Permaculture Projects

A Visit to the Eco Community Blagodatie, Ura Gora, Bulgaria

European Solidarity Corps Permaculture Project – Week 8 2021

This week together with the ESC team we were delighted to have the opportunity to visit the Eco community Blagodatie, home of the Ura Gora Foundation, and help out with their inspiring project.

The location of the project 42°06’29.1″N 26°40’07.3″E

Here at Balkep we’ve known two of the members, Kosio and Sophie, for some years now, our paths crossing at various forest garden/permaculture events and occasionally during environmental festivals within Bulgaria. Kosio, Alex and their two children and Sophie & Krasi were inspired by the books in the series “The Ringing Cedars of Russia” by Vladimir Megre, and live close to nature and completely off-grid with their families in the community in Southeastern Bulgaria, in a remote and beautiful spot.

Kosio, Alex, Indi and Lybo
Sophie & Krasi

The land surrounding the eco-community is dry, deforested terrain which is pretty much how it was when this community discovered it. I was expecting the gardens to still be in early stages of establishment due to heavy clay soils and the hot, dry climate presenting challenges. What a joy it was to arrive at a biodiverse forest, healthy and productive – much like the human inhabitants there!

The community is growing, and now has 2 – 4 families that are committed to developing and supporting healthy ecosystems on the land that encourage biodiversity. A wide variety of plants are growing to provide a significant amount of food needs for humans and other organisms, as well as supplying resources for infrastructure, construction, and for crafting.  Natural beekeeping is practiced on site with the honey being among one of the best I’ve tasted, and let me assure you that I am a well established honey monster :)

One of my first questions on arrival was about water. How are water needs for both humans and plants alike met in such a dry and remote region of Bulgaria? Coming up with creative solutions for water management has been essential to the success of the site, and as Sophie explained, the community designed and makes ram pumps. A ram pump is a very simple mechanical pump and a great example of appropriate technology used in many small scale development projects around the world. It works without any fuel, solar power or complex materials. Essentially, the water is led down a pipe (in this instance from a dam some metres above the height of the pump) and opens and closes two valves with hammer-like force, creating pressure for about 10% of the input water to be pumped up to a greater height. The community sell these pumps and design and install the whole system in places where they would be suitable. For more information contact Kosio or Krasi here.
There are a remarkable amount of apples, pears and quince trees growing, all looking very healthy and laden with fruit. Kosio has many varieties of apples and pears that he has successfully grafted onto wild plum or the pioneer wild pear rootstock, both of which grow abundantly in the region.
The plant selection has been carefully considered and pathways are mowed to create pleasant walkways through the establishing forest gardens and landscape.
Among the wild native plants I observed many species of plants from the Apiaceae family, the umbels of which attract scores of beneficial organisms to the gardens.


Sophie and Krasi’s garden layout had many islands of different polycultures. In the below photo you can see an example of one of these, the diversity of plant architecture being very pleasing on the eye and forming a dense cover protecting the soil from the relentless sun. From top left – clockwise: Tansy – Tanecetum vulgare,  Apple – Malus sppCornelian Cherry – Cornus masJerusalem Artichoke – Helianthus tuberosus and Yucca – Yucca filamentosa.

This year Kosio, Alex and their two children along with Sophie and Krasi teamed up to start a community annual vegetable garden. The idea was to co-operate on a shared garden to grow community spirit along with staple foods that are easy to harvest, store and process together, as well as to provide food for volunteers and guests to use. They are growing mainly open pollinated heritage kinds of potatoes, corn, beans, pumpkins and melons.
Setting up the garden
Corn developing well in the spring
Annual vegetables are also being grown on both of these families’ plots.
A greenhouse with a view :)

With such a lot to do and a team of six volunteers, we started creating a rhythm and flow to the days and week to make sure we were organized with the tasks we were to help with, but also to create a balance, sprinkling creative non-formal workshops into the mix. With hot temperatures we rose at 06.00 to take advantage of the cooler mornings, helped out until 09.30 when we had a watermelon party together. Around 11.00 a creative workshop was held, with lunch around 13.00, rest until 17.00 and then help out again until sundown. The community members have many skills and talents, and offer a variety of workshops from an introduction to herbs and making healing remedies to clothes making, and also plan soon to start hosting retreats on site.

ESC volunteers left – right Rushar, Tara, Fanny & Hekim
One of the tasks that benefitted from having many hands involved was bringing in the hay for the winter for Kosio’s young horse. We recycled a child’s paddling pool and a large supermarket banner as vessels to transport the hay from the lower fields to higher land by the horse’s stable.
It really was a pleasure to be part of such a beautiful, growing project. Special thanks go out to all the community for being our hosts for the week,  Blagodatie’s long term vision is to be a larger community that continues to appreciate and enjoy common activities together.  For enquiries about purchasing or trading some of the products that are produced by the community, or for more information on how you can get involved and support the community, contact Sophie here. Huge thanks go out to all the ESC volunteers for their goodwill and support, and also for many of the photos that were used in this post taken by them.

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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