GeneralPermaculture Projects

Roses, Cherries & Walking in the Wild

European Solidarity Corps Permaculture Project – Week 2 2021

It’s been a bumper year for cherries in our region, but there are big differences around the country depending on local weather patterns. We usually enter a somewhat tropical weather cycle at this time of year with hot, sunny spells quickly interrupted with heavy downpours, which are difficult to predict and can really affect the cherries. Firstly, the fruit sugar content becomes markedly reduced after frequent heavy rainfall, and secondly, the fruit can split and quickly start to decompose. So while we just managed to harvest our main crop before the first heavy rain, other people around the country haven’t been so lucky. Slight variations in ripening times depending on microclimates and elevation also play a part.

This year with the help of our ESC volunteers, we’ve made some cherry compote, and also some jam. Cherry compote, along with Cornelian Cherry syrup made from the fruits of Cornus mas was one of the first things we learned to process when we arrived in Bulgaria over 15 years ago now, from a special lady named Ivanka.


Cherry stems saved for drying and making tea
Sophie & Dylan making Cornelian Cherry with Ivanka back in 2007

We’ve been sampling quite a few cherries from trees that we encounter on our walks. This week together with the ESC team, we walked out towards the west of Shipka to collect some herbs for drying as we’re planning to make some ointments and tea blends this year. One of the wonderful things about living in Bulgaria is the abundance of herbs and medicinal plants that grow at this time of year. We set out to where there is a well-established Chamomile patch locally.

We think the plant growing in abundance around our house is Matricaria recutita – German Chamomile. as opposed to Chamaemelum nobile – Roman Chamomile. See a previous post that Paul wrote on how to tell the difference between the two. We also collected some petals from Rosa canina and intended to collect some Elderflowers, but as the sky turned an ominous shade of grey we decided to call it a day!
Marco & Ruxandra
In response to the warm temperatures and high rainfall, the native plants in all the gardens are growing vigorously. The plants are predominantly grasses and herbaceous climbers, and the next few weeks will be busy as we weed and mulch the trees using a chop and drop method, as well as topping up the mulch with some straw in time for a potentially long dry season.
Rushar & Tara chopping and dropping the biomass around the trees in one of our gardens, Phronesis
Tara making a doughnut shape around one of the Zanthoxylum piperitum trees. These trees should be much taller and more mature in growth by now, but the unfenced location has left them vulnerable to hungry herbivores both wild and domestic.
When thinking about designing a polyculture, it’s very helpful to define the overall intended function of the garden. The primary purpose of Phronesis is to produce round wood for fence posts, light construction wood, and stakes and pole wood for the market garden crops. The secondary purpose is to provide fruits and nuts in the under story and a range of habitat to support wildlife.  The goals of this design were to encourage growth of existing biodiversity as much as possible and provide new habitat that enhances biodiversity and to utilise the slope of the land and existing water source to irrigate the garden.
Dylan & Archie took the group into the mountains and diverted the mountain stream water into the garden pond, which was almost empty. The main water channel into the garden needed some digging out, after which the pond filled up and started overflowing into the pathways, irrigating the garden in the process.
Markus getting stuck in!
One of the trees in the upper canopy of Phronesis is Alnus cordata – Italian Alder, a truly remarkable tree. In the below image you can see a 7 or 8-year-old specimen growing in the home garden. The tree takes a natural conical shape which is useful in a garden scale forest garden as they do not take up too much space in the canopy area. We lift the lower limbs to allow light in the lower layers and can easily grow a number of fruiting shrubs and herbs under the trees  It also fixes nitrogen, is fast-growing, and drought tolerant so a firm favourite.

The Rose harvest continues usually until the end of June and some of our fellow villagers were only too happy to have six extra pairs of hands. The plant is Rosa damascenca – Damask Rose, and the blooms are harvested early in the morning by the sackful, and sent to a distillery to start the process of extracting the oil, a product that is currently more valuable than gold. This region is known as The Valley of the Roses, and most of the world’s beauty products contain Rose oil that originated from these very fields.

Special thanks to Ruhsar, Ruxandra and Tara for their beautiful photos, many of which have been used in this post :)

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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