Paul Alfrey

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Recent posts by Paul Alfrey

We're super excited to announce The Polyculture Project, a research project dedicated to developing and promoting practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity. With your help we hope to expand and excel our experiments with various regenerative/permaculture practices and publish our records with aim to supply solid empirical data for the community. Please check out our crowdfunding campaign and if you appreciate our work please donate and share the campaign page that you can find here.

What are we doing?

We'll be running a 3 year study in our first perennial polyculture research garden to find out the following:
How productive are fruit and nut trees/shrubs and perennial vegetables when grown in polycultures?
What are the best plants to grow for mulching these polycultures?
What are the best trees to grow for nitrogen fixation within the polycultures?
How does polyculture growing influence soil fertility?
How does polyculture growing influence biodiversity?
What are the costs in time and money of growing in polyculture?

You can find an overview of our perennial polyculture trial garden here  -

Rewards for our Donors

€5 - €49 - We’ll send you a pdf. copy of our “Essential Guide to Growing Fruits and Nuts ” - and you will be credited as a project sponsor on our website and in all of our publications (print and digital). You'll also receive biannual updates from the project.
€50 > - A generous offer from the fine folks of Permaculture Magazine - Get 10 permaculture books, worth £130 for just £25 (+ postage)  and all of the above.​
€200 > - 25% discount from our courses or events  and plant and seed orders over €200 (not including postage)  from 2018 - 2020 and all of the above.
€350 > - Join the project for a week from July - October and get involved in the day to day running of the project. We’ll provide accommodation to you for 5 days, as much as you can eat from our gardens and a personal tour from the project leaders of the various trial gardens and all of the above.
€1000 or more  -  Have one our research gardens named after you or in a name of your choice. Your chosen name will appear on the entrance of the garden, in all future publications, a dedication in our "Polycultures" book expected to come out in 2020  + all of the above.

Why is this project necessary?

A ton of great work has been achieved by the pioneers of permaculture and regenerative design  but in order to achieve wider spread adoption we need to overcome  a fair criticism leveled at the movement, that being the lack of supportive evidence and of working models.  
Research and experiments for industrial farming are well funded by the companies that produce machinery, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. They tend to look for data they find useful to sell their products and grow their business. It seems we can't rely on governments or institutions to provide unbiased research or ask questions that relate to localizing food production or beautifying our landscapes  as they depend on the money from these companies to prop them up. But we can undertake this research ourselves.
Our experiments and study will provide clarity and help advance the widespread legitimacy of our community and practices. 
We are but one of many organisms that share this planet and our goal is to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food for us while providing habitat for a wide diversity of other organisms to flourish, something our current food systems are falling very short of. 

Please donate what you can and help us build a research center dedicated to permaculture and regenerative practices. 

3 months ago
We have a great course lined up for late summer. You'll be working in small teams of 4 - 6 people to survey and design real plots of land and in larger groups to carry out practicals such as earthworks and wildlife pond building. With a good balance of field work, hands-on practicals and theory and exercises, the course aims to provide a solid foundation to start designing and implementing regenerative landscapes 

Early booking discount until July 15th
9 months ago

Hazel is a multi purpose champion of a plant that is super easy to grow, produces delicious nuts, pliable wood that can be crafted into a variety of products, provides early fodder for bees and an encouraging spectacle when flowering during the mid winter.

What more can I say.... a plant so good people started naming their daughters after it.

To view this post with tables , photos and diagrams go over to our blog here -

Hazel - Corylus spp,

When we speak of Hazel  we are generally referring to two species, Corylus avellana and Corylus maxima. The two species produce slightly different shape nuts and take different growth forms.  Corylus avellana produce Hazelnuts and Corylus maxima produce Filberts. There are 14–18 species in the Corylus genus but many of the European cultivars we have nowadays are Corylus avellana, Corylus maxima or the result of hybrids between these two species. This post we will focus solely on these popular nut producing species.

The leafy bracts that envelope the nuts are the easiest way of telling the species apart.

During this post we'll take a close look at these versatile plants, including how and where to grow them, growing them in polycultures, how they can be used in agroforestry systems, coppicing hazel, and we'll look at some of my favourite hardy productive and disease resistant cultivars that we are offering from our Bionursery.


Latin name - Corylus avellana, Corylus maxima
Common name - Hazel, Hazelnut, Cobnut, Filbert, Spanish Nut, Pontic Nut, Lombardy Nut.
Family- Betulaceae

History -  Pollen counts reveal that Corylus avellana was the first of the temperate deciduous forest trees to immigrate, establish itself and then become abundant in the post glacial period. Humans have been enjoying hazels since prehistoric times and it is thought by some that hazelnuts provided a staple source of food before the days of wheat.  Evidence of large-scale Mesolithic nut processing, some 9,000 years old, was found in Scotland and Hazels have been used extensively across the temperate zone throughout all civilizations.

Corylus avellana - Common Hazel

Description - Corylus avellana - Grows as a small tree or large shrub commonly reaching heights of 5 m with a 5 m spread, but sometimes can reach twice that height and takes a tree like form. The leaves, that open in late April and May and fall in November, are almost circular with double toothed edges and a short pointed tip. The leafy bracts are shorter than the nut.

Description - Corylus maxima - Grows as a large shrub 6 m high with a 5 m spread. Resembling C.avellana but with young grey twigs, glandular and bristly leaves that are wider, longer catkins and leafy bracts that are tubular and closed twice the length of the nut. The nuts are also longer than C. avellana    

Both species are monoecious . The male flowers are encased in catkins that brighten up the landscape in the winter. The female flowers are tiny red tassels that emerge from buds on the stems.  

