Permaculture Projects

Seed Saving, Heavy Rain and Plants for Autumn Colours

Week 20 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project

This week the weather has been more like something experienced in Wales with cool temperatures and significant and persistent rainfall, quickly turning a pleasant transition into autumn into a quick dash inside to the warmth of the stove.

Many of the end of season garden tasks have yet to be completed and the high winds have ripped some of the Sweet Chestnuts off the branches before they are fully ripe. We’ve spent a lot of time this week gathering up soggy walnuts from the muddy ground and drying them out inside by the fire.

The ESC volunteers made the most of the one dry morning and harvested the majority of the sun loving annual vegetables. There are still leeks, carrots and chard in their garden which can be harvested a little later on, so long as we continue to avoid frosts. The green tomatoes have since been processed into a tasty chutney, using spices brought from Istanbul to flavour.

It was a bumper harvest of squash again this year, grown from an heirloom seed we have named, ‘Victoria’s Granny’. The original seed came from a previous participant of The Polyculture Project, Victoria, who was given them by her grandmother in Belarus. Year on year they reliably produce enormous quantities of the most delicious tasting winter squash. As part of our ESC project, Misha from the Green School Village came up with the idea to start collecting some of the local heirloom seeds grown in Shipka and to create a seed library for the local community to use.  We’ve been sorting through what seeds we have as a base stock for the library, and also saving seeds from the tomatoes gifted to us by some of the local elderly people. Once the weather improves we will be asking local food growers to donate some of their favourite seeds to the library.

Seed saved from a local variety of tomato
Translating the names into Bulgarian

The wet weather means that many of the plants suddenly seem to have developed their autumn colours with speed. Cool and windy conditions will encourage the leaves to drop, signalling the official start of the nursery season. Here are three of our favourite trees and shrubs for autumn colours that we are offering this season.



Rhus typhina – Stag’s Horn Sumach

Overview: Hardy to Zone 4.Rhus typhina is more commonly known as Stag’s Horn Sumach due to the branches being reminiscent of a stag’s antlers. This interesting plant architecture is revealed once the leaves have fallen in the autumn and the tree is dormant. It is a large suckering deciduous shrub that can grow up to 8m, the red-hairy stems with large pinnate leaves turning pretty shades of red and orange in the autumn.   It can grow in a wide array of habitats and can thrive in dry and poor soil, making it a great choice for these conditions. Can also tolerate wind quite well.

Mespilus germanica – Medlar

Overview: Hardy to zone 6. Medlars are ornamental, flowering trees with pretty white blossom, really attractive autumn colours with different hues of red, orange and yellow and delicious late autumn/winter fruit that should be bletted before eating. They tolerate most soils and are most comfortable if planted in a sunny and sheltered position but also do well in partial shade.  A perfect candidate for the outer edge of a woodland garden and able to tolerate moderate wind. For a more detailed look at this plant see our Essential Guide to Growing Medlars.

Aronia melanocarpa cv. – Black Chokeberry

Overview: Hardy to zone 4.  Aronia is a deciduous Shrub growing to 2.5 m by 3 m. An attractive fruit bearing shrub that grows well in partial shade, making it a good option for the forest garden. Tolerates most soils and can handle moist conditions. The berries are edible  but should be fully ripe before being eaten, meaning that they are often still on the plant by the time the leaves turn a very deep red in the autumn.

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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