Permaculture Projects

Akebia Quinata, Grape Juice and a Spiral

Week 21 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project

This week the Akebia Quinata fruits opened, revealing their seeds within the tropical yet other-worldly looking fruits. It was fun to present the fruits to the ESC crew and watch their surprised expressions, especially when they learnt that you can eat the white seed containing flesh. The outer purple skin is theoretically edible, but doesn’t taste good in our opinion, although we’ve only tried it raw and I’ve heard that it’s more palatable cooked. Although the edible white flesh is small in quantity and fiddly to eat, the taste is divinely sweet, although not chocolate like at all. The association with chocolate is likely more related to the sweet smelling purple flowers that cover the vine in early April. We save the seeds for growing new stock and also seed packs from our bionursery.

Akebia is a climbing vine or a ground cover. It comes into leaf in early spring and shortly after leafing is adorned with beautiful purple flowers. It’s fast-growing and has created an incredible high cover providing much needed shade in our yard in the summer months.

We planted it beside one of the vines in our yard but can’t recommend this combination as the Akebia growth will eventually strangle the Grapevine as it matures and the Akebia, while not being pruned every year, is starting to dominate the arbour and reducing the light the vine receives and very few grapes grow in this area now.

This week with the ESC crew we extended and made improvements to a central spiral feature in the central community garden area.


The volunteers have been helping to maintain this garden throughout the summer, and it was nice to finally lay the stones into the spiral as this completed one of the first tasks that was started on back in the spring. We waited until the autumn so that the soil was nice and moist, making it easy to lay the stones and ideal conditions for incoming plants.


The area is in pretty deep shade in the summer and also under pine trees so it may be acidic. We selected the following plants to fill out the space;

Mentha spp – Mint  We were given some divided plants by a local elderly lady and there are already several established plants doing well in this area. Borderline hardy to zone 6/7, the flowers attracting butterflies and bees and they grow well in the shade.

Ajuga repans – Bugle  is an evergreen perennial hardy to zone 3 that makes an excellent ground cover plant, forming a mat of glossy edible leaves. The flowers are favoured by bees and the dense mat formed by the plants provide shelter for many beneficial organisms. It can grow well in the shade.

Spotted Purple Nettle makes excellent ground cover, quickly forming a dense mat. Hardy to zone 3, it can tolerate deep shade and it’s flowers attract a wide range of beneficial organisms.
From L top clockwise – Ajuga, Lamium & Mentha
A full day was spent this week harvesting grapes and processing them into juice. After a week of heavy rain the sugar content was significantly lower which actually resulted in a juice of perfect sweetness.
Once the grapes are picked you lay them on a plastic sheet or a yoga mat (!) and use a hose to wash them down.
The ‘wash down’ pose
Next step is to put entire bunches of washed grapes through the mangle, which as the name suggests crushes the grapes, and catches the juice and pulp in a large plastic barrel, known locally as a ‘bidon’.
Once the plastic container is full, start moving the pulp over to the press for a final squeeze. We ran the juice through a sieve to remove any solid parts. Then the juice is ready for bottling up.
By the end of the day we were all feeling a bit giddy – must be all that grape juice ;)
Since we have never had much success with winemaking thus far, we tend to always make a lot of grape juice and freeze it. This year we tried to store some in jars as well, creating a vacuum seal using a water bath.
The leftover material consists of skins, pulp, seeds, stems, leaves, and other residue. This was removed from the press and placed directly onto newly created garden beds. It makes excellent mulch as it is nutrient dense and acts as a slow release fertilizer. We covered the material with autumn leaves to avoid attracting wasps to the area.

Thanks to the ESC crew for some of the photos used in this blog. You can check out the ESC volunteer’s personal blog 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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