Sexual Reproduction - As mentioned above the plants are monoecious, producing male and female flowers on the same plant.  The male flowers are held in catkins that form during the previous summer and open in the dead of winter and flower through to early spring. There are around 240 male flowers in each catkin and these produce the pollen. Give the catkins a flick in late February to see a small cloud of pollen erupt. Contrary to the wonderful spectacle of the male flowers, female flowers are almost invisible unless you are actively looking for them. They are tiny individual flowers, visible only as red styles protruding from a green bud-like structure on the same branches as the male flowers.
A wind pollinated plant, the pollen from the catkins blows to reach the female flowers. If successfully pollinated and fertilized the female flower will grow to become  1- 4 nuts C. avellana  or  1 - 6 nuts C.maxima .

Growing Range - Corylus avellana is native to western Asia, north Africa and most of Europe, from from British Isles eastwards to Russia and the Caucasus, and from central Scandinavia southwards to Turkey. Corylus avellana is native to the Balkans and Asia Minor but is widely naturalised elsewhere.

Both species are pioneer plants found in a range of habitats. As a component of ancient forests they prefer moist lowland soil and are often found growing in the shade of deciduous trees, especially oak. They can be found in hedges, meadows and pastures, on the banks of streams, waste places, abandoned plantings, the edges of woods, on steep slopes and by paths and roadsides. Hazel grows naturally up to altitudes of 700 m

Hazelnut-producing regions of the world are all close to large bodies of water, which moderate the climate. About 70% of the world’s hazelnut production comes from the black sea region of northern Turkey. Italy produces about 20% of world production. Spain, France, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and the United States produce most of the rest.

Hardiness USDA - Corylus avellana – Zone 4-8
                              Corylus maxima – Zone 5-8

Ecology - Hazel flowers are an important source of pollen for bees and other pollinators. The pollen-bearing catkins can be available to pollinators from as early as late January - late March. Hazel leaves are used as food plants by the larvae of various species of Lepidoptera. The nuts are used by dormice to fatten up for hibernation and in spring the leaves are a good source of food for caterpillars, which dormice also eat. Hazel nuts are also eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, tits, wood pigeons, jays and a number of small mammals.

Where to Plant

Climatic limitations  - Both species crop best in areas with cool, moist summers and mild cool winters or in maritime climates. Areas with high summer temperatures are not ideal although good cultivar selection can improve results. Areas with extreme winter cold can also be problematic. The shoots of the plants are hardy to -29 C (-20 F) although winter temperatures below -10 C (-13 F) during the flowering period may damage the male flowers reducing the likelihood of fruit set that year.    
The plants will not grow well in tropical or sub tropical climates and require a winter chilling period of 800 - 1200 hrs below 7 C (45 F) which is similar to apples.

Soil - Hazel tolerates a wide variety of soils from calcareous to acid, loam to clay and prefers soil that's well drained and fairly low in nutrients; overly rich soil gives plenty of leaf growth at the expense of flowers and nuts. Hazels will not grow well in water logged and peaty soils. Shallow soils will restrict the growth and height of hazel.

Location - If growing for nut production in cold climates you should avoid planting in frost pockets, and in hot climates avoid windy sites. Hazelnut trees also cannot tolerate excessive heat or a long dry season. A sheltered area with a reliable source of irrigation is essential in hot climates.

Pollination - Hazels are wind pollinated. As mentioned above cold weather (-10 C and under) during the flowering time can destroy flowers and reduce fruit set. Heavy rain during the time where pollen is being released can also suppress the amount of pollen carried in the air and moist conditions destroys pollen viability.  

The plants are in theory self fertile meaning the pollen from the male flowers can pollinate and fertilize the female flower that will go on to form nuts. However, the blossoming times of the male and female flowers do not always coincide and for this reason it is recommended to plant 2 or more different cultivars to increase the likelihood of pollination occurring. Wild growing hazel nearby will serve as good pollinating agents for most cultivars and there are many cultivars that work well together to ensure fuller cropping. There are some cultivars that absolutely require pollinating partners so research your cultivars well  A good rule of thumb for how many pollinator plants you need to support you main cropping cultivar is 1 to 18. On sites where wet weather is common during the flowering period this can be increased. The pollinating partner should be a maximum of 45 m away and upwind from the main cropping plants.

Pollen is released from the male flowers in bursts across a 4- 6 week period in January - March. Interestingly, the pollen germinates as soon as it reaches a receptive flower but the fertilization process does not take place for another 4-5 months in June. Once fertilized the female flowers develop nuts very rapidly with 90% growth occurring within 4 - 6 weeks.            

Fertility, Irrigation and Care

Fertility - On good soils hazel will not need fertilisers. On poor soils, planting out with 30 L of compost (applied to the surface) and mulching well with straw and repeating this each spring for 4- 5 years will provide a good boost to growth. Planting nitrogen fixing companions can also be very effective.

Irrigation - In cooler climates such as the UK irrigation is not necessary. In warmer climes with hot summers and long periods without rain, applying 30 L of water per tree every 3-4  weeks without rain and mulching well is very effective.  

Weeding - Mulching plants with a 10 -20 cm deep mulch each spring and pulling weeds that start to grow through in the summer is good practice especially when the plants are young.

Pruning -  When planting out single stemmed whips it's good practice to prune the top down to 45 cm to encourage lower branching. We don't prune our Hazels but there is a tradition, as with most fruit trees,  to pruning to achieve an open centered goblet shaped bush.  If you are growing plants that sucker, suckering growth should be removed to keep the stems clear and the crown less congested.

