Permaculture Projects

Mowing Pathways for Mulch, Natural Building and Herbal Remedies

European Solidarity Corps Permaculture Project – Week 7 2021

It has been a busy week, with the hot, dry weather continuing and more water channels needing to be dug to ensure that we can successfully irrigate Aponia, our forest garden and old site of our Market Garden Research.  In the home garden, the pathways by the beds double up as water channels, with native herbaceous plants growing alongside the edges of the beds and pathways.  These plants are a valuable source of biomass and we mow them every 2 weeks, collecting the valuable clippings as mulch.  This week, we needed to trim back some young Black Locust – Robinia pseudoacacia plants that were encroaching too far into the pathway and blocking access. The trimmings from these plants were left on the pathway for the lawnmower to shred and collect whilst also cutting the herbaceous growth. This added a nice supplement of Robinia leaves to the clippings.

Pathway/water channel between two garden beds. On the left,  Zeno, our annual productive polyculture and on the right, Robinia plants freshly trimmed back to clear access
Robinia clippings fell onto the pathway and were left there to be mown with the herbaceous growth
The end product is a mix of nitrogen rich clippings that are perfect to use as immediate mulch on beds or in plant pots

We recently cut back the Lovage – Levisticum officinale as it has just finished flowering and it generally starts to topple over and obstruct access. A few days later and the plants underneath in the ground and herb layers have really started to take advantage of the light levels now available to them.

Bottom left – Turkish Sage – Phlomis russeliana 
I’ve seen a lot of Turkish Sage in our gardens in more exposed positions that flowered a while ago now. This plant was under the fairly dense cover of the Lovage, and will likely bloom quite quickly now it can access more light. The hooded, yellow flowers put in a long appearance are attractively arranged up the stem in intervals. It makes great ground cover forming a pretty carpet in the herb layer and is easily divisible in the autumn or spring.
This week we welcomed Hekim from Turkey to the ESC volunteer team, and at the beginning of the week we headed to my friend Jo’s house. Jo lives in a neighbouring village and is undertaking a great project – renovating her home and using natural building techniques. The first task was to dig out a trench for the stone foundation of a mud brick wall that Jo wants to build to help contain her dog, who is an acrobat extraordinaire and master escape artist! Once the pit was dug around 50cm deep, it was lined with geotextile to keep the weeds and soil from ingressing and filled with gravel and small stones, some of which we got from sifting earth and sand on the property. We then compacted the stones by walking on top of the stone filled line with heavy boots.
Markus, Tara and Ruhsar pouring and shovelling in the small stones and gravel
Next we laid large stones on top that had been fetched from a local river and neighbouring property and began to lay them on top of the rubble trench, and tried to fit them to size, a bit like a giant jigsaw or tetris game. It’s important to get the positioning right to make a solid weight bearing base for the wall. Once satisfied with our positioning, we made a lime mortar using hydrated lime, sand and water and placed it in between the stones to secure them in place.
Just a little lime plaster to add and stage one is completed. We’ll be returning to Jo’s to start building the wall in a couple of weeks
Inside her house, Jo’s building bathroom walls out of cob. Cobbing is also described as mud daubing, and is a mixture of clay, sand and straw. Here Hekim, Fanny and Ruhsar have a go at adding a layer of plaster to the wall Jo built.
Lovely finish!

Outside, Jo has started to sculpt a cat on the wall by the porch entrance and ESC volunteer Ruxandra finished the project creating a beautiful cat and a wonderful eulogy for a much loved kitten lost this week to a virus.

Ode to Moon, by the very talented Ruxandra. You can check out more of  Rux’s incredibe work here. She also makes commissioned pieces.

Part of our ESC project is to explore the medicinal qualities of local herbs and plants and experiment with making homemade remedies. We have been infusing oils over the last month ready to make some ointments. To make a herb infused oil, all you have to do is harvest the part of the plant that you would like to use early in the day, and leave it to dry out of direct sunlight for 24 hours. This usually reduces the water content sufficiently to prevent water leaching into the oil and spoiling it. Then place your plant into a jam jar, cover with olive oil and leave on a sunny windowsill to infuse over the next month, shaking occasionally and finally straining into a clean jar and labelling.

Using our infused oils, some essential oils and high quality Bulgarian beeswax, we created an ointment using Comfrey and Elder leaf to help with bruising, and a Chamomile and Yarrow one for bites that Rux aptly named, ‘Ditch the Itch’ :)

We’ve been trying out different tea blends too, and will be introducing our first blend, complete with branding, in the coming weeks. One of the main components are the flowers from the Linden tree – Tilia spp. which actually came into flower almost a whole month later than usual this year.

Linden flowers

Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees or bushes, native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. More commonly referred to as Linden or Lime, this tree is not to be confused with Citrus medica, the tree that produces actual lime fruits. Tilia cordata – Small Leaved Lime and Tilia platyphyllos – Large Leaved Lime are probably the most well known in Europe, although it can be difficult to differentiate between them sometimes as they tend to hybridize, resulting in Tilia vulgaris – Common Lime. Both trees and the hybridized form have edible leaves, in addition to producing a flower that is much valued as a herbal tea.

To read about the ESC project from the perspective of the volunteers, you can see their blog here.

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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