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Friday, 31 May 2013

In the meantime, back in Italy...

I'll come back to the survey on the land in Bulgaria, but for the moment we are back in Italy and I thought I'll keep you all up-to-date on what's been happening in Italy in the meantime.  The boys we left in charge have been working... well not that hard, but don't be too hard on them.  The weather has been crap during the month we were away, unlike in Bulgaria where we had a month of sunshine and temperatures in the upper 20's, low 30's.  So they couldn't really get out that much and that combined with the amounts of rain promoting the growth of weeds, it's tricky.  Even the week we've been back, there were only really two half decent days to fight back the jungle, today being one of them.

Everything is late this year, the cherries, the plums, the figs, the pears, but on the plus side, all the trees and shrubs we planted in the food forest and elsewhere, as well as the potatoes, had a good watering in and survived happily and were glad to be freed from the encroaching weeds.

First priority was freeing the potato terraces and earthing them up.  This is the higher potato terrace, which they share with the kiwis.  One of the female kiwis died this winter, whilst Stud the male is coming down with flowers.  The surviving female still is a bit shy, I hope she'll be put to shame by Jenny the bi-sexual kiwi (she used to call herself John...), which you can see in the foreground together with Ronaldo the fig tree.

 The lower potato terrace was a creation by the late Bart inside the future food forest. Note the interesting zigzag line neatly avoiding Jenny (no relation) the Rotella apple tree, Arthur the autumn olive, Heike the gingko tree and Gina the Tuscan broom.

In other news in the food forest, Sally the service tree is doing is well:

...ably supported by Ellie the elaeagnus ebingeii (by supplying nitrogen)

...and everything else survived including Conny the Cornelian cherry and Yukako the Japanese quince:

The future pond hasn't really progressed much, but Charity the mahonia is bearing edible fruit.  Bet you didn't know you could eat the fruit of this plant which is usually grown for decorative purposes.

...and the milk thistles (silibum marianum) is thriving, a great medical plant for liver problems.

In final news, Paul the mulberry tree (Mull of Kintyre...) is already forming fruit despite still being in a pot rather that in it's final location the arbo-loo (a hole in the ground, where you shit in and afterwards plant a tree in).  The reason it hasn't been planted yet is that the alternative to the arbo-loo, the compost toilet, has yet be constructed too.  So the boys have their work cut out.

Wish them luck and better weather as we head off on another odyssey northwards on various family business.  Oh and for those of you with an interest in wine as well as gardening and Italy, I have started a new blog on that subject where I share my wine adventures on my travels.  Pop in on the Wine Anarchist and visit me there too!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

S for Survey, P for Plants...

To help with the design process for a permaculture garden I was taught a number of acronyms to remember what to do when.  The first one is SADIMET, which stands for Survey, Analysis, Design, Maintenance, Implementation, Evaluation, Tweaking.  So having done a base map of the garden in Rozovets, we are still way not ready to start any designing, let alone starting to do any altering work on the property. 

If you are intending to design a place, first take a step or two back, slow down, hold your horses!  The survey is the most important and time intensive part of your work, so it was good for us to spend some time on the plot for a while.  One of the first things you observe also follows an acronym: PASTE, which stands for Plants, Animals, Structures, Tools, Events.  So let's start with the survey of Vasko's plot in Rozovets with the P for Plants.  Another acronym is used to indicate how frequent the plants occur: DAFOR, which stands for Dominant, Abundant, Frequent, Occasional, Rare.  So I will put one of these letters after each plant name.  Here comes the list in no particular order, with some of their uses:

Broad-leafed dock (D in places) - edible and nutrient accumulator
Dandelion (F) - edible, nutrient accumulator,medicinal, ground cover
Mugwort (O) - edible, medicinal, nutrient accumulator
Stinging nettles (O) - edible, medicinal, attracts beneficial insects
Various grasses (D in places) - ground cover
Mallow (A) - edible
Wild raspberries (F) - edible
Rue (O) - medicinal, insect repellent.  This herb is actually native to the Balkans!

Vetch (D in places) - limited edible use, nitrogen fixing

Wild roses (F) - edible, bee attractant
Red clover (A) - edible, nitrogen fixing, bee attractant
Hemlock (O) - useful for knocking off you mother-in-law...