A classic pruning example practiced in commercial hazel orchards

If you are going to prune than it's important to know that female flower (that will form nuts) are produced from buds on growth from the previous seasons growth. For optimal nut production you should aim to have plenty of previous years stems  at least 15-25 cm long.  

I read an interesting comment regarding a traditional method to increase nut production called 'brutting'. This involves prompting more of the trees' energy to go into flower bud production, by snapping, but not breaking off, the tips of the new year shoots' six or seven leaf groups from the join with the trunk or branch, at the end of the growing season. I'll be trying this on a few of our plants this year.

Harvesting - The nuts are fully ripe when the husks begin to yellow and can be picked by hand. Nuts will naturally drop over a 4-6 week period. It's important to not pick before they are ripe as they will shrivel and do not keep well.

Layering and Stooling

Propagation - We have grown hundreds of hazels from locally gathered seed and this is a very easy and reliable method to propagate these plants. Most of our seedling stock we use for coppice plants and hedging plants. For nut production we use cultivars as they generally fruit within the 3rd and 4th year after planting and you know what kind of nut you will end up with.

Seedlings can take up to 6 or 7 years to produce nuts and you never know what they will be like. Saying that, we have some great nut producing seedlings that we propagated from local plants. They appear to be more resistant to the cold and have been providing a reliable crop each year even after bitter cold late winters.

Another great way to propagate hazel, including cultivars that are grown on their own roots, is by stooling and layering. Stooling involves heaping soil at the base of the plant, leaving it for 12 months and then dividing the rooted stems.  Layering is burying the stems in the soil for 12 months and cutting them off the main plant once the stem has rooted. Hazels that are grafted onto their own roots will send up suckers. These suckers can be dug out in the winter and planted on. The suckers can be a nuisance and will need cutting back to promote better production. Corylus colurna - Turkish hazel is often used as a rootstock providing non-suckering cultivars and a deeper rooting habit. Cultivars on Corylus colurna rootstocks are often very vigorous.

Potential Problems

Excessive Heat: Hazelnut trees cannot tolerate excessive heat or a long dry season. They are especially sensitive to drying in windy conditions.

Cold injury:  Although a very hardy plant, when growing for nut production the trees are vulnerable during the flowering period in early - late winter. Temperatures below -10 C (-13 F) during the flowering period will damage the male flowers and destroy the pollen reducing the likelihood of fruit set that year. Because not all catkins elongate at the same time, crop damage usually is minimal if there is only a brief cold spell.

Insect/Pest: Grey squirrels are major pest of hazels. Nut weevils - Balaninus nucum can destroy the maturing nuts. Beetles lay eggs in the immature nuts. The eggs hatch into maggots that eat the maturing nut and bore out of the shell to pupate in the soil where they overwinter before hatching, mating and laying more eggs in the next crop. Clearing up the fallen nuts is good way to control this pest. Running chicken under the hazels in September can also disturb the pupae in the soil.  

Nut Weevils - Balaninus nucum Photo from -

Disease:  In the US this species is affected by Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB), which is caused by the fungus Anisogramma anomola and is fatal to trees. However EFB can be controlled by a variety of management strategies and does not present a major threat to the species as a whole.
Bacterial Blight - Xanthomonas campestris pv. corylina causes leaf spotting, dieback of branches and in worst cases death. Trees under stress are most susceptible.  

Suckering - Hazels can sucker profusely and the suckers need to be cut back to allow an open crown and avoid congestion. There are cultivars that do not sucker, generally those grown on the Corylus colurna root stocks.

Allergies: The pollen of hazel species are often the cause for allergies in late winter or early spring,

Hazel Uses

Beyond the nutritious delicious nuts hazels can be used for a variety of purposes.

Wood  - Hazel is almost as well known for coppicing as it is for its nuts. The poles from coppice (known as 'wands') are long and flexible and have traditionally been used for wattle fencing, thatching spars, walking sticks, fishing rods, basketry, pea and bean sticks and firewood. The wood is soft and easy to split but not very durable (See Hazel Coppice below).

Adding value to the coppice material

Oil -  The nut oil is used as edible oil and contains 65% of a non-drying oil that can be used in paints, cosmetics etc.

Animal Fodder - The twigs can be used to feed rabbits and goats all year around and the leaves are very palatable to cattle.

Leaves - Leaves contain on average 2.2% N. 0.7% K and 0.12% P and when applied as mulch make a great fertilizer. The plant has potential to be grown as chop and drop component in a polyculture system.

Hedging - Hazel makes a great hedge taking well to trimming and providing a dense screen. Nut production is not as high as when grown as free standing plants but some nuts can be harvested from the hedge. The plants are also tolerant of wind and a 2 or 3 row windbreak can be set up where alternate rows are coppiced on a 7 year cycle.

Bee Fodder - Hazel is an excellent source of early forage for bees providing a source of pollen from February through to March. We include hazel in our Early Polleniser Polyculture, a polyculture dedicated to providing an early source of pollen/nectar to a wide diversity of pollinating insects.

The Early Polleniser Polyculture

Medicinal uses - The leaves are used in allopathy: their effect is to stimulate circulation and bile production, and they are used for liver and gall disorders. Hazelnuts are rich in protein, monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, manganese, and numerous other essential nutrients.

Other uses - The finely ground seeds are used as an ingredient of face masks in cosmetics.

Hazelnut Yields

Hazelnut trees can produce a few nuts when they are 2 or 3 years old, but they are not considered commercially productive until 4 years of age and reach peak production from years 10 - 15.  Mature orchards can produce 1 -3 metric tons per ha. An orchard can remain productive for about 40–50 years if managed well and kept free of disease.

