Permaculture Projects

Robinia Hedging, Forest Garden Fruits, Wild Boar Destruction

The Polyculture Project - Week 24

Finally we received a welcome rainfall this week, and although not enough to soak the soil it did certainly provide some relief. We said goodbye to Rowan last week and welcomed back Ben to the project and Joanna who will be joining us for the remainder of the season.

So here’s what we’ve been up to this week

 

 

Robinia Pseudocacaia Hedging

About 6 years ago I planted some 1 year old  Robinia pseudoacacia – Black Locust saplings in a row to form a hedge boundary on the southern border of our garden Aponia. Although not typically used for hedging, I liked the idea of using these plants as they grow fast, are extremely drought tolerant, provide excellent forage for bees via the nectar rich blossoms and, being capable of fixing nitrogen, they could be regularly pruned and used to fertilise the productive plants in the forest garden. Six years on and the hedge has developed reasonably well and certainly has over exceeded my expectations for biomass production in addition to producing flowers for the bees for the last 3 years. Last week we pruned the hedge for the second time this year as seen in the below photo

Robinia pseudoacacia – Black Locust  is not ideal for hedging as the plants tend to branch around 1 m off the ground leaving a gap in the lower section of the hedge. It does form a decent screen above this and can be trimmed and reduced at least twice a year producing high quantities of biomass. I’m going to try planting some shade tolerant shrubs in the under story to fill the gap. Mahonia aquifolium – Oregon Grape  should work well , although quite slow to get going,  Mahonia aquifolium – Oregon Grape can grow well in full shade, is evergreen, flowers early in the season providing a great early source of forage for bees and produces tasty little fruits in the Autumn.

Here’s an illustration of single row of Robinia pseudoacacia – Black Locust  and  Mahonia aquifolium – Oregon hedge planting that should work well together.

The long straight pole wood pruned out of the Robinia pseudoacacia – Black Locust is stored for staking tomatoes and all of the other branches and leaves are piled onto raised beds we are preparing for planting next season. This rough mulch can be cut into smaller pieces with a chainsaw or shredded for faster decomposition. Here you can see the freshly cut branches stacked on the raised bed.

 

It was interesting to observe that even though we have been cutting this hedge twice a year, birds are still nesting in the canopy. Here you can see what I think is a blackbird or thrush nest. We leave the height just over 2 m high which seems suitable for nesting birds. By timing the cutting to late June and late September we should be able to not disturb the birds breeding cycle .

Paulownia Trials

So its almost the end of the growing season here for Paulownia tomentosa – Foxglove Tree. The trees are now hardening their wood in preparation for the winter and  just one night of below 0 temperatures will kill off the leaves and herbaceous growth. Here is a photo of Martin standing next to the tallest of the trees we are growing for shading the annual vegetable beds. You may recall from previous posts that all of these trees were cut to ground level in mid April of this year and the growth you can see in the below photo is the coppice regrowth within 5 months.

 

We’ve been thinning the coppice regrowth to one main stem and removing the lower leaves and axillary growth at regular intervals throughout the growing season. All of this biomass is applied to the vegetable beds as a mulch. Next season we have the option to cut them back to ground level and repeat the process or to allow them to grow and cut them back the year after for pole wood. The below image shows the stool a week after cutting on the left. You can just see the emerging bud that eventually becomes the main stem from the picture on the right.

Forest Garden Plants

Still plenty of harvest to process this is the time of year in the forest garden and gathering seed from many of the perennial herbs, shrubs and trees we grow in the nursery. It’s great to see the first fruit on our 2 year old Apple – Malus sp. ‘Karastoyanka’.  This is a Bulgarian cultivar suitable for organic growing. The fruits ripen from late Sep – early Oct  and are excellent for storing over the winter.

The solo fruit on the tree planted two springs ago

The Mespilus germanica – Medlar tree is always a reliable producer in the forest garden. These fruits will ripen in late November through to December and along with Diospyros kaki – Japanese Persimmon  are one of a few late winter fruit trees. The blossoms of these plants are exceptionally beautiful.

The young Ficus carica cv. – Fig trees I’ve been planting around the gardens the last few years are starting to fruit.  Below you can see one of the hardiest figs on the planet, ‘Michurinska 10’ grown from a hardwood cutting 3 years ago . The picture on the right is a Cornus mas – Cornellian Cherry tree grown from seed 7 years ago and fruiting from the first time in the forest garden.

Another reliable producer is Chaenomeles speciosa – Jap. Quince. The fruits are best harvested for juicing  after a frost when they soften and can be squeezed like lemons. You can also prepare them as you would Cydonia oblonga – Quince . For more info on this wonderful plant check out our article – The Quincessential Guide to Japanese Quince – Chaenomeles speciosa

Archie has been collecting Elaeagnus angustifolia – Russian Olive seeds from the shrubs in our garden for seed orders. Elaeagnus angustifolia – Russian Olive  is great drought tolerant nitrogen fixing shrub best planted in hedges and boundary plantings. It grows very fast and is great for chop and drop, although the branches are quite thorny.

 

I love walking the gardens before sundown this time of year. The light reveals the beauty of the wilting plants and the intricate design of their seed heads.

 

 

 

Wild Boar Disruptions in the Gardens

I’ve been aware of Wild boar – Sus scrofa –  around the area for many years but until last week, have never directly experienced any disruptions in the gardens. It seems at least one Boar (perhaps more) has been venturing in from the dry woodlands in search of moist soil to rummage around in. The first place I noticed them was around the water channels where the boar/s ploughed through the soil in search for grubs and worms. We noticed this damage when trying to divert water from the river into the gardens and found the water channels had been turned over.

Our new garden beds were also hit by the Boar foraging under the relatively moist deep mulch presumably to eat the worms and grubs that accumulate in the decomposing material.

On the way back from the woods, a day before we discovered the Boar disturbances in the gardens, Dylan and I came across a body of  a Boar, probably 2 or 3 days old judging by the quantity of maggots in the corpse orifices. I’m not sure what happened to the animal but there were clear signs that some carnivore had been at the meat, probably the European jackal – Canis aureus moreoticus.    Boars are hunted here to control the populations in the residential areas but the carcass is usually butchered for meat. Perhaps the boar was shot, injured ran away and died later or perhaps it just died of natural causes.

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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