Permaculture Projects

Forest Garden Fruits Galore, Serpentine Irrigation Channels and the arrival of Ducklings

Week 20 - The Polyculture Project

It’s been another very hot and dry one in Shipka this week.  We welcome Jolanda, Paul and Ryan to the project and say farewell to Shahara. Thanks Shahara for joining, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Shahara Khaleque is on her way back to her own project in Hong Kong and you can check out her project here – GrowingSmart.HK.  We also welcomed eight little ducklings to the garden this week.



Forest Garden – Apatheia

Over in the home garden it’s the most productive time of the year in terms of the diversity of fruits and nuts available. Currently there are Apples, Pears, Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Almonds, Figs , Raspberries, Blackberries, Elderberries, Plums, Cherry Plums, Cornelian Cherries, Grapes and Peaches.

Rubus fruticosus cv. – Blackberry ‘Reuben’ is one of my favourite blackberry cultivars. The fruits are delicious and it’s a very compact blackberry that fruits on first year growth, so can be cut to the ground every Autumn and will produce fruit the following summer. Another plus with this cultivar is the extended flowering period if you leave a few stems standing from last year’s growth. It’s common to find blossoms and ripe fruits, and all stages in between, on the plant at the same time. The most recent blossoms will probably not produce ripe fruit before the winter but they will provide good forage for bees all the way into late October. Here you can see the blossoms and fruits from the bush.



Here is Sedem telephium – Orpine planted under the Blackberry bush, another late flowering perennial that produces a decent salad leaf in early spring.


Armoracia rusticana – Horseradish bed in the understory of an Apple, Mulberry and Cherry Tree.


Physalis alkekengi – Chinese Lantern makes a good ground cover for shady areas. The beautiful lanterns encapsulate a decent tasting berry although there is quite some variation in taste among plants with some being very sweet and others quite bitter.



I planted this Prunus cerasifera – Cherry Plum sapling in the forest garden about 6 or 7 years ago and it’s now grown to be a sizeable tree approx 5 m tall and is always very productive. The surprising thing about this tree is the extremely long fruiting period. The fruits are good to eat from early June and this time of year they are very sweet, and we can expect good plums right the way through to late September. The tree is placed in the lower canopy below an old Cherry and a Paulownia tomentosa  and receives probably 3-4 hours of direct sun every day. I think the lower light levels and its sheltered position may be why the fruiting period is so long compared to other Prunus cerasifera – Cherry Plum.



The Pyrus communis – Pear tree (left) was in the garden when we moved in and is situated under a walnut tree. The shade from the walnut keeps the tree small and we never get more than 10 – 20 pears from this tree. I’m not sure of the cultivar but they taste great and are rarely troubled by pests or diseases, ripening towards the end of August – mid Sep. Vitis vinifera cv. – Grape growing in our yard. This is a common local cultivar mainly grown for wine but they are very tasty.



Allium tuberosum  – Garlic Chives in full flower growing in the under story of Cornus kousa – Korean Dogwood.


Zanthoxylum piperitum – Japanese Pepper Tree are ripe. The husks turn red and split to release the seed. At this stage they can be harvested, dried and stored for use as you would peppercorns.


We have an old Victoria plum in the garden that is on it’s way out now with various limbs colonised by bracket fungus. The tree does still produce a decent crop of tasty plums so I’ve been removing the infected limbs one by one and hopefully the tree will go on a while longer yet.


Perilla frutescens – Shisho is a self seeding annual that has found a home in the garden. The leaves of these plants are used in Asian cuisine and have a very strong taste of what some may describe as apricot flavoured nettles. The deep purple jagged leaves make quite a dramatic effect in the gardens and seem to be good structures for spiders to spin web upon.


Fruits from our Forest Garden – Apatheia – We’ll  have variety of fruit and nut trees and shrubs suitable for forest gardens available from our nursery this autumn. You can find our plant list here 

Fruit and Nut Trees and Shrubs for Forest Gardens 



Here’s a photo of Apatheia in late April taken from the balcony. I’ll be making a 2D illustration for this garden over the winter to display planting distances and under story plantings.




We’re very pleased to welcome this brood of ducklings to the gardens. It’s quite a miracle seeing as the mother and father ducks were attacked by an animal during the winter (probably something from the Mustelid family, possibly a fox). Sophie managed to nurse them back to health and they all made a full recovery. The mother duck had further misfortune earlier this year when our dog gobbled her eggs up just days before they were to hatch. So against all the odds here they are.


The two male ducks have been hanging around the mother and ducklings. Here they are foraging in the irrigation channels



Ekpyrosis – A Developing Forest Garden

We started this garden in June 2019 with the assistance of the fine folk that joined us for the Design and Build a Forest Garden Course. The primary purpose of the garden is to produce fruits and perennial vegetables with all fertility to support growth produced within the garden (beyond the initial set up inputs) and the secondary purpose is to provide a range of habitat to support wildlife.

Design and build a forest garden course participants in the garden 



We created a serpentine irrigation channel for this garden which feeds in from a mountain stream. We’ve had a few teething problems with the water flow so far with water overflowing on the corners  and water flowing over the channel edges in some places.   We’ve been using the transit level to adjust the channel depth and have slowed the flow rate of the water down to better handle the corners. Here are Lea, Shahara and Simon using the transit level to fix the depth of the channels to improve the water flow.  We’ll see how we get on with this design.


We’ll be planting out the beds in Spring of next year and we’ll be planting the support trees in the Autumn. Here are Misha, Jolando and Paul taking the soil tests in Ekpyrosis before we plant out the support tree layer in the Autumn.


Here’s an illustration of the forest garden when mature

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. It is a nice article for gardening. Thanks. We try the above article to try this “GrowingSmart.HK” URL but not working can you check and verify it.

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