Yield per mature tree Yield per acre
4050 m2 Yield per Ha
10000 m2
Average Production  3-5 kg 880-1760 lbs 1-2 tonnes
Max Production 11 kg 2640 lbs 3 tonnes

Example of Coppice -
Hazel Coppice

Hazel coppice has been practiced extensively in the past and still provides an excellent source of valuable wood especially if you are adding value with wood crafting.

Contrary to what you may expect, coppicing the hazel can extend the life of the plant considerably with some well managed coppices being centuries old.

Hazel can be grown on various coppice cycles for a supply of poles ('Wands') that are used for a variety of purposes as listed above. A 7 - 10 year rotation is often practiced and is planted out at a rate of 1500 - 2000 plants per ha (spacing is 2.2 - 2.6 m between plants).
In the 7th - 10th year the shoots should be 4-5m long and can be cut at any point during the year apart from August but is usually carried out in the winter. If you cut the coppice in the summer, leaves from the wood make an excellent cattle feed or mulch.  Regrowth will quickly reestablish and is vulnerable to browsing from wild and domestic animals. After the first few coppice cycles, regrowth will be fast but after 15 years it will decline.  If a hazel coppice is not well managed i.e cut at regular intervals for 40+ years  it will die back.

How much wood can be harvested? - A site with 1500 plants per ha can yield 20 tonnes of dry wood or 40 m3 of wood per ha per cycle.

Hazel coppices are often combined with standard trees to make a two storey forest. Sweet Chestnut is a classic combination in the South of England. Oak is also very commonly grown  with hazel at a rate of 30 - 100 standard trees per Ha. Too many standard trees will shade out the hazel.    

Hazel (in the middle) with standard Sweet Chestnut trees in the background

Hazel Polycultures

Hazels are excellent plants for use in polycultures. They are tolerant of shade so suitable in the under storey, are not very nutrient demanding or competitive and are relatively compact and easy to manage. They tolerate pruning very well and can be used for chop and drop plants grown between fruit trees or in hedgerows. If nut production is sought after they should be given a prime position but can still accommodate a range of productive and useful plants around them.

We have used hazel in various polycultures including living hedges, main crop contour plantings and habitat polycultures.

Here's an example of a design with hazel planted in a polyculture hedge.

I included hazel in a mixed species living hedge I designed for Permaculture Orchard - Orehite Ranch - Veslec

We'll be planting out Hazel in our new trial garden - Ataraxia, where we are growing it along with asparagus, currants, wild garlic and various bulbs in 1.5 m wide beds.

Here's a short list of ground cover and bulbous plants that we observe growing well with hazel.

Bellis perennis - Daisy
Primula vulgaris - Primrose
Scilla bifolia - Alpine Squill
Trifolium repens - White Clover
Corydalis bulbosa - Spring Fumewort
Galanthus gracilis - Snowdrop

Agroforestry Potential Of Hazels

There is great potential for hazels in agroforestry systems. Traditionally, in Europe, hazels were grown in a silvopasture system with sheep grazing the pasture beneath the trees, this has an added benefit of controlling suckering growth. Hazel has also been grown with vines and in Kentish orchards gooseberries and currants were traditionally inter planted with young hazel.

I've included hazel in a few agroforestry designs the most recent being a 30 ha pastured poultry system where we're using hazel amongst mulberry planted on contour.


Being shade tolerant the trees are good candidates for use in an under storey. In deep shade the plants will not produce a significant yield of nuts but they can be used for coppicing or mulch production. In partial shade they can still produce good yields.

Hazelnut cultivars - Hardy and Resistant to Major Pests and Diseases

There are hundreds of hazel cultivars throughout the world, not to mention the hybrids, American and Chinese species or the Trazels, Filazels and Hazelberts (perhaps a topic for another post).

Most cultivars belong to Corylus maxima but there are many Corylus avellana and many grafted onto Corylus colurna rootstock. When selecting cultivars for your garden there a few things to consider.

flowering times - to avoid cold damage in the winter choose a late flowering cultivar
suckering behaviour -  to avoid pruning work or perhaps if growing for mulch or biomass this could be desirable
size and vigor - to select the right size plant for your garden  
pollinator partners - to facilitate larger and more reliable yields

Hazel Cultivars from our Bionursery

Below you can find profiles of some excellent cultivars that we have on offer at our Bionursery.

We are currently offering cultivars at ​​ €5.3 per tree with 10% discount for orders over 20 trees. We also have 2nd year Hazel seedlings for hedgerows, biomass, pollinating partners etc for €4 per plant.

Looking for a supply for your orchard and farm?  For larger orders please send us an email and we will provide you with a quote.

Corylus avellana - 'Ata Baba'
Fruit - Round medium size fruits of 1.4 g grouped in clusters of 3 or 4 . Ripen in mid August
Pollination - Self fertile
Hardiness - Full hardy withstanding temperatures as low as -34 C
Disease Resistance - Corylus colurna root stock which has a high resistance to the main European pests attacking hazelnut crop
Form - Bush variety, very vigorous multistemmed and flowering early towards the end on December

Corylus avellana - 'Ran Trapezundski'
Fruit - Great tasting large oval fruits with thin shells that ripen at the end of July
Pollination -  Not Self fertile - Pollinated by Rimski, Bademoviden and Atta Baba
Hardiness - Full hardy withstanding temperatures as low as -34 C
Disease Resistance - Corylus colurna root stock which has a high resistance to the main European pests attacking hazelnut crop
Form - Bush, medium vigor, multi stemmed, fruits abundantly.

