A New Forest Garden, Edible Day lilies, Buckwheat and Corn, Garden Wildlife

Week 12 -14 - The Polyculture Project

The summer has arrived and it’s been a hot four weeks since the last update, during which we’ve been busy at the project making a new forest garden during our Design and Build Course , working on designs for other people’s forest gardens, and tending the existing gardens. We’ve said goodbye to Ronan who has been with us for the last 3 months, thanks 1000x Ronan for your help in the gardens, they are looking/feeling better for it :-) We also said goodbye to Lily and Maria,and have welcomed Shahara and Christiana and Tobi to the team.

So here’s a what we’ve been up to last few weeks.

Ekpyrosis – A new Forest Garden

The last week of June we welcomed participants from all over the world to take part in our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course. An intensive practical course where we go through the whole design process and build a garden within 3 days. Being the summer we did not plant the garden but we did undertake a soil survey, topographical survey, establish the irrigation channels, pathways and beds to be ready for planting in the autumn or spring.

Ekpyrōsis – Specific Design Objectives

The purpose of this garden is as follows

Primary Purpose: To produce fruits and perennial vegetables with all fertility to support growth produced within the garden (beyond initial set up inputs.)

Secondary Purpose:  To provide a range of habitat to support wildlife.  Our goal with the design is to encourage growth of existing biodiversity as much as possible and provide new habitat that enhances biodiversity. We also want to utilise the slope of the land and existing water source to irrigate the garden via a mountain stream.

Location: Bulgaria, Shipka

​Climate: Temperate

Köppen Climate Classification:  Dfc borderline Cfb

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5b – 7a

Latitude: 42°

Elevation: 574 m

Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5 mm

Prevailing Wind: NW & NE

Garden Name: Ekpyrosis

Garden Area: 652m2

The water enters the garden from the north and flows into the channels that flanked by two 50cm wide beds with a 50cm pathway between each channel and bed layout as shown in the below diagram.

In the middle of the bed layout is a mini wetland/marsh habitat that is basically a rectangular area that we dug out, lined with an impermeable membrane, back filled with stones and sand and planted with a number of different emergent aquatic plants. I’m not sure how effective this will be, but the aim is to provide a micro habitat for the garden that will attract and house frogs, dragonflies and other aquatic organisms.  I’ll be posting some photos next week of how we made the wetland along with some photos of how it’s doing.


This illustration lists the species that will populate the garden
You can find profiles of all the plants used in this design (apart from the aquatic plants) in the links below.

Alnus cordata  – Italian Alder 
Vaccinium corymbosum cv. – Blueberry
Tetradium danielii – Korean Bee Tree
Rhus typhina –   Stag’s horn sumach
Rubus idaeus cv. – Raspberry
Ginkgo biloba – Maidenhair Tree
Elaeagnus umbellata – Autumn Olive
Spartium junceum – Broom
Allium cepa proliferum – Tree Onion
Asparagus officinalis – Asparagus
Symphytum x uplandicum – Comfrey
Miscanthus x giganteus – Giant Miscanthus

Here’s a projection of how the garden will mature over time.

If you are interested in Creating a Forest Garden you can find more information in our previous blog here  join one of our webinars here or come and experience it first hand during our next Design and Build a Forest Garden course.

Wildlife in the Gardens

Great to see Lizards on slug patrol around the nursery. This is a juvenile Lacerta viridis. Thanks  Danka Dragomir  for the I.D.
This beautiful dragon fly was photographed by Maria Cruz
Lily spotted this amazing Orchid on the way back from the garden. It’s the first time I’ve seen this plant and I believe it to be Himantoglossum caprinum, (thanks Misha for the I.D). It’s conservation status is vulnerable so it’s great to see it growing locally.

Ataraxia – The Polyculture Trial Garden

We planted some late sweetcorn in one of the raised beds we prepared last year making small nests  for the seeds through the straw mulch and sowing 2 – 3 seeds per nest. The plants are growing well.
Ronan digging the 30 cm wide 30 cm deep input channel for the new forest garden.
It’s great to see Sideritis scardica – Ironwort  flowering in the gardens. The plant is endemic to the Balkan Peninsula, where it is found at high altitudes in rocky montane areas. This herb is under intense collection pressure from the wild, with increasing demand for its medicinal value. The plants has historically been a valuable medicinal plant. The name ‘Sideritis’ derives from the Greek word “sideros” meaning iron; in the ancient past, Sideritis was a generic reference for plants used to heal wounds caused by iron weapons during battles. It is also commonly used to make an excellent ‘mountain tea (Mursalski Tea) and is rich in flavanoids, terpenes and essential oils, iridoids, coumarins, lignans and sterols.
I’ve started to plant quite a lot of Hemerocallis fulva – Orange Daylily around the edges of our raised beds. These plants are very easy to propagate large numbers of via root divisions and establish relatively quickly to form large clumps that produce edible and beautiful flowers in early summer.
As you can see in the below illustration of a polyculture we have planted in one of the swales in Ataraxia, Hemerocallis fulva – Orange Daylily  is used as fringe planting. I’m hoping over time, as the plants mature into clumps, they will prevent the encroachment of grass from the grassed pathways that wrap around the perimeter of the bed.
Over in Aponia, the market garden, we continue to experiment with annual vegetable polycultures. This year we been trying out Buckwheat in a few areas in the vegetable garden, mainly to assess it’s green manure properties and attractiveness to wildlife. Sophie sowed a patch in mid March which was a little too early and resulted in approx 20% germination rates and I sowed another patch in Mid may with some corn sown in rows at the same time. The germination rates were excellent but it seems the combination is not a good one as you can see in the below photo, the buckwheat has shot up and is starting to smother the corn. We’ll see how the corn responds.

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.

Design and Build – Forest Garden Course  – Regenerative Landscape Design Course
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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