Demonstration Sites

Foraging for Wild Garlic, Forest Garden Maintenance and Planting out Polycultures

Week 4 - The Polyculture Project

It’s been a busy week here, getting the last of the trees and shrubs planted around the gardens and  preparing beds for the annuals. We also had an open day last weekend and was great to meet people from all over Bulgaria with shared interests in regenerative gardening. At the end of the week we started our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course and had a great time with an awesome group. I’ll write a post on the course and the garden we created during the course in the coming weeks.

It’s been sunny and warm for the first time this month and a good opportunity to get a team photo of the polyculture study crew. Misha, Philip, Eileen,  Ronan and Lia (left to right) have been doing an amazing job in the gardens this season.


Forest Garden Maintenance – November last year we created a 150 m2 forest garden in Ataraxia during our Design and Build Course (you can read about how we created this garden in a previous post here).  The plants are establishing well although it seems the shrub layer has been under attack from rabbits during the winter with some browsing damage evident. Forest gardens require little maintenance when they are young, but do need close observation and some important tasks carried out from time to time. For example, last week we added some more mulch to the plants and removed some of the grasses that were starting to grow at the base of the plants and may likely compete with the establishing plants for mineral nutrients, light and water.
Here is an illustration of how the mature Forest Garden should look.
We’ve been planting out more perennial polycultures into the over flow swales in Ataraxia. The over flow swales (as the name suggests) catch the overflow from our reservoir in the garden. They consist of a 1 m wide basin and 1 m wide berm. The berm makes great raised beds where we plant out perennial polycultures, whereas we sow Trifolium repens – White Clover in the basins that can tolerate some foot traffic and can be mown periodically providing a nitrogen rich mulch for the crops planted on the berm.  Misha and Lia planted Vaccinium corymbosum cv. – Blueberry ‘Sunshine Blue’ to join some Vitis vinifera cv. – GrapeHemerocallis fulva – Orange Daylily and Iris germanica – Bearded Iris plants already planted a few weeks ago.
Lia and Ronan planted out Asparagus officinalis – Asparagus  and Fragaria x ananassa – Strawberry for ground cover in a deep mulched raised bed we made last June. The soil is beautiful. You can read about how we created this raised bed last June in a previous post here.
The bed was full of what I think are Prunus cerasifera – Cherry Plum seedlings. The seeds most probably got there from the manure we applied to the bed last year. Cherry Plums are abundant in this area and grazing animals will gobble them up from under the trees. The seedlings should make great root stocks for grafting so I’ve potted them up.

Apatheia  – Home Garden

Akebia quinata – Chocolate Vine, so impressive this time of year :) The beautiful flowers feed the bees for 3 – 4 weeks and transform into odd looking edible fruits by mid October. We grow this plant up an arbor to provide shade to the bio-nursery plants during high summer.
A late ripening apple tree in our garden is always the last apple to blossom. I think it’s a Granny Smith. Delicious, crunchy, sweet with a hint of acidity, one of my favourite apples.
Local native Alliaria petiolata has spread nicely around the garden.  This biennial flowering plant is from the mustard family, Brassicaceae and when picked young makes a nice addition to the salad bowl. The flowers are also extremely attractive to a range of solitary bees.
Ribes nigrum cv.- Blackcurrant blossoms are transforming into fruits, looks like it will be a good year for currants.
Philip with bags of goodies – edible greens from the Market Garden including Nettles- Urtica dioica – Chickweed – Stellaria media and Rumex spp. known locally as Лапад -(Lapad).
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.
Design and Build a Forest Garden Course 

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).

Mountain Hike

We went for a hike up to the beech forests to pick some Wild Garlic – Allium ursinum (also known as buckrams, ramsons, wood garlic or bear’s garlic). It was still quite damp in the forest from all the rain fall from the previous weeks, conditions that  Fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) feel comfortable moving around in. I spotted a few of them on the way up.
About 1.5 km up the mountain the floor of a west facing slope is adorned with a carpet of Allium ursinum – Wild Garlic   under the Beech – Fagus sp. trees. We picked bags full for pesto and salads.
Among the wild garlic you can find small patches of this beautiful legume,  Spring Vetchling – Lathyrus verna. This nitrogen fixing herbaceous perennial is native to forests of Europe and Siberia. The flowers attract bumblebees among other pollinators.

Wildlife in the Gardens

We found this beautiful European rhinoceros beetle – Oryctes nasicornis in the Nursery compost pile that includes branches and stumps which makes sense as the larvae grow in decaying plants feeding on woody debris. The development period of the larvae can lasts 2 – 4 years with the adult beetle emerging at the end of March, April or May. Adult beetles as shown below only live several months and do not feed relying on reserves accumulated during the larval stages. They will mate and lay eggs before the Autumn.
Me and Dylan came across this Toad – Bufo bufo crossing the field where our new forest garden will be created. It’s unusual to see toads out in the open especially around midday. Close inspection of the toad revealed some damage to the animals head. Dylan suggested it may have been caught by a Stork and dropped when the bird was in flight. We moved the toad into some damp shade.
Always a pleasure to see what is in my opinion the most princely of amphibians in our gardens. This Agile Frog – Rana dalmatina leapt across my view and landed in perfect pose on a  Symphytum x uplandicum – Comfrey plant.

Polyculture/Regenerative Landscape Design Webinars

This season we are running live interactive sessions hosted on Zoom on a range of topics. You can register for a  webinar here.

Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 – 6 month positions on our polyculture study.


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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