Corylus avellana - 'Rimski'
Fruit - Large rounded nuts about 2.7g. Thin shell. 67% fat content. The fruits ripen in mid August
Pollination - Not Self fertile - Pollinated by Bademoviden and Ran Trapezundski
Hardiness - Full hardy withstanding temperatures as low as -34 C
Disease Resistance - Corylus colurna root stock which has a high resistance to the main European pests attacking hazelnut crop
Form - Bush variety. fast growing, multi stemmed with an upright crown.

Corylus avellana - 'Tonda Gentile'
Fruit - Excellent flavour, med - large round nuts of 2.5g with a thin shell
Pollination - Not Self fertile - Pollinated by Rimski, Bademoviden and Ata Baba
Hardiness - Full hardy withstanding temperatures as low as -34 C
Disease Resistance - Corylus colurna root stock which has a high resistance to the main European pests attacking hazelnut crop
Form - Moderate growth rates and can be grown as single stemmed trees

Corylus avellana - 'Cosford'
Fruit - The nuts have hard shells.100 g of fresh nuts contains 13 g protein, 61 g fat, 13,7 g carbohydrates and 3.5 g fiber. They mature in late September.
Pollination - Self fertile, a good pollinator for many other Hazels, a good choice if you are starting your own nut orchard.
Hardiness - Full hardy withstanding temperatures as low as -34 C
Disease Resistance - Generally disease free
Form - Bush variety. fast growing, multi stemmed with an upright crown.

To order some hazel cultivars for delivery this winter contact us at

We can provide tracked and recorded delivery to anywhere in Europe

Keeping in Touch

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While researching for this article a major resource was Volume 2 No 2, 3 and 4 of the excellent Agroforestry News, a quarterly publication from Martin Crawford - Director of Agroforestry Research Trust. I highly recommend subscription to this journal as essential reading for all who are interested in temperate tree crops and agroforestry.

Would you like to join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design course in Sep 2017?

Regenerative Landscape Design Course

We offer a range of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens from our plant nursery including a new range of fruit and nut cultivars well suited to natural gardens. Delivery to all over Europe available from Nov - March

Seeds for Forest Gardens and Permaculture

Balkan Ecology Project Bio-Nursery

Martin Crawford - Agroforestry News Volume 2  - Number 2, 3 &4
Hazel Ecology -
Hazel Flowers -
History -
Cultivation -
9 months ago
Trees are the bee's knees, and I'm pretty fond of bees too

Trees are an important, stable source of food for bees and other pollinators providing thousands of flower heads all in one place.

I could go on and list their other virtues but the fact you're on my blog leads me to assume that  you already have a pretty good appreciation of both trees and bees so let's get straight to the point of this post and find out which trees attract bees.

Bees from our Garden

The good news is there are trees that provide nectar and pollen for bees pretty much all year round. Better news is that most of them are very easy to grow and suitable for growing in a wide range of conditions including small and large gardens and in the wild.

You can view this post with photos and tables from our blog here -

I've put together five lists of trees that you'll find below;

Trees for Bees that also provide fruit or nuts
Nitrogen Fixing Trees for Bees
Ornamental Trees for Bees  
Master list including all of the above in alphabetical order
Master list including all of the above in order that trees flower
Indicated on the lists are when the trees are in flower, what they offer the bees, i.e pollen, nectar or honey dew (see below for honey dew description), and whether and when the trees offer fruits, nuts or other wildlife foods. I've also included a link to plant profiles of trees that we stock in our bio nursery. You can find details of a bee tree multi pack below that we are offering from the nursery this spring.  

Trees for Bees that also provide fruit or nuts

Nitrogen Fixing Trees for Bees

Ornamental Trees for Bees 

Master list including all of the above in alphabetical order

Master list including all of the above in order that the trees flower

It's no coincidence that flowering and bee activity are triggered by warming temperature, During long cold winters in locations at high altitude or regions of high latitude, plants will not follow the sequence as illustrated below. In our gardens at approx. 580 m above sea level on the 42nd parallel north, the below table is an accurate representation, although there is a lot of variation within the month.

If you know of a tree or shrub that is great for bees and is not on the above lists please share it in the comments section below. Also if you see any mistakes in the list, I'd really appreciate it if you could let me know also in the comments section below.

Honey Dew

If you have ever parked your car under a tree and arrived back to find it covered in a sticky substance, you have come across honey dew. You have the sap-sucking psyllids or aphids to thank for this.

An aphid feeds by inserting its straw-like mouthpart (proboscis) into the cells of a plant and draws up the plant’s juices or sap. Most aphids seem to take in from the plant sap more sugar than they can assimilate and excrete a sweet syrup, honey dew, that is passed out of the anus.

For many other insects including ants, wasps, and of course the bees, this is a valuable source of food. Ants harvest it directly from the aphids, bees generally collect it from where it falls.

Ant drinking "Honey Dew" - I could not find the original source of this photo to give credit

Check out our previous blog here where I profile a polyculture design dedicated to bees and other pollinators

Polyculture for Pollination Support

Keep in touch

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Click here to order our Bee Tree Multi-pack - One of each of the below trees Price includes delivery to anywhere in Europe

Albizia julibrissin - Silk tree Alnus cordata - Italian Alder Caragana arborescens - Siberian Pea TreeCercis siliquostrum - Judas TreeCornus mas - Cornellian CherryHibiscus syriacus - Rose of SharonLigustrum vulgare - Privet Koelreuteria paniculata - Golden Rain TreePaulownia tomentosa - Foxglove TreeRobinia pseudoacacia - Black Locust Tetradium danielii - Korean Bee Tree

Trees for Bees Multipack

Would you like to join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design course in Sep 2017?

