Permaculture Projects

Seeds, glorious seeds

Week 16 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project

We’ve been harvesting seeds of all shapes and sizes over the last couple of weeks. All of the plants that we collect seeds from are from the flowering plants (Angiosperms), of which there are more than a staggering 250,000 species. The majority of these plant species are found in tropical climates, and for those of us in Mediterranean, Temperate and Sub-tropical climates, there are probably around 9,000 species to cooperate with. Plenty of the seed we harvest comes from our forest garden to send to customers, sow and rear into young plants that stock the bionursery, or simply to swap and share with friends and other plant loving folk. 

The dry stems and seed heads of Alliums make a pleasing contrast to the other plants

Although we have just entered autumn and the plants in the gardens are starting to prepare to shut down for the winter, the seeds of Elaeagnus umbellata – Autumn Olive and Zanthoxylum piperitum – Japanese Pepper Tree were sown this week as it seems they can be sown as soon as the fruits are ripe. This little trick seems to bypass the winter dormancy of some species, and as long as the emerging seedlings are not subjected to sub zero temperature (better still not below 5°C) they will be fine and should be ready for pricking out into pots by March/April.

Elaeagnus umbellata – Autumn Olive

A large, nitrogen fixing deciduous shrub from east Asia, growing to 4.5 high and 4.5m wide, tolerates part shade and is very drought tolerant. Branches are often thorny, leaves are bright green and silvery beneath. Yellowish white, fragrant flowers are produced in May-June, followed by rounded silvery brown (ripening red) fruits in Sep-Oct.  There are many named cultivars and plants can fruit in 5yrs from seed. We enjoy saving the seed from these plants,  as the berries are very palatable. The birds also love them, so it’s important to get the moment right when they are ripe enough to eat and before the birds strip them! We always leave at least 30% of the fruit on the bushes for the birds to enjoy.

The Elaeagnus seeds were harvested from The Biomass Belt, a polyculture that we designed for producing fertility without manure. The polyculture is composed of mineral accumulating comfrey in raised beds, nitrogen fixing ground cover sown into pathways and a nitrogen fixing hedgerow. The nitrogen hungry comfrey is fed with the biomass from nitrogen fixing plants, that through a partnership with soil micro-organisms can convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen fertilizers useful to themselves, but also becoming available to neighbouring plants. Here is ESC volunteer Ruhsar applying the Elaeagnus trimmings onto the Comfrey patch.

Japanese Pepper Tree – Zanthoxylum piperitum

This incredible plant can be grown as a spiny shrub or a small tree, reaching dimensions of 3m by 2m. It is pretty robust, drought tolerant and copes with full sun, partial shade and even some deeper shady conditions, making it a fantastic tree for a forest garden. It’s easily grown in a variety of soil types and can tolerate quite cold temperatures. Flowers are borne in June and seeds can be harvested in September – October. The plant has extensive medicinal value with all parts of the plant having a specific use.  The ground and dry-roasted fruit is an ingredient of the Chinese ‘five spice’ powder. Harvesting the tree for seeds starts once we see the black seed emerging from some of the husks.  We usually cut the whole umbel off and if all the seeds don’t pop out easily just leave it to dry until the separation process becomes easier. The husks can be put into a pepper mill and used as you would black pepper, although a little more sparingly as the taste produces a clove-like numbing as well as a deliciously unique flavour.

Asparagus – Asparagus officinalis berries which are toxic to humans if eaten. We leave the berries to mature for a while but harvest them while still red, drying them on a windowsill. Watch out for the birds! I went out into the garden yesterday to collect all the berries in our home garden patch only to find the entire crop gone. The dried berries seemed to contain seed that crumbles and looks unviable.

Below is the fruit of Cornus kousa – Korean Dogwood which is edible and while not my favourite fruit, quite an interesting and pleasant flavour. I found that some of the fruit was without seeds, but most contained just one or occasionally two. The tree this fruit came from is 7 years old and this year produced around 15 of these fruits. We’re going to try and sow a few seeds directly in the coming days to see if we can get some germination and growth this season.
Fennel – Foeniculum vulgare is an excellent perennial herb for the productive garden. The leaves make a refreshing nibble, are great in salads and teas and the stems and roots can be cooked like Asparagus spears. Harvest the seeds for sowing and use in the kitchen. They are delicious toasted and added to flatbreads.
Thanks to Rushar for some of the photos used in this blog. You can check out the volunteer’s personal blog here. We are offering many of these plants and seeds this season in our Bionursery, so why not get in touch for an up to date plant list of what we have available?

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button