Permaculture Projects

Robinia Coppice, Gravity Fed Drip Irrigation, Bee Garden and Forest Garden Plants

Week 21 - The Polyculture Project

It’s been another hot and dry week here in Shipka which is quite typical for this time of year. It’s very common for us to receive no significant rain during August, September and sometimes through to October. In stark contrast to Spring and early summer, where you can feel the vitality as you move around the landscape, this time of year the heat and drought-induced stress and strain is mostly what emanates. Thankfully we have plenty of mulch on the soils and a reliable source of irrigation so the gardens are holding up quite well.

Here’s what we’ve been up to this week

Robinia Coppice – Eleutheria

Three seasons ago we cut down a number of Robinia pseudoacacia – Black Locust  trees in a small plot we have on the border of a local woodland. The last few years we have returned to the area to thin the stools and remove the weeds growing around the regrowth. Last week we returned and it seems the coppice is coming on well. We’ll be back in woodland next week to remove a few more mature Robinia pseudoacacia – Black Locust  trees for firewood and let more light into the coppice stools. Here’s Jolanda and Ryan working in the woodland.

Nearby the Robinia pseudoacacia – Black Locust coppice we have a small plot of land that we are intending to plant a bee garden composed of trees that provide excellent pollinator support and patches of native herbs that flower throughout the year. There is a fair bit of scrub spreading from the boundary hedging into the planting zone, so we started cutting the encroaching shrubs and young trees in order to make way for the new plantings. We’d like to retain a 3 m wide buffer of the scrub as it’s great habitat, and the intention is to plant boundary trees Castanea sativa – Sweet Chestnut and Corylus avellana – Hazelnut  among the scrub. The scrub is great for planting trees into as it provides protection from herbivores such as wild deer and domestic goats and sheep.

Here is the design and description for the Bee Garden – Eudaimonia. You can find the location of this garden and the Robinia coppice- Eleutheria in the map at the bottom of this page  


For more information on trees for bees check out our previous post here. We also have a trees for bees multi-pack available from our store that you can order here

This selection of trees and shrubs provide an excellent source of bee fodder from as early as February right through to September. Click on the plant names for more information.

Albizia julibrissin – Silk tree 

Alnus cordata  – Italian Alder 

Caragana arborescens – Siberian Pea Tree

Cercis siliquostrum – Judas Tree

Cornus mas – Cornellian Cherry

Hibiscus syriacus – Rose of Sharon

Ligustrum vulgare – Privet 

Koelreuteria paniculata – Golden Rain Tree

Paulownia tomentosa – Foxglove Tree

Robinia pseudoacacia – Black Locust 

Tetradium danielii – Korean Bee Tree



Gravity Fed Drip Irrigation – Ataraxia

Simon has been experimenting with gravity fed irrigation for the perennial polyculture trial beds where we have planted Cornus mas – Cornellian Cherry and Elaeagnus umbellata – Autumn Olive

An illustration of the planting pattern in the above bed

Using a manual diaphragm hand pump attached to a inlet hose in the pond with the outlet lower than the inlet we pump the water from the pond. The hand pump can move 2724 L of water per hour but with the outlet located lower than the inlet, gravity will do the job for you and you can leave the water to flow.

We made small 0.3 – 0.5 cm diameter holes at each plant location (every 2 m) along the hose at 10 locations and each location the water flowed well via gravity. Simon recorded the time it took to fill 1 L at each location and this varied from 1 mins 30 seconds – 2 minutes. There were some problems with algae clogging the holes, however we did not have the filter attached to the inlet so I don’t expect this will be a problem once we have fitted the filter.  Here you can see the water flow at the hole in the hose at the location of a Elaeagnus umbellata – Autumn Olive

It seems to be a really simple, low cost and effective way to water these beds. You can find the hand pumps on ebay for under €20 and the hosing can be used for multiple beds as long as the plant spacing is the same as it is for our perennial polyculture beds. Based on our initial observations it should take 1 hr to apply 20 L of water to each plant in the 24 m long bed via this gravity fed drip irrigation system. I need to take a few elevations measurements to find the optimal application of this as for the same size beds placed a little higher in the landscape the drip irrigation does not work.


Weeding Raised Beds – Phronesis

Preparing sheet mulched beds a year before planting works really well with all of the organic matter decomposing thoroughly before the plants arrives. We’ve found the sheet mulched beds do need to be weeded 2 or 3 times during that first year with the best times being when the weeds are about to set seed. This is the second time we have weeded the beds this year and on this occasion the main weeds growing in the beds are Convolvulus arvensis – Field Bindweed. Here’s the crew weeding the beds.


Paul found this beautiful caterpillar in the beds while weeding. Not sure what it is.

Allium tuberosum  – Garlic Chives are in full flower. These are one of my favourite perennial vegetables. The bodacious flowers, very attractive to bees, are on show from August – September. Being from the Allium family it is said to be a good companion plant in the garden confusing many pests with their strong aroma. The plant has many medicinal properties including the leaves and bulbs used on bites, cuts and wounds. We have the plants planted along the border of our Asparagus officinalis – Asparagus patch that you can see growing in the background in the below photos.

We’ve been free ranging the ducks with their ducklings in our garden which is probably not a great idea as the 9 ducklings are now 5. I’m not sure what is happening to them but I did find one duckling had caught it’s head between some rocks in the pond and had drowned. Perhaps the cats are picking them off as well.

Duckling following mum around the garden with the males ducks hanging back


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.

One Comment

  1. Good stuff, great works!
    Keeping busy here in San Diego, only 100 by 150 feet and most of it is house, but lots of wildflowers, chard, beans, radicchio, tomatoes, onions, peppers and eggplant coming, not to mention my guerilla garden next door, six beautiful young fruit trees and my olive trees, playing the long game with them brother!

    Question: Are you doing the WOOF program, or on your own?
    Peace and Prosperity,

    Will Vourlas

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