Regenerative Landscape Design Course
11 months ago
Balkan Ecology Project have a great course lined up for late summer. You'll be working in small teams of 4 - 6 people to survey and design real plots of land and in larger groups to carry out practicals such as earthworks and wildlife pond building. With a good balance of field work, hands-on practicals and theory and exercises, the course aims to provide a solid foundation to start designing and implementing regenerative designs.

Early booking discount until July 15th
11 months ago
Hi All

We have an excellent course lined up this summer!! and there are just 8 days to go for the early booking discount so if you're interested it's time to register.

click below for  details
1 year ago
Hi All

We're extending our Polyculture Project to include experimental perennial polycultures. Our aim is to develop models that are low cost to establish and maintain, can produce healthy affordable nutritious food and will enhance biodiversity.

To view this post with photos, illustrations and tables follow the below link

This spring we'll be including the Early Polleniser Polyculture as presented here. The design aims to provide pollination support for farms and gardens, yields of nutritious fruits and nuts, valuable nesting sites for endangered native bees, and spectacular flower displays to shake off the winter blues

As the title suggests the primary purpose of the Early Polleniser Polyculture is to provide an early source of pollen/nectar to a wide diversity of pollinating insects. The majority of the plants in this polyculture bloom when there is little other sources of nectar/pollen available. This encourages pollinating insects in and around our gardens to fulfill their vital role when the crops (particularly fruit trees) start to flower in the early spring.

The polyculture also provides a source of produce in its own right and with proper cultivar selection and plant care, should provide high yields of nutritious fruits and nuts as well as habitat for a wide range of wildlife and pollinators.

The Early Polleniser Polyculture

Before we go any further I'll quickly clarify the meaning of the term Polleniser.

A polleniser (sometimes pollenizer, pollinizer or polliniser) is simply a plant that provides pollen. The word pollinator is often mistakenly used instead of polleniser, but a pollinator is the biotic agent that moves the pollen, such as bees, moths, bats, and birds. Bees are thus often referred to as 'pollinating insects'.

Bee (Pollinator) and flowering plant (Polleniser)

Flowering Period

All species included in the polyculture apart from Trifolium repens - White Clover, flower during the months of January - March and provide valuable pollen or nectar forage for bees and other pollinators during this period.

Early Polleniser Guild species in flower

Design Considerations

Design Goals -  As well as pollination support, wildlife habitat and fruit production the design goals include
For the polyculture to be functional on marginal sites i.e shady areas, low fertility soils, areas exposed to wind. The early polleniser guild is primarily a support polyculture with the primary function of providing main crops with pollination support so we may not want to allocate the most productive land to it.
That the polyculture should have relatively low time/cost inputs. Once established the polyculture should require little to no external fertility and approx. 5-7 hrs of maintenance per year in the late autumn. (not including harvest times). Maintenance and management of this polyculture is further discussed below. 
That the polyculture can be of use on a small and broad scale. The design presented above represents one unit and can work well "stand alone" in any garden. Multiple units of this polyculture can also be used in orchards and farms to provide better pollination coverage for the crops. (see layout options below)

Light and Aspect  - All of the plants included tolerate some shade or utilise light when other plants are not in demand of it. The polyculture can therefore be positioned on marginal areas with lower light levels whilst still serving a purpose, however if you would like to obtain maximum pollinator attraction and a higher yield of fruits and nuts, choose a site with at least 6 - 8 hrs a day and orientate from east - west.

Water - Optimal irrigation is a key to healthy and productive plants. This polyculture is not well suited to semi wetlands and areas with a high water table and will not thrive in very dry areas with no access to irrigation. In dry climates irrigation will be essential but selecting a position for the polyculture that maximizes the absorption of rainfall will help considerably and can be achieved by planting on contour and using simple earthworks to keep rain water around the root zones of plants.

N.B. All of the plants are relatively drought tolerant but the fruiting plants will not be high yielding without proper irrigation.

Access - Access from within the polyculture is required for pruning, weeding and harvesting. Two 50 cm wide paths running within and parallel to each other provide this access. The periphery of the polyculture should also be accessible from the outside.  

Pollinator Habitat - Native bees are very important pollinators and are some the most endangered species in our ecosystems . Including habitat for the bees to nest as well as providing good quality forage is essential,  accordingly this polyculture includes bee nesting habitat, but having other such habitat around a site is recommended.

Species Selection - Our plant selection takes into account the following;
Climatic compatibility with the site
Drought tolerance
Shade Tolerance
Early nectar/pollen provision
Other benefits to wildlife and production for humans
Flowering periods that do not have significant overlap with crops on the site. 
Shrub species that respond well to regular pruning/coppicing  

Proximity to crops - Bees will forage where high quality food is available and presumably shorter foraging trips are both safer and more energy-efficient for all bees. Studies show that Honey Bees - Apis spp. will forage many kms away from nesting sites. Bumblebees - Bombus spp. and most solitary bees will typically forage much shorter distances, according to some reports 100 m - 800 m.

Given that there is little consensus within studies of pollinator foraging behaviour, it's difficult to state how far from the crops and to what density this polyculture should be used to achieve the best pollination results. As a presumptive guide, in areas where suitable forage and nesting habitat is lacking assume a beneficial radius of 100 - 300 m  and in areas where there are lots of established early forage and nesting sites assume a beneficial radius of 500 m - 1000 m.  You can never really have too much early pollinator forage available, but you can have too little. Priorities of budget and time, and the crops that are being grown are other factors that will guide unit quantity and crop proximity decisions.

