Permaculture Projects

Fruits from the Forest Garden, Lining the Wildlife Pond and Garden Wildlife

Week 8 - The Polyculture Project

What a lovely week! We were pleased to be joined by Amy and Karo on the Polyculture study who stopped by for a short visit and helped us out in the gardens planting out basil and peppers, preparing a new swale in the market garden (Aponia) and working on the irrigation channels, raised beds and wildlife pond in Phronensis.  We’ve had great weather with the rains falling at night and warm sunshine in the mornings. Ivana from  Permakulura(cs) in Czech Republic also popped by for a morning to see the gardens. It’s always a pleasure to learn of the many projects all over Europe.

So here’s what we’ve been up to this week

Market Garden – Aponia

Experience has taught me that the warm season plants (apart from Tomatoes) are better planted out later than earlier in our location, even if this means leaving the seedlings in a crowded pot for a few weeks longer. The plants that are planted in late May always outperform the early May plantings. This week we planted pepper and basil seedlings into the annual beds.

Allium schoenoprasum – Chives flowers are perfect for eating right now. The nectaries are full and although onion and sugar probably sounds like a combination you could give a miss it actually tastes pretty good :)

The broad beans – Vicia faba are in flower and we should get some beans next week. Soph planted these in early March mixed with potatoes and garlic, everything is doing well. I love the green, black and white of Vicia faba, it’s the same colour theme of our logo.
Here’s this week’s photo of the  Paulownia tomentosa – Foxglove Tree regrowth. This is 3 weeks of growth. more on Paulownia Coppice here.
We have four Swales in our market garden, we made the fourth swale during our PDC back in 2012 and we have not got around to planting it out. Unless I have a plan for planting and the plants are ready to go, I prefer to let places grow wild. In this case the swale has  been fallow for 7 years providing great habitat and plenty of biomass. Here are some shots of the PDC group making the swale.
This Autumn we’re planning to plant out the area with a perennial polyculture featuring Vaccinium corymbosum cv. – Blueberry  and Scorzonera hispanica. To prep it for planting we cut back the existing vegetation with a scythe leaving the cuttings on the surface, broad forked the area to create some air pockets and fissures in the soil, applied approx. 30L per m2 of partially decomposed farmyard manure and mulched it like it was going out of fashion!
Lea, Amy and Karo bringing buckets and barrows of manure for the swale.
Ronan, Lea, Amy and Karo applying the straw mulch.


Over at Phronensis we finished off the raised beds using the soil from the wildlife pond excavation along with straw mulch, card and wild vegetation trimmings. We’ll add another layer of fresh manure topped with straw to these beds over the next few weeks.
We put the liner in place for the wildlife pond and lightly secured the edges with some rocks so that it does not blow away in the wind. We’ll fill and plant next week.  For more info on liners, why to use, when to use, what to use and how to do it, check out our previous post Small Wildlife Pond Installations for Irrigation and Wildlife – Part 2 – Liners 
Wildlife Pond
Great job on the wildlife pond even though it currently does looks like a giant “inny” belly button as Karo pointed out :)
Wildlife Pond Complete
The Cherries are coming! If you search around a while you can pick some nice sweet ripe ones now. It’s a good year in terms of quantity of cherries but how the weather pans out will determine how good the crop is. Too much rain now will produce watery fruits that eventually split but a week of hot sun will be cherry heaven.
It’s another great year for Prunus dulcis cv. – Almond . I’ve only one of these trees in the forest garden planted up against a west facing wall protected from the wind but seeing as the tree is providing quite regular yields I’m looking to plant more of these. We’ll have some great cultivars available from the nursery this season.
I love Nectaroscordum siculum – Bulgarian Honey Garlic  not only because it makes a great seasoning known locally asСамардала (Samardala) but because it has very impressive flowers. These plants grow among the Symphytum x uplandicum – Comfrey and as you can see the inflorescence extend well above the comfrey leaves. After the flowers have set seed the plant will wilt back to bulb until next spring.
One of our forest garden nitrogen fixers and mulch machines  Spartium junceum – Broom
has started to flower. These plants produce great quantities of biomass but the leaves and stems are tough and break down slowly. Makes a great mulch in the perennial beds under the currants and raspberries.
Pleased to see our Schisandra grandiflora flowering for the first time (maybe second time) and hopefully we’ll see the first ever fruits this year. These plants are native to Asia and are commonly grown in gardens as ornamentals. The fruits are edible and they are very hardy surviving the coldest winters here in an exposed location.  I’m going to try propagating the plant via cuttings of the semi ripe shoots in August.
Something has taken a liking to our Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ – Guelder Rose ​ leaves. It seems to only be feeding on the leaves on the lower half of the shrub for now and I assume that it’s a nocturnal feeder as I could not see any signs of the culprit.
Rosa canina – Dog Rose in flower and a reminder of the coming rose season. Shipka is located right in the heart of the Rose Valley. The valley is famous for its rose-growing industry which has been cultivated here for centuries, and produces close to half of the planets rose oil. For a few days around early June the aroma of roses fills the air and it’s quite intoxicating.

Wildlife in the Gardens

A common site in the gardens this time of year are the Araneus diadematus – European Garden Spider nests. The adult spiders are chiefly responsible for those face-full-of-web moments during a morning stroll in the garden. During the night the industrious spider spins its silk and weaves it into a web ready for the following day.  The adults are large for European spiders with females growing to 15 mm (body length), and males to 9 mm.
Panorpa communis – Scorpionfly on Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ – Guelder Rose ​. They eat dead insects, sometimes live aphids and are known to poach food from spider webs. They also feed on plant sap. Although fully winged, the adults rarely fly very far and spend much of their time crawling on vegetation in damp, shaded places near water and along hedgerows. Thanks Peter Alfrey for the I.D


Food from the Gardens

Ronan Delente a chef who has been travelling the world cooking across the continents has joined as 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 latest recipe of Risotto, wild dock leaf with teriyaki Szechuan Pepper and Black locust flower on his blog here

Upcoming Courses

If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience come and join us in the Spring. We’ll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Registration for our April 2020 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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