Permaculture Projects

Forest garden seed collecting, mushroom hunting and a new forest garden

The Polyculture Project

Forest Garden Seed Collecting
Archie and I have been harvesting seeds from the trees and shrubs in the forest garden this month and sending out the seeds to our customers all over Europe. I’ve found that for many shrubs that ripen in the Autumn, sowing the seeds indoors within a few weeks of picking and cleaning them results in the seeds germinating without the need for stratification and the germination rates are very high.

Forest Garden Seed 

The reasoning behind this may be that the fruit tissue that envelops the seed contains an inhibitor to prevent the seed from germinating within the fruit and before the winter has passed. By cleaning off the tissue and sowing indoors where the temperature is always above 0 C the seed can bypass stratification altogether.  I find this works very well for all plants from Elaeagnaceae specifically Elaeagnus umbellata – Autumn Olive and plants from Rutaceae such as  Zanthoxylum piperitum – Japanese Pepper Tree as well as Chaenomeles speciosa – Jap. Quince but does not seem to work at all for seeds from Rosaceae or Cornaceae such as these Cornus mas – Cornellian Cherry seeds below.

Castanea sativa – Sweet Chestnut are already littering the ground in the gardens.  If you are looking to grow Castanea sativa – Sweet Chestnut from seed it is vital that you sow the seed as soon as they fall to ground as they will quickly dry out and lose their ability to germinate.  Our grow your own sponge plant Luffa aegyptiaca – Vietnamese Luffa  should ripen soon, turn dry and yellow-brown, after which I’ll peel the skin to reveal the fibrous tissue underneath,  remove the seeds (for planting next year) wash out the sap, leave to dry, marvel at the structure, and then start using as a sponge.


We went up in the mountain for a walk last week. I always enjoy the opportunity to learn from the forest and to see how plants arrange themselves in the wild. Of particular interest this trip was a  Rubus spp. ground cover that had formed a blanket of cover in the deep shade of the beech forest. I’m familiar with Rubus caesius – Dewberry that also grows well on the forest floor but this species had black shiny fruit more like a regular blackberry, sweeter than the Dewberry and formed a fuller cover.

Unidentified Rubus sp. covering the beech forest floor.


We also found a few Parasol Mushrooms – Macrolepiota procera – on the edge of the woods. These are one of my favourite edible mushrooms and taste delicious. They are very easy to identify and are not easily confused for poisonous species so great for the novice mushroom collector. There is one poisonous lookalike in north america Chlorophyllum molybdites and a smaller parasol Lepiota brunneoincarnata in Europe, but as long as you only pick mushrooms that have a cap larger than 10 cm in diameter you are safe.



Prokope – A New Forest Garden

Thank you to the participants of our Design n’ Build a Forest Garden Course for a lovely course, we really enjoyed hosting you here and getting started on a new forest garden.

The primary purpose of the garden is to grow a polyculture fruit orchard  providing a variety of fruit from July – October. Our goal is to encourage growth of existing biodiversity as much as possible and provide new habitat that enhances biodiversity. We are also aiming to utilise the slope of the land and existing water source to irrigate the garden.

I’ll be writing about this garden with plenty of photos, maps and more detail in the coming weeks including the species we used , the fruit cultivars, access and irrigation layout and support habitat features. Here is a growth forecast illustration of Prokope, our new Forest Garden.

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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