It's worth noting that plants are in competition for pollinators attention and for this reason the flowering period of the plants in the polyculture do not overlap significantly with crop plants.

Location/Layout  -  The polyculture unit presented above can work well as a stand alone unit in any garden. Multiple units of this polyculture can also be used in orchards and farms to provide better pollination coverage for the crops. Below you can find three suggested layouts for the broad scale application of this polyculture 1.Border, 2 Island and 3 Alley.

1.Border Layout - The polyculture can be planted on the inside of a fence or outside of a track to form a "wrap around" for the entire orchard/market garden etc. or for subdivision boundaries within a site.  Being composed of shade tolerant plants the polyculture will, to some extent, function regardless of aspect. Each unit as pictured above can be repeated to form a border planting.

2. Island Layout -  The island layout intersperses the units around the site. For already developed sites the islands can be positioned in difficult to access nooks and corners, shady spots and areas of marginal value, or on the periphery of crops that will benefit the most from enhanced pollination.     

3. Alley Layout - The alley layout entails planting the polycultures in an alley cropping or orchard system at intervals among the main crops. For example, an apple and pear orchard may have every 10th row composed of early polleniser units.

So lets take a closer look at the species involved and the management and maintenance tasks required for this polyculture

The Polyculture Components

I've divided the  polyculture into 5 main components based on the purpose that each component serves.

Fruiting Trees and Shrubs
Ground Cover
Early Flowering Bulbs
Fertility Plants
Pollinator Habitat

1. Fruiting Trees and Shrubs - The Polyculture Components

The fruiting trees and shrubs component include Cornus mas and Corylus avellana in the upper canopy, and Chaenomeles speciosa and Mahonia japonica in the lower canopy/shrub layer and are the main productive units in the guild. With good cultivar selection these plants can provide yields of excellent fruits and nuts.

Cornus mas - Cornelian Cherry

Species Overview - Cornus mas is one of my favorite plants. The hum of the bees under our Cornus mas trees on a sunny day in late winter is just one of the reasons I love this plant.  It's a  medium sized hardy tree and an excellent polleniser producing a bounty of flowers rich in nectar from Feb - March. The plant is self fertile and the flowers go on to form wonderful grape shaped fruits in late summer delicious when fully ripe.

Four seasons of Cornus mas from our home garden.

Uses: Excellent fruit when ripe and great for making cordial or syrups. Nutritional analysis indicates that Cornelian cherry juices are rich in various essential elements and might be considered as an important dietary mineral supplementation. There are some fabulous cultivars available with larger sweeter fruit.
The seeds can be roasted, ground into a powder and used as a coffee substitute and a small amount of edible oil can be extracted from the seed.  A dye is obtained from the bark and the leaves are a good source of tannin. The wood is very hard, it is highly valued by turners and has a history of use for tools, machine parts, etc. We use the twigs to feed rabbits and goats all year around.

Biodiversity - One of the earliest trees to flower, attracting a wide range of pollen and nectar feeding invertebrates from Feb - March. We often see great tits, blue tits and long tailed tits in our trees during the winter. I'm not sure whether they are feeding on the buds, dried fruit  or perhaps the invertebrates sheltering under the bark and crevices.

For more on this plant see our Cornelian Cherry plant profile

Corylus avellana - Hazelnut

Species Overview - A fast growing deciduous shrub with rounded leaves, producing yellow male catkins in the early spring followed by delicious edible nuts in the autumn. Typically reaching 3–8 m tall but may reach 15 m.

Corylus avellana  - Hazelnut

Uses: One of the finest temperate nuts eaten roasted or raw. The wood from hazel is also commonly used. Soft, easy to split but not very durable it is mainly used for small items of furniture, hurdles, wattles, basketry, pea sticks etc. The tree is very suitable for coppice. The twigs can be used to feed rabbits and goats all year around   The nuts also contain 65% of a non-drying oil that can be used in paints, cosmetics etc. The finely ground seeds are used as an ingredient of face masks in cosmetics.

Biodiversity - The pollen-bearing catkins can be available to pollinators from as early as late Jan - late March. Hazel leaves provide food for the caterpillars of many moths. Hazel nuts are used by dormice to fatten up for hibernation and in spring the leaves are a good source of food for caterpillars, which dormice also eat. Hazel nuts are also eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, tits, wood pigeons, jays and a number of small mammals.

For more on this plant see our Hazelnut plant profile . We also have a range of excellent cultivars available

Chaenomeles speciosa - Japanese Quince

Species Overview - A thorny deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub native to eastern Asia, usually growing to about 2 m tall and generally exhibiting a rounded outline, but is somewhat variable in form. The plants establish a very dense crown with a tangled jumble of branches which are either spiny or with spurs. The flowers come before the leaves and are usually red, but may be white or pink. The fruit is fragrant and looks similar to a small apple although some cultivars have much larger pearish shaped fruits. The leaves do not change colour in the autumn.

Chaenomeles speciosa - Japanese Quince

Uses - The fruits don't make great eating and are generally extremely hard but following a cold spell I found the Japanese Quince softened enough to squeeze like a lemon, and the juice being very acidic makes them an excellent alternative to lemon juice. Another plus for this fruit is that they have a delicious and somewhat addictive aroma that lingers around for a few days resembling that of pineapples, lemons and vanilla. We leave the fruits in the car or around a room to act as a natural air freshener.

