Permaculture Projects

The Polyculture Project – Week 6 2020

Spring Pruning, Garlic Mustard Ground Cover and Pollinators in the Forest Garden

It’s been a beautiful week here in Shipka, lovely weather and bright blue skies. We’ve been busy in the gardens, getting some late planting-out done, tackling some spring pruning, and preparing the beds for the warm season annual crops.

Our early spring pruning includes some tree and shrub work that did not get done in the Autumn/Winter such as lifting larger limbs of trees and thinning crowns to allow more light through to the lower layers in the forest garden. We’re also pruning out some Raspberry canes that will grow back and fruit in late summer but leaving some canes for early June fruits and reducing nitrogen-fixing shrubs and applying the pruned biomass as mulch specifically Spartium junceum – Broom. Now the weather has warmed up we are starting to mow the patches of lawn and wild plants growing on the edges of the raised bed. The lawn trimmings make a great mulch for our young nursery plants.
Here are the tools we use for pruning, although the loppers and machetes are missing from the photo but otherwise, it’s all there.
Ivy-leaved Toadflax – Cymbalaria muralis a local native has found a place in the garden growing around our outdoor tap area. Such a delicate looking plant capable of growing in the harshest environments on cliff faces and cracks between rocks. It’s found a home in our urban architecture and can often be found growing in cracks of pavements. The leaves are evergreen and the plant is in flower from May to September.  The leaves can be eaten but there are some reports of toxicity so I’d only consider this edible if you are starving during a winter.
Crab Apple Blossom an excellent pollinator for most Apple cultivars given its long blooming period. Our tree always producing a good crop of tiny little yellow when ripe apples that make a good nibble in the summer.
Taraxacum sp. – Dandelion, always a pleasure to meet these beauties in the spring.
Corylus avellana – Hazelnut that we cut back 3 years ago needs some of the coppice regrowth thinned to allow the straight poles to grow better. We’ll use the pruned shoots for kindling and rough mulch in the forest garden.
Liatris spicata – Gayfeather is a new plant I’m trying to grow this year. Here it is emerging from the soil. Welcome to the jungle :)
I’ve been encouraging Alliaria petiolata – Garlic mustard to spread around the garden. This biennial plant, a member of Brassicaceae, is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa and makes a great spring ground cover where the soil has been left bare over winter. The leaves are very edible and have a strong mustard flavour. The below photo shows the plants emerging for their first season.
And here is the plant in it’s second year when it flowers, set seeds, and exits the scene. The flowers are very attractive to a range of pollinators and I’ve observed many beetles and spiders interacting with these plants.
The bulbous plants are starting to fade now as the herbaceous perennial, shrubs, and trees start to leaf out in full.


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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