Permaculture Projects

The Polyculture Project 2020 – Week 13

Floating Aquatic Island Update, Annual Polycultures, and some Perennial Flowers

This week brings some new flowers into bloom, the first flush of blackcurrants and Mulberries, and with some frequent and heavy bursts of rain the annual polycultures are really starting to put on some growth.

Here’s what we’ve been up to in the gardens this week
Last year together with The Polyculture Project 2019 crew, we built a floating aquatic island to support the wildlife in the irrigation reservoir over at Katelepsis, the volunteer/crew house. Unlike our other ponds that have been designed primarily to attract wildlife, this reservoir has no edges which would make life difficult for any aquatic plants or amphibians that decide to reside here. In addition, rectangular water bodies do not provide the proper habitat for wildlife to flourish and can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes due to the fact that frogs and fish that prey upon the mosquito larvae are unable to survive in such conditions, so it’s definitely a good idea to come up with a solution. In the below image you can see the reservoir on the east side of the property with the two downpipes diverting rainwater from the roof into the lined pit.
In the above photo, the reservoir was empty because it was at the end of the season and the water had been used to irrigate the garden.  Today, in the below photo, the reservoir is still empty, but this time because one of the surrounding stones fell in and ripped the liner with its sharp edge! The liner used for this pond is tri-laminate LDPE, and according to a specialist in an aquatic center, it is unfortunately notoriously tricky to fix. We have ordered the product that was recommended to us and hope to successfully repair the tear in the coming days in order to capture the rainfall in what is normally the wettest month of the year in our location.
The reservoir in June 2020. You can see how well established the plants in the rockery in the foreground have become after just one season’s growth.
So, back to the small aquatic habitat island for the reservoir. The design is basically a wooden pallet that has empty plastic bottles with lids attached to the bottom with wire. This allows the pallet to float in the water. We then added some plant pots, pushing the wire through the top of the pots, and placed them in position.
The wire threaded through the top of the plant pots will help secure them in place.                           
The aquatic plants do not need the soil in the pots to survive as they will take their nutrients directly from the water, but for this to work, it’s essential that the bottom of the plant pots are in the water. The soil should provide the extra weight needed to make sure the bottom of the pots are submerged. You could also use pebbles or sand.

On the left the plants on the floating island are getting ready to go into the reservoir. Nine months later on the right, in full leaf. The straw you see on the right-hand side of the island was mulch on a nearby plant bed that fell in, but the lizards and snakes love it and hide out there. For a more detailed description of how we made the island, please see here.
The first Orange Day Lily – Hemerocallis fulva is in flower today, and what a beautiful bloom it is too.
Orange Day Lily – Hemerocallis fulva in flower
Famous for it’s beautiful orange flowers, which are edible, the Daylily is adaptable, very tolerant of lots of different soil types, and highly attractive to a range of pollinators including butterflies. PFAF gives the plant a 5/5 edibility rating, listing the tubers and leaves as also being edible. Reportedly, Daylily flowers last just one day, but each of the many stalks bears numerous flower buds, so the actual bloom time is much longer – more like weeks. Having started writing this yesterday and making a point of checking the flower today, I can indeed confirm the reports are true – the flower in the photo above has gone. Due to its spreading nature it’s great for mass plantings and erosion control.   The plant in our garden is really happy growing in the shade, creeping along the boundary wall of the property, making it an ideal candidate for shady groundcover or a border.
                          Hemerocallis fulva – Orange Daylily  growing by the perimeter of the garden at Katelepsis
We are also growing Orange Daylilly in this polyculture that you can find more about here 
The annual vegetables are doing really well at the moment, enjoying the balance of the recent heavy rains with long, warm and sunny periods. We’ve been experimenting with a new annual polyculture of tomatoes, french beans, basil, marigold, cabbage and garlic.
Annual polyculture with cabbage
 We’re also growing our usual annual polyculture Zeno at the residential house.
Some photos from Zeno
                                                           Some photos from Zeno
Zeno Plant List  – The following plants are used in this polyculture;
Tomato – Solanum lycopersicum
Basil – Ocimum basilcium
French Beans – Phaseolus vulgaris 
Courgette – Cucurbita pepo
Butternut Squash – Cucurbita pepo
African Marigold – Tagetes erecta
French Marigold – Tagetes patula
Pot Marigold – Calendula officinalis 
It’s been very successful in our home gardens for the last 10 years, and back in 2015, we scaled it up for the market garden for a 5-year comparative study. You can find the results here. For more info on plant spacing, management and maintenance of this polyculture see our previous post here.
It’s interesting to think about planning annual polycultures in terms of layers like you might design a forest garden. When working with herbaceous plants, the tallest plant in the polyculture becomes the canopy. With good selection, the benefits of plant layering i.e, resource sharing in time and space, can work well with whatever plants you use. For example in the below photo, you can see the layering of Zeno – where tomatoes are the canopy layer, basil, and marigold the shrub layer, butternut squash a ground layer, beans a vertical layer and the wild natives that grow around the edges could be considered a herb layer.
Layers in Zeno, an annual polyculture
We’ve been looking at layering in more detail this week on our Regenerative Landscape Design Online Interactive Course. It’s been quite wonderful to meet all of the participants and learn about all of the regenerative landscapes that are being worked on or planned out there. There’s a diverse mix of projects from conceptual designs for home self-sufficiency crops including for textiles, constructions and plant-based chemicals, to an 8-acre plot focusing on the development of a Walnut orchard. The course is running for 20 weeks and will teach you how to create for yourself or for others, regenerative landscapes that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.  
What we think is a Spanish Dagger Tree – Yucca gloriosa, is just starting to bloom in the garden of Katelepsis, the crew house. It ain’t called a ‘Dagger Tree’ for nothing – the leaves are very sharp and can easily pierce the skin and probably tougher substances. I’m not surprised to learn that they are often used as security guards and planted outside windows or near houses, like a living security hedge! Native to southern regions of the US and Mexico, and hardy to zones 6 – 11, Spanish Dagger Tree has been used for centuries in basket making, clothing, and footwear.  PFAF gives it an edibility rating of 3/5 and many sources describe the flowers as edible, absolutely delicious, and can be eaten raw or fried (I haven’t tried it yet).  Highly ornamental, this interesting plant could be a worthy candidate for a spot in a dry area due to its ability to be drought resistant, as well as tolerating maritime exposure. It gets pretty tall, growing to 2m by 1.2m, which gives it quite a striking appearance.
Spanish Dagger Tree – Yucca glorisa, The flowers of the Spanish Dagger Tree – Yucca gloriosa

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. I am Alain Yvon Kabeya from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) leaving in the capital city Kinshasa. I have come accros your publication and very happy to know more about your concept: community gardening. I own 27 hectares of land and trying to design integrated permaculture activities in and around my property, but I don’t from where to start, that why I am interested to get in touch with and therefore take advantage of experience in processing land.
    Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

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