer of a small polyculture orchard in Ataraxia.
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 is 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 neglectum – Grape 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.
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.
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.
That’s all for this week. 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. 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.


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.

One Comment

  1. Wow! What an amazing and inspiring article. Those understory plantings look wonderful.
    Asparagus and strawberries? I never would’ve thought of that but I might give it a try.

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