Something from the mint family that looks like lemon balm, but smells more pungent (O)
Bindweed (R)
Hollyhock (O) - edible
Tulips (F)
Periwinkle (O) - medicinal
Wood sorrel (F)- edible, nutrient accumulator
Burdock (O) - edible, medicinal, nutrient accumulator
Various walnut, cherry and wild plum seedlings (F)
Goosegrass (O) - edible
Sweet violets (O) - edible, medicinal
Wild lettuce (R) - medicinal, halucinogenic
Yarrow (O) - medicinal, edible, nutrient accumulator
Bugloss (O) - edible, bee attractant 

Bladder campion (O) - edible
Some white flowering brassica (R) - edible
Shepherd's purse (O) - Edible
Cornflower (R) - edible, attracs beneficial insects.

So much for the plant survey. What we cold start doing without the need of designing or planning was chop down some of the plants for mulch and adding nutrient to the soil.  Here is Susan in action with some great hoe-like implement we found at a local hardware shop.

We didn't get everything cleared during our time there, but about abthird is looking a lot more accessible for now.

Also many of the trees are diseased and we got going cutting out much of the dead wood:


Finally, I discovered that the local grocery shop in the village sells seeds.  We will now leave Bulgaria for a little while to come back in a month to finish the job, but we thought it would be nice to be able to harvest something when we do come back.  So I prepared a little bed near the fron on the lowest part of the land and sowed some beans and raddishes. 

I wouldn't normally sow in such straight lines, but the hope is that the beans will climb up the fence.  It's really more in hope that any serious expectations.  If it stays as dry as it has been during the month we've been here, it's not likely to yield much at all.  This is the variety bean I sowed:

We have managed to get our first harvest of cherries off the land before we left though and... The starlings nesting in an old street lamp above the land started flying just before our own departure.  A good omen?

Monday, 13 May 2013

Designing a garden in Bulgaria

After the initial set back of loosing Bart at the very start of this project, Susan, Eddie the Beagle and myself returned to the village of Rozovets to set up camp and start designing a garden.  The plan was that our friend Vasko let us use his land to camp on, work on, grow on, while him and his family were still in the UK.  This way we could decide if we liked the country and , if we did, they would come back to their native soil and we'd start a small community living off the land.  After what happened we were all over the place to start off with as you can imagine, but whatever else happens we decided to at least design a permaculture garden for Vasko and his family, who has been helping us a lot through the bureaucracy following Bart's death and also in memory of Bart, who died on this very spot.

So I will take you bit by bit through the design process. The garden is located in the small village of Rozovets on the egde where the Thracian Plain meets the Sredna Gora, right bang in the centre of Bulgaria, an area also known as the Valley of the Roses, because this area is responsible for 90% of the world's essential rose oil production.  Just now it is the harvest time

The garden is located at an altitude of just over 500m a.s.l. at almost the highest point of the village.  To the north, west and east the Sredna Gora hills rise, with no other villages until the northern flanks of these hills for some 20km or so.  To the south the vista opens up to the Thracian Plain with the city of Plovdiv visible some 50km to the south and on a clear day the Rhodopi Mountains can be seen in the distance.  The climate is therefore hot continental in the summer, with high humidity and some very cold winters, with severe frosts common.

Let me take you on a brief walk around the property if you've got 5 minutes to spare:

But first things first, I had to create a base map on which to base my design on.  This is it here, giving a nice idea.

The whole property consists of about 750 m2.  I have not yet drawn in the contour lines, but the north-eastern side is the highest point sloping down slightly towards the south-western. 

So much for today.  Next post I will put up the results of the PASTE survey as well the soil test and other factors which will help me make up my mind how to design this garden.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

In fond memory...

Most new beginnings start with an ending.  This one was more dramatic then we expected.  On day 2 of our stay in in Bulgaria my cousin Bart, the inimitable 'Conspiracy Cousin', suddenly died of a heart attack.  He had lived with us for the last 2 1/2 years, worked with us, laughed with us, cooked for us, joked with us, admonished and adviced us, he became like a brother to me.

On the days that followed his death, as we struggled through the bureaucratic mess of having him cremated he kept sending us little messages.  I'll leave you with a couple of them:

At least I'm sure he would have agreed with our choice of funeral director:

R.I.P. Bart