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Phronêsis our new Forest Garden, Preparing Raised Beds and Edible Perennials

Week 5 - The Polyculture Project

It’s been an eventful week here at the project, planting out the market garden crops, digging wildlife ponds and launching a Patreon Page!! We also welcome Ben, a landscaper from the UK, that joined us for the course and is staying on for a few weeks for the polyculture study.

At the beginning of the week we said farewell to the participants of our Design and Build a Forest Garden course after a marvellous three days of design and build that resulted in the creation of a new forest – details of which will follow.

So here’s what we’ve been up to last week.
Balkep Polyculture Project Week 5


The Design and Build of a Forest Garden Course

Our Design and Build courses are exactly that. We start with the design and end with the build. For this particular course the location for the new garden was just east of our perennial polyculture trial garden, Ataraxia, in a new area we are developing called Phronesis. The forest garden is named after and dedicated to Joost W. van der Laan who made a generous donation to our Polyculture Project Crowdfunder last year. Thank you Joost :)

It was an eclectic group of people that joined us for the course this spring including; young farmers, fitness trainers, a landscape gardener, a journalist and a Hollywood actress. Coming together from all over the world to create a fledgling forest garden. This occurred at about the same time 10,000’s of people were laying down on the floors of London to protest to government about biodiversity loss and environmental damage. I wonder whether if just 5% of them (of those that have not already) were to build a forest garden whether the result might be 50x more effective than expecting the government to do something?  But hey – people love a “lay-in” it seems!

Balkan Ecology Course Students
Photograph by Balkep


The primary purpose of this garden is to produce round wood for fence posts, light construction wood, and stakes and pole wood for the market garden crops. The secondary purpose is to provide fruits and nuts in the under story and a range of habitat to support wildlife.  Here’s an illustration of the garden.

Phronensis Garden Design
Photograph by Balkep


The goals of this design were to:
  1. Encourage growth of the existing biodiversity as much as possible and to provide new habitat that enhances biodiversity.
  2. Utilise the slope of the land and existing water source to irrigate the garden
Here’s a before and after shot:
Phronensis Garden Before and After shot
Photograph by Belkep


View of the planted out garden from the east:
View of the planted out garden from the east
Photograph by Balkep
View of the planted out garden from the west:
View of the planted out garden from the west
Photograph by Balkep

This image provides a growth projection from initial plant out, to year 3, year 8 and year 15-20 when the garden is mature:

Phronêsis - Growth Stages
Photograph by Balkep
We did not have time to dig out the wildlife pond for the garden during the course but Dylan and his friends completed the dig the day after (and staged a little “lay in”). We’ll be lining and planting this out in the coming weeks.
Digging the Pond
Photograph by Balkep
Here are the marvellous participants of the course. For more photos of the course see here.
Course Participants
Photograph by Balkep



The Market Garden – Aponia

After the Design and Build a Forest Garden Course, our attention shifted to the market garden, where we are starting to plant out our annual herb and vegetable polyculture – Zeno.  We have been growing this polyculture for 7 years now and have for the last 4 years been comparing yields of the polyculture with the same crops planted in blocks nearby. You can find the previous 4 year’s results of this trial here and more information and diagrams of the polyculture Zeno here.
I actively encourage the growth of wild plants in our beds whenever we are not growing crops in them. From October through to April the beds are generally full of native plants that provide a winter cover, offer support to wildlife and provide a significant amount of biomass for the beds when we prepare them for planting in May. The first step is to spread approx. 100g of ash per m2 over the surface of the bed. Next we broad-fork the beds and pull the native plants out of the clods, removing plants with rhizomes such as nettles and mints (for the compost pile) and leaving all of the other plants on the surface to decompose in situ.
Photograph by Balkep

Next we add approx. 20L of compost per m2 to the surface:

Adding Compost
Photograph by Balkep


Then we mulch the bed with 1 bale per m length of bed:

Photograph by Balkep

The compost is spread evenly over the surface and the straw mulch is applied:

Spreading Compost
Photograph by Balkep


We are growing 6 cultivars of tomatoes this year. Sophie started the tomatoes from seed in mid February and transplanted the seedlings into 10L pots when they were approx. 8 cm tall. You can comfortably fit 7 or 8 seedlings in each 10L pot . We removed the plants from the pots and sat them in buckets of water prior to planting out.  The cultivars we are growing are Tigerella – Ukraine Purple – Chocolate Pear – Alicante – Yellow Pear and Rozavo Magia.

Pot Planting
Photograph by Balkep
Using pole wood harvested from the forest garden, from plants including Juglans regia – Persian Walnut –

Paulownia tomentosa – Foxglove Tree – Alnus cordata  – Italian Alder – Corylus avellana – Hazelnut  and Prunus insititia– Damson we erected the stakes to support the tomatoes.

These stakes also serve well as bird perches which is great as the birds will often rest on the perches while hunting for larvae in the vegetable beds.  
Pole Wood
Photograph by Balkep
The bed on the right will be planted with the Zeno Polyculture and the bed on the left will have the same crops planted in blocks:
Garden Beds
Photograph by Balkep

Zeno Control

You can find the results from the last 4 years of this study here.


The Forest Garden – Edible Perennials
There is a brief window of opportunity to harvest Elm seeds in the Spring, when the seeds are green, leafy and coin sized. Just as the plant embryo is forming they have an oiliness and taste not too dissimilar to peanuts. According to Plants for a Future,  the seeds contain about 34.4% protein, 28.2% fat and 17% carbohydrate. Here are some photos by Ronan of the Ulmus sp. seeds ripe for eating.
Photograph by Ronan / Balkep
Chaenomeles speciosa – Jap. Quince and Aronia melanocarpa – Black Chokeberry  are dominant in the shrub layer of the forest garden. The fruits of these plants are not particularly suitable for eating freshly picked but both plants are great for juicing. With the quince juice being super rich in vitamin C. You can read more about Japanese Quince in our previous post here 
Photograph by Balkep


Great to see a Mulberry tree we planted last year flowering this year, hopefully we will get some fruit in a few months. This is Morus kagayamae – ‘Kinriu’ a dioecious female plant that will produce fruit with a male pollinator mulberry nearby.  For more info on Mulberry check out our previous post dedicated solely to these marvellous plants here.

Photograph by Balkep


Our Elaeagnus umbellata – Autumn Olive shrubs are flowering profusely this spring. The flowers are very attractive to a range of pollinators and pest predators, and come October will have transformed into sweet little red balls of fruit.

Photograph by Balkep


Forest Garden Maintenance

It’s been about two weeks since I last cut the pathways in the forest garden and leaving it any longer this time of year makes the job twice as hard as the lush vegetation grows so tall it clogs up the lawn mower. It takes around 40 minutes to mow all of the pathways and this includes emptying the nutrient dense cuttings onto the surface of the raised beds where we grow our annual vegetables. I would estimate that we receive approx. 60 kg of trimmings each time we cut in the spring which is a decent quantity of fertiliser. As long as you spread the trimmings thinly on the surface they will quickly decompose.  Here are some photos of the freshly cut pathways within our 8 year old forest garden in Aponia. We established most of these pathways with the lawn mower and some of them we dug out when we first developed the garden and sowed with Trifolium repens – White Clover.

Photograph by Balkep


Live Webinar Coming up this Autumn

It’s that time of year to start planning your garden plantings for this coming autumn or the spring. If you would like some guidance and advice on how to choose your plants we’ll be running a live webinar this November.  How to Select Fruit and Nut Trees for your Forest Garden/Polyculture Orchard – Webinar – 2nd November 2019 – 18.00 -20.00 UTC. (starting time suitable for US participation).
The session will overview what you need to know when selecting fruit and nut trees for your Forest Garden/Polyculture Orchard and how to plan the layout of the garden. It will be around 2 hours long and will include:
  • Selecting trees that suit your climate and location
  • Choosing the right root stock and cultivar
  • Selecting trees with pollination compatibility
  • Choosing the right location and spacing for your trees
  • Buying Fruit and Nut Trees
  • Planting out and aftercare
  • Software for Planning Garden layout
  • Closing Questions and Answers
  • Access to design spreadsheets including a Selection Check List and  Pollination Requirements for Common Fruit and Nut Trees

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. Awesome article easily explained the water source looks like fun, what will it be lined with? Love the simple layout.

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