Permaculture Projects

A New Design, Access and Tomato Jars – Week 13 – ESC Project – The Polyculture Project

Week 13 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project

You may remember that we built an irrigation pond over at the crew house to provide for the water needs of the plants growing in the garden, as currently the garden doesn’t have access to the mountain stream. The pond was fed by harvesting the rainwater from the roof of the main house and directing it through guttering pipes directly into the pond, as seen in the below image. In 2019 this was very effective and the volunteers that year were able to transfer the water from the irrigation pond to the plants using a pump.

 

Since then, things haven’t worked out quite so well with this design. Firstly, we encountered problems with the actual guttering which requires maintenance at least twice yearly, and secondly, one of the stones placed at the edge of the pond to help support the liner fell in and ripped the material. Three failed attempts were made to fix the liner, which eventually started to deteriorate in other places due to being exposed to the strong summer sun. From then on, the water level only reached around 30cm in depth and although it became a haven for frogs and grass snakes, essentially we were left with a gaping hole in a prime piece of land, and no solution to the irrigation issue.  So earlier this year, we decided to dig in the pond, salvaging what we could of the liner, and are now in the process of creating a new design for the area which will include a small wildlife pond.

The area has grown up, mainly with wild native plants

Together with the ESC volunteers, we have identified 3 main purposes of the new design, listed here, in order of our priority;

1. To produce food in both annual, perennial and possibly mixed polycultures. The area is close to the house and composting zones so makes perfect sense when considering zoning.
2. To enhance biodiversity. Our aim is to include a variety of different habitats within the design.
3. To be aesthetically pleasing. This area is the first place you see as you enter the property.

Access is one of the most important aspects to consider in any design. Some of the main things to consider when designing access include:

Visualising Future Growth – Visualise the mature size of the growth within your polycultures when designing access. Will the access you have put in place be overwhelmed by plant growth? Will you be able to harvest effectively when the plants are mature and what pruning management might be required to keep the access clear? Plants can grow very quickly and even after rearing 1000ʼs of plants, it’s still surprising to see how fast certain plants quickly dominate a space.

Avoid Compaction – It’s extremely beneficial to keep the access within your polyculture restricted to the same area to avoid compaction. In fact, one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to create healthy soil and plants is to avoid compaction. Compaction reduces the spaces between the soil particles. These spaces store vital gases when the soil is dry, water when the soil is soaked and are the primary habitat for the soil microbes that protect and feed the plants and that build long term water and fertility storage in the soils. So permanent fixed access should be a priority of your polyculture design

Comfortable Access – Access should be comfortable –  even, smooth ground, without the need to duck or swerve as you walk, and should drain well to avoid puddling during wet weather. You should be able to comfortably reach where you need to for management task such as chop and drop, pruning and harvesting without stretching or treading on the soil. The below measurements are some recommended widths for general purpose access;

600mm – comfortable for one person

800mm – comfortable for one person with wheelbarrow or trailer

900mm – allows two people to just pass

1200mm – allows one person with wheelbarrow and other person to pass

We’ll be posting more about this design in the coming weeks and photos of our progress as we start to implement it so keep an eye out for that :) You can also check out the ESC volunteer’s personal blog of their experiences here

The hot balmy weather broke this week with huge thunderstorms and at last, significant rainfall. I love the first rains after the summer that bring about a spring like quality to the garden again, along with a new flush of edible greens.
Green School Village, co-funded by Erasmus hosted a 10 day seminar here in Shipka this week all about the ESC initiative and what is involved in hosting volunteers and project writing. The participants seemed very inspired and hopefully have gone off with a lot of ideas and thoughts about how they may integrate an ESC project into their own creative ventures.
Speaking personally about our own experience, the community building aspect of the ESC project we are running with Green School Village has been something that has created a lot of joy and solidarity among both the volunteers and the local people.  It has been great to watch that inter-generational and cultural exchange, and of course to be able to help local people in need while learning skills from them and observing how they garden.
Markus, Ru and Fanny helping an elderly family to pick figs
We processed tomatoes this week, jarring them to experience that taste of sun drenched summer in the middle of winter. Of all the food we process, tomatoes is definitely a firm favourite because they are relatively easy to prepare, keep well and form the basis of so many meals.
To prepare the tomatoes for jarring, wash the fruit and gather clean large jars. We cut the tomatoes into quarters and push them well into the jar, almost compacting them to be able to store a good amount in each. Add a teaspoon of salt to each and then close the lids,  making sure the rim of the jar is clean and dry.  Rusty lids can contaminate the tomatoes so avoid using any lids that have visible rust on the inside.
We have a wonderful industrial sized pot for jar water baths. I always place a towel or other suitable material on the bottom, and then add the jars, cramming them in quite tightly to avoid them moving around. Lukewarm water is added that must fully cover the lids of the jars by a few centimetres. Stones are placed on top to prevent movement, as when the water is boiling the jars have a tendency to start moving around.
The water should boil for 15 minutes before carefully removing the jars and placing upside down on a protected worktop, to help create a vacuum seal. Once sufficiently cool turn right side up and voila – you can look forward to delicious lasagnes and sauces all through the winter months.
Thanks go to Ruhsar for the tomato photos :)

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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