Permaculture Projects

Wildlife Patches, Chop and Drop and our Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden

Week 9 - The Polyculture Study

It’s been a rainy and stormy week here in Shipka and the gardens are loving it. Plant growth at this time of year is so fast you can almost hear it. Cassandra and Lily have joined us for the next 3 weeks and it’s great to see their enthusiasm for and knowledge of wild foraging.

So here’s what we’ve been up to.

The Market Garden – Aponia

We’ve been leaving 2 metre long fallow patches in the vegetable beds as a way to integrate beneficial habitat around the crops.  The wild plants are left to grow in the patch and we cut back the sides when the growth starts to impede upon pathways.   Here is an example of how fallow patches can be set up within a raised bed garden. The example shown below has 180 m2 of cultivated land and with 6 fallow patches covering 14.4 m2  this is less than 10 % of the land dedicated to habitat and provides a refuge for wildlife and beneficial insects within a intensively cultivated area.  The below diagram assumes that there is no wildlife habitat around the perimeter of the garden, if there were the number of fallow patches may be reduced and concentrated to the inner part of the garden.      
Achillea millefolium – Yarrow and Trifolium pratense – Red Clover flowering in a fallow patch in the annual raised beds.
Red Clover
Some invertebrates from the fallow patch
invertebrates from the fallow patch 
The Fallow Patch, we’ve left this patch fallow for the last 2 years.
We planted out squash and beans from the flats. Fortunately we sowed beans in flats as well as directly into the beds, as the majority of the directly sown bean seeds either decomposed or were eaten.
The Kale seedlings are establishing well and ready for a first harvest following which we will thin them out.     Kale Seedlings
The growth this time of year is incredibly fast and we are mowing the pathways once a week. Here’s Ronan mowing the pathways in the forest garden
Allium schoenoprasum – Chives planted around the edges of raised beds attract a range of pollinating insects that in turn attract the Flower Crab Spider. These spiders will quietly sit and wait on a flower or on a leaf until prey comes close enough for them to grab. They have no problem taking on insects far larger then themselves. Flower Crab Spider

The Cherry Orchard – Eleutheria

In the north east of  Shipka we have a cherry orchard planted with early – mid and late cultivars that have been very productive over the years. We headed there last week to pick the early cultivars but to my surprise there were hardly any cherries on the trees. Having looked around at some of the wild cherry trees in the vicinity it seems they are also very light on cherries this year. I can only assume that the location was subject to some unfavourable weather during the blossoming period, perhaps a prolonged frost.
The Cherry Orchard - Eleutheria
Fortunately the trees in the home gardens, located lower down the mountain, are full of cherries so we headed over there for a harvest. Although having plots in various places can be time consuming, it does offer some protection from the vagaries of weather. I’ve heard it was common in the past for growers to have a number of smaller plots scattered around a landscape rather than a large one for this very reason.
Cherry Trees

The Perennial Trial Garden – Ataraxia

Over at the perennial trial garden we’ve been chopping and dropping the native plants that surround the cultivated plants to allow space and reduce water competition. Here’s Cassandra cutting back Clematis vitalba that seems like a great candidate for a biomass plant given how quickly it grows and how tolerant to cut back it is.
Clematis vitalba
The trial preparation is going well and we have all of the productive plants in place and various biomass plants establishing before we begin the actual biomass trials. You can find out more about the polycultures and biomass plants from this garden here. Here is an overview of the planting scheme.
Perennial Polyculture Trial Plot
Hazelnut and LoganBerry
Found a nice patch of  Rumex acetosa – Common Sorrel in the biomass beds. Thank you Lily for the identification. This edible perennial has a sharp, citrus, taste with younger smaller leaves tasting best. There is a good profile of this plants on
Rumex acetosa - Common Sorrel


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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