Thinning and Lifting in the Forest Garden, Biomass Plants and Garden Wildlife

Week 11 - The Polyculture Project

It’s been a productive week in the gardens and we’ve been busy chopping and dropping, digging water channels, pruning and conducting biomass trials.  It’s starting to heat up in the gardens now and the fruits are ripening.

So here’s what we’ve been up to.

Aponia – Forest Garden Maintenance

We have a combination of fruiting shrubs and trees planted along swales in the Forest garden including Rubus fruticosus cv. – BlackberryRibes nigrum cv.- BlackcurrantAronia melanocarpa – Black Chokeberry and Prunus cerasifera – Cherry Plum and Chaenomeles speciosa – Jap. Quince. The plants generally grow well together but over time the dense entanglement can reduce air circulation within the mixed canopy that can start to create stressful conditions for the plants, it also makes it difficult to harvest. To remedy this we practice thinning and lifting. Thinning is basically removing approx. 1/3rd of the oldest wood within each shrub. We also remove the dead wood and any branches that are rubbing against each other. Lifting is removing the lower branches of the trees to above head height in order to access around the tree and provide more light and air flow under the canopy. All of the pruned material are chopped into smaller pieces and applied to the surface under the shrubs. Here are Lilly and Lea (in the thick of it) thinning the shrubs and trees on the Swale.  You can see the lifted Prunus cerasifera – Cherry Plum to the left of Lilly.

Forest Garden Fruits

The first crop of Rubus idaeus cv. – Raspberry are ready. These fruits form on the unpruned canes from last year. The pruned canes will produce fruit around late September
It’s another good year for Prunus spinosa – Sloe. The shrubs are full of fruit that will ripen in late summer.
Ribes rubrum cv. – Red currant are starting to ripen
The meadows around the area are ready for a hay cut. The lack of a long dry period this spring has prevented a cut so far this season.
Birdsfoot trefoil – Lotus corniculatus is one of many nitrogen fixing herbs that grow among the grasses in the meadows

Wildlife in the Gardens

I found what looks like the beginning of a wasp nest among the stack of straw bales in the garden.
We have a growing population of Grassnakes – Natrix natrix in the gardens. These are harmless snakes that can be useful pest predators feeding on slugs when they are young. This is the first time I have seen these snakes in the nursery area of garden. It was among the potted plants probably hunting for frogs that shelter among the pots looking for slugs. For more information about this snake check out Dylan’s website Bulgarians Reptiles.

Biomass Trials – Ataraxia

An ideal biomass/mulch plant grows fast, is drought tolerant, competes minimally with crop plants, does not contain seed that easily spreads, is easy to handle and cut, i.e, not thorny/prickly or tough and fibrous, and can biodegrade relatively quickly (thereby returning the nutrients back to soil). It should also be inexpensive to produce lots of plants and easy to establish. We’re experimenting with various plants in the trial garden to see which plants are most suitable for mulch production.  You can find out more about our biomass trials here.
Biomass Beds
Out of these three plants Miscanthus x giganteus – Giant Miscanthus  is certainly the easiest to propagate with a plant grown from a rhizome being able to produce up to 5 more plants within a year. Some care should be taken when choosing the location of the  Miscanthus x giganteus – Giant Miscanthus  as the plant spreads rapidly forming large impenetrable clumps. We plant on raised beds and mow the pathways around the beds to keep them contained. Here is Ronan dividing clumps of Miscanthus x giganteus for planting around the pond in Katalêpsis -The Polyculture Study Guest House. These plants are also useful in producing support material for vegetables in the gardens.
For more on growing your own mulch see our previous blog post – How to grow your own mulch
For the Bulgarian translation of the blog see here – thank you Mihaela Tzarchinska.

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.


  1. Puzzled by the timing of events described: raspberries coming to fruit, busy copping, garden heating up.
    Then I thought, oh yeah these folk are in Australia. No idea what to make of Bulgaria save they’re Northern Hemisphere. We will perhaps come to greater knowing of our respective worlds, more specifically our little parts of the world.
    If you are Australia, I suggest heading South, and joining the fight.

    1. Hi Edward, the story is actually shared from June 2019, the start of summer in Bulgaria where the BalkenEcology project is based. Apologies for the confusion.

  2. Wonderful article. Do your research before planting in your region. Blackthorn, Sloe – Prunus spinosa is already considered an invasive in some states in the U.S.

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