Biodiversity - The flowers are attractive to a wide range of pollen and nectar feeding invertebrates from March- April, sometimes in February. With regular pruning the shrubs become dense providing suitable nesting habitat for birds such as wren - Troglodytes troglodytes, chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita and robin - Erithacus rubecula. The diets of these birds include some common vegetable pests and can help keep pest populations in check.

For more on Chaeonomeles spp. see our previous blog article here.

Mahonia aquifolium - Oregon Grape

Species Overview - A great little shade tolerant evergreen shrub growing to 1 m tall by 1.5 m wide that can cope with most soils and thrive in shady spots where many other plants succumb. It is resistant to summer drought and tolerates wind. The plant produces dense clusters of yellow flowers in early spring, followed by dark bluish-black berries. Once the plant gets going it's very vigorous and produces many suckers.

Mahonia aquifolium - Oregon Grape

Uses -  The small purplish-black fruits can be used to make jelly or juice that can be fermented to make wine. The inner bark of the larger stems and roots of Oregon-grape yield a yellow dye; the berries give purple dye. The holly-like evergreen leaves are sometimes used by florists to add to bouquets. It makes a great under story shrub for densely shaded areas.

Biodiversity - Excellent early-flowering nectar source for bees and bumblebees.  The nectar and pollen may be taken by blackcaps, blue tits and house sparrows. Berries are eaten by blackbirds and mistle thrushes.  Good caterpillar food plant.

For more on this plant see our Mahonia aquifolium plant profile

Fruiting Trees and Shrubs - Unit Management

The table below indicates the quantity of trees and shrubs per unit and some information on how to establish and maintain this component of the polyculture.

Planting scheme for Fruiting Trees and Shrub component

2. Ground Cover - The Polyculture Components

The ground cover plants include Primula vulgaris and Bellis perennis, both herbaceous perennials with low growing and spreading habits that over time should form large patches of cover under and around the shrubs and trees. A ground cover can prevent unwanted plants from moving in and protects the soil from erosion.

Primula vulgaris

Species Overview - A herbaceous perennial, loving cool, damp banks and glades, and thriving in coppice woodland where they can form a stunningly attractive carpet. They like wet soil best, with lots of shade in the summer. The drier and hotter the climate, the more they need shade. Summer drought is not a big problem as long as they get plenty of moisture in autumn and the first part of the year.

Primula vulgaris - Primrose ground cover under a Cornus mas in our garden

Uses: Both flowers and leaves are edible, the flavour ranging between mild lettuce and more bitter salad greens. The leaves can also be used for tea, and the young flowers can be made into primrose wine.

Biodiversity - Primroses are one of the earliest spring flowers. They may be found flowering in warm sheltered nooks as early as the end of January, although most flower from March to May. Because they flower so early in the year, they provide a vital source of nectar at a time when there are few other flowers around for insects to feed on such as adult Brimstone butterflies which have hibernated over the winter and often emerge on warmer winter days.

For more on this plant see our Primula vulgaris plant profile

Bellis perennis

Species Overview - An abundant, small, low-lying herbaceous perennial plant with white flowers with yellow centres and pink flecks, that appear most of the year, except in freezing conditions. The plants habitually colonise lawns and grassland.

Bellis perennis - Daisy growing in our lawn

Uses: May be used as a potherb and young leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, noting that the leaves become increasingly astringent with age. Flower buds and petals can be eaten raw in sandwiches, soups and salads. It is also used as a tea and as a vitamin supplement. Medicinally, the plant is known for its healing properties and can be used on small wounds, sores and scratches to speed up the healing process. The spreading habit of the plant makes it a good ground cover option.

Biodiversity - A valuable addition to grassland areas managed for wildflowers and wildlife attracting a good deal of attention from pollinators when little other forage is available.

For more on this plant see our Bellis perennis plant profile

Ground Cover - Unit Management

The table below indicates the quantity ground cover plants per unit and some information on how to establish and maintain this component of the polyculture.

Planting scheme for ground cover is mixed patches of the species between the shrubs and trees

Run out of room here - for the full post see
1 year ago
Hi All

Encouraged by high yields and high levels of biodiversity that we have been recording in our home gardens we have extended our research to look at how we can provide nutritious affordable food whilst enhancing biodiversity in polyculture market gardens. We are delighted to be offering a unique opportunity to take part in this study. Would you like to join us?

To view this post with photos and full details go to

What are we doing ?

We are undertaking a multi year study of market gardening growing herbs, vegetables and perennial fruit and nut polycultures. The study aims to compare our polyculture plots with conventional organic plots, record levels of biodiversity in the gardens and look at set up and running costs (in terms of finances and time) and outputs in terms of produce and income.

Diversity of high quality biologically produced food from our polyculture gardens

The approach we take to market gardening goes way beyond "organic". We design biological systems that rely on the native ecology to function as opposed to external manufactured inputs, and as a result our gardens service not only our needs but the needs of other organisms too.

click here to view our results so far

Permaculture/Polyculture Market Garden @Balkan Ecology Project

What will you be doing ?

You'll be working closely as a team producing food from the market garden for yourself, local markets, and a food co-operative and will be recording all aspects of the process including how long it takes to develop, maintain and manage the associated costs, the fertility requirements, the returns in produce weight and income derived from the sale of the produce.

Our Polyculture Market Garden - photo by Huma

Spring 2017 we will also begin development of a new experimental garden growing perennial polycultures providing fruits, nuts, vegetables, biomass, timber and wildlife habitat. We'll install a gravity fed irrigation system, wildlife/irrigation ponds, living fences of native species, