Permaculture Projects

European Solidarity Corps Project – Week 1 2021

Arrivals, the start of cherries & cooler weather

This week we welcome Ruhsar, Tara, Ruxandra, Marco and Marcus, to Shipka for the start of our first European Solidarity Corps Project that myself and Sophie will be supervising this year. The goal of the project is to share our knowledge on growing landscapes that produce food while enhancing biodiversity with the participants and to help out the local community through various tasks.  We’re collaborating with our friends at Green School Village to put together what we hope will be an enriching and meaningful experience. 

One of the activities of the project involves the team helping some of the more elderly population of the town in their gardens, while at the same time learning some of their unique skills and talents when it comes to annual vegetable production and processing.

A neighbour’s garden, planted in an traditional block formation

In the 18th century,  while still the time of the Ottoman Empire, Bulgarians decided to produce and market their annual vegetables on a commercial scale and they soon found markets for these products in other parts of  Europe, showing that they were competent and skilled in annual vegetable production. Most of the gardens in Shipka nowadays are dedicated to small scale, intensive annual vegetable production systems, and are high yielding. The crops are often laid out in blocks as in the above image which can facilitate management. During the first week, the ESC team had a go at planting out our tried and tested polyculture Zeno, which is also an intensive annual system but planted out in a polyculture rather than in a block formation.

Tara and Ruxandra setting up the bean tripods
With the tomato stakes now in we can start mulching with straw
Marco covering the bean seeds sowed into nests made in the bed. The tomatoes are now in place and we’ll add the basil later on.
Zeno was part of our 5 year market garden study and you can read more about it and the results here.

Bulgarian Honey Garlic – Nectaroscordum siculum subsp. bulgaricum has attracted a lot of attention this week from our guests due to its striking appearance in the garden and unusual yet delicious flavour in the kitchen (when prepared as a seasoning).  The leaves are usually harvested before the plant flowers, and rubbed with salt and left to dry forming the tasty seasoning locally known as Самардалата or Samardala. This year we’ve planted it in various locations around the garden giving the plant a more prominent position. It works very well as an ornamental to add to its long list of attributes.

Bulgarian Honey Garlic flowering under a Cherry Tree

Talking of cherries, look out for the annual heavenly harvesting photos, likely coming to this blog next week. In the meantime, the usual juvenile Homo sapiens can be seen harvesting the cream of the crop from the tree tops!

Paulownia tomentosa – Foxglove tree is a very fast growing tree with enormous leaves, making it a great mulch machine and also a handy impromptu plate, especially when there’s fruit in the forest garden.
We often cut the trees to ground level and use the regrowth as poles or stakes for the tomato plants and other light construction. Although light in density, the poles are surprisingly tough and rot resistant. You can read more about our experiences coppicing Paulownia on this previous blog post.
Paulownia and Cherry meet at canopy level

We walked over to the East side plots this week to introduce the team to Ataraxia and our wider vision of creating a natural park in the area, showcasing regenerative agriculture in practice. We bumped into some local horses that had been tethered in the garden, and as lovely as the horses are, their presence represents the challenges of developing plots in areas that can’t easily be protected from grazing animals.

Ruhsar with a young foal in Ataraxia


The diversity of flora is quite astounding at this time of year, and we’re planning to make some small surveys in the different plots over the coming weeks, the results of which we’ll post on this blog.

Rosa Canina, Shipka’s namesake, next to Purple Vetch – Vicia benghalensis, a nitrogen fixing plant often used as a cover crop
Shipka looking West


Some of you may know that we’ve started this year’s Regenerative Landscape Design – Online Interactive Course, but there’s still time to join if you would like to take part.

We’re super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

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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