Grape, Blueberry and Jostaberry Polyculture. Wildlife Pond and Bioblitzing.

Week 7 - The Polyculture Project

It’s been another productive week here in Shipka thanks to our amazing team.  May and June are the wettest months of the year in our area and although it does not rain continuously, when it does rain it pours. It’s quite similar to tropical weather this time of year and often the rainy spells come at regular intervals such as the early hours of the morning, while it is still dark, and in the afternoons. I love this weather and this time of year, the plants seem most content, healthy and full of vigour.

Forest Garden/Wildlife Garden/ Polyculture

Grape, Blueberry and Jostaberry Polyculture – Hecate

Our productive polyculture of Grape, Blueberry and Jostaberry (nicknamed Hecate) is coming along nicely. I forgot to get a photo of the bed but here is an illustration and some photos of the plants.
Plants look even more beautiful during and after a rain, adorned with little water droplets sparkling in the light. This Vaccinium corymbosum cv. – Blueberry ‘Sunshine Blue’ is a Dwarf Blueberry and tolerant of a higher pH than most blueberry cultivars. They have delicious fruits and are very productive when grown in pots. We have 8 of these plants in the polyculture planted beneath the Grape Vines.
I found a local supply of a great pest and disease resistant  Vitis vinifera cv. – Grape cultivar called ‘Moldova’  The first shoots are coming along nicely. We’ll be growing these in the polyculture trained along wires, a method known as the kniffin system.
We put a few Iris germanica – Bearded Iris on the edges of the polyculture just because of the outrageous flowers! We also have Rubus × loganobaccus – Loganberry planted on the south edge and a trim of  the very edible Hemerocallis fulva – Orange Daylily planted 20 cm apart. These plants make a good ground cover and I’m hoping they will provide a barrier to prevent the meadow grasses creeping into the bed.

Phronesis – Forest Garden

We started work on the wildlife pond for our new forest garden this week. Dylan and his friends dug out the bulk of the pond a few weeks back and this week we levelled the banks, defined the shape,  created some shelves and dug out a little more depth in preparation for lining.  The pond is located at the bottom of the garden as shown in the below illustration.
Installing a pond is probably the single most effective thing you can do in a garden to enhance biodiversity and wildlife and the majority of the wildlife that will be attracted to the pond will be of great benefit to your garden or farm, i.e pollinators and pest predators.  For full instructions on how we build our ponds you can read our previous posts – Small Pond Installations for Irrigation and Wildlife – Part 1 and Small Pond Installations for Irrigation and Wildlife – Part 2 – Liners. I’ll be writing Part 3 – Planting The Pond using this pond as an example in the coming weeks.
Here is Ronan defining the shelves of the pond that will be used to locate the emergent plants such as Iris psueodocorus and Thypa latifolia.
The soil from the excavation is very useful. we laid down some tarps around the edges to make it easier to move around.
We put the soil from the pond to good work separating the top soil from the sub soil and using the sub soil as a layer for the raised beds that are located either side of the pond (as you can see in the above illustration of the garden). We’ll be adding layers of the freshly cut surrounding wild vegetation, spoiled straw and fresh manure next week and these beds will be ready for planting next spring.
Pierre Barbieux the founder of Bois de Rode Bos in Belgium visited for the day to see what we’re up to here and helped out in the morning with the raised beds. Pierre is growing an excellent variety of rare fruit and nut cultivars at his 3ha site just outside Brussels.
When making deep mulched raised beds it’s important to relieve the compaction in the bed area before applying the layers of organic matter. It’s also preferable if the ground is thoroughly soaked before mulching. In this case we had some beautiful rain recently. Here is Ronan and Lea using the broad forks to de-compact the bed area. Note the existing vegetation is not removed or turned over.
With regular rains and warm sunny spells forecast for this month it’s a great time to add a few last plantings and sowing to the channels we created. Here is Misha planting Symphytum x uplandicum – Comfrey cuttings along the central irrigation channel of the garden at approx. 50 cm  apart. These plants will provide a valuable source of mulch for the trees and shrubs we have planted in the garden and being located right next to the irrigation channel with access to abundant water they should produce very high yields. I ‘d estimate within two years we will be able to make 5 cuts per season with yields of 8 kg of biomass per plant per season. We”ll certainly leave the plants to flower during the season as they are very attractive to wildlife. You can read more about this amazing plant here.
Lea and Ronan sowed Trifolium repens – White Clover into the berms that were created when establishing the irrigation channels. Trifolium repens – White Clover provides excellent cover and as long as you don’t sow the cultivated variety (often referred to as Dutch Clover) they are very tolerant of foot and light vehicle traffic. We have these seeds along with other green manures and ground covers available from our online store

Wildlife in the Gardens

I photographed this array of insects enjoying the blossoms of our Zanthoxylum simulans- Szechuan Pepper  during a cup of coffee in the home garden – Apatheia. It’s remarkable how attractive this plant is to a range of invertebrates many of which are great pollinators and pest predators. Zanthoxylum simulans- Szechuan Pepper produces a great spice too.
Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ – Guelder Rose ​ is another plant that is extremely attractive to wildlife and generally very beautiful. The fruits of these plants are edible and I waited eagerly for 4 years for my first and last fruit. The fruits of these plants fall into my ‘apocalypse food’ category. I might make this a  new category for the nursery website.
This is a Morus alba – White Mulberry pollard we have been growing for about 8 years now. These new shoots will probably reach over a metre by the end of summer. The lush new regrowth makes excellent rabbit and pig food. Here is a video by Arch of cutting the trees a few years back and feeding them to the animals. For more on Mulberry check out our article Mo’ Mulberry 
Mid week we bio blitzed Phronensis and a new garden we will be developing for our upcoming June Design and Build a Forest garden Course. Bio blitzing is basically taking a careful look at the flora and fauna of the site and photographing the flowering plants and invertebrate activity. We’ll do this once per month during the growing season to keep a record of the biodiversity we have on our sites. These are some of the photos from the blitz. Thanks Ronan, Lea, Misha and Philip for these.
Bioblitz – Wildlife Gardens

More news…..

If you are part of the Swedish Permaculture Association – Permakultur Sverige you may be interested in this opportunity to attend a range of courses across Europe (all expenses covered) including our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course and Regenerative Landscape Design Course. You can find out more about this opportunity here.
Thank you Misha and Philip from Green School Village –  for partnering with Permakultur Sverige to include our project courses.

Food from the Gardens

Ronan Delente a chef who has been travelling the world cooking across the continents has joined us for the polyculture study this year. Ronan has been experimenting with various recipes using the wild plants and perennial vegetables from the gardens.  You can find his recipes of on his blog here.

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. Paul,
    this is such an inspiring ‘report’ on what’s happening on your farm. Where exactly in Bulgaria are you ? Close to the sea? I never heard that people grow Zanthoxylum simulans- Szechuan Pepper in Balkans – I am from central Serbia, and have certainly not seen any here. Is it frost resistant? Where did you get it from and do you have it in your Biological Plant Nursery?
    I live on 160m a/s on small (2900sqm) plot with variety of fruit trees and few veggie patches: one raised bed, small polytunel for seedlings and perennial vegs patch – still trying to enlarge the third one and find more perennial vegge types. I didn’t do PDC, but have studied permaculture quite a bit and I am implementing more of those principles every year (this will be our 6th year here). Best regards from Ljiljana

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