Permaculture Projects

Hosta flowers, Figs and Heirloom Squash

Week 12- ESC - The Polyculture Project

The Hosta – Hosta spp. started flowering in the home garden this week, and with it brought a sense of peace in an otherwise hectic week.  The dense, basal leaves of this plant are striking and highly attractive, overlapping each other to form a spreading mound of foliage. A highly ornamental plant, it’s perfect for shady borders, as grown here, but also for woodland gardens or shade gardens. It can be planted as an understory to a shrub layer, and we’re planning to use this plant in the centre of Shipka when we plant out a shady area.  Ground cover plants play an important role in the forest garden, protecting the soil, providing refuge for wildlife at ground layer, preventing unwanted plants from establishing and can provide some food such as berries or leaves.


A tomato ripening in the home garden.  We haven’t had many of those this year, and this one is huge, possibly weighing in just shy of a kilogram. The plant was given to us by a local elderly man, and we’ll be saving the seeds to grow next year, share, and add to a seed bank that we’re starting as part of the ESC project. To see what the volunteers have been up to, you can check out their personal blog here.

Another seed we’ll be adding is that of this heirloom squash, which we call ‘Victoria’s Granny’. One of the participants of our past Polyculture Market Garden study, Victoria Bezhitashvili, gave us some winter squash seed that originated from her Granny in Belarus. Year on year they provide a reliable harvest of bright orange, tasty fruit, and we save seeds from the next generation every year too. To avoid cross contamination with neighbouring courgettes, sometimes we use rubber bands to protect the newly emerging male and female flowers, the next morning removing the rubber bands to pollinate the female flowers with the uncontaminated pollen from the male flower, and then protect the pollinated female flower by replacing the rubber band and tying a piece of wool or ribbon around the stem so that, rather like a piece of luggage at an airport, it can be easily identified and the seeds from that particular fruit saved.  We learned this from Real Seeds who have a wealth of great information on their website as well as quality seed.

In the below photo you can see the Victoria’s Granny squash migrating into the forest garden area of the home garden, making itself at home on a Guelder Rose.


Here are some of the other plants in the wider polyculture

We’ve been harvesting figs from all the gardens and drying them on baking trays in the car. They take around 10 -12 hours to dry in a dehydrator and around 2 -3 days on top of the car dash board (parked in a sunny spot). Dried figs can be stored for six to eight months.

Figs must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before they are picked. They will not ripen if picked when immature. A ripe fruit will be slightly soft and starting to bend at the neck. The fruit should be harvested gently to avoid bruising. Fresh figs do not keep well and can be stored in the refrigerator for only 2 – 3 days.

A note on Fig reproduction and pollination, which is fascinating but not great news for fig loving vegetarians :)
What we call the fig fruit is actually a flower or to be more precise an inflorescence – a cluster of many flowers and seeds contained inside a bulbous stem. Because of this unusual arrangement, the seeds—technically the ovaries of the fig—require a specialized pollinator that is adapted to navigate within the fruit and here begins the story of the relationship between figs and fig wasps.
The queen of the fig wasp is almost the perfect size for the job and enters through a tight opening in the fig called the ostiole.
Once inside, the queen travels within the chamber, depositing her eggs and simultaneously shedding the pollen she carried with her from another fig. This last task, while not the queen’s primary goal, is an important one: she is fertilizing the fig’s ovaries. After the queen has laid her eggs, she dies. Once the queen’s eggs hatch, male and female wasps assume very different roles. They first mate with each other and then the females collect pollen while the wingless males begin carving a path to the fig’s exterior. This activity is not for their own escape but rather to create an opening for the females to exit. The females will pollinate another fig as queens. The males will spend their entire life cycle within a single fruit.

Bad news for vegetarians thus being when you eat fig you probably eat wasp,  however, common fig types have all female flowers that do not need pollination for fruiting as the fruit can develop through parthenocarpic means. Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Brunswick, and Celeste are some representative cultivars. More from our Essential Guide – Dig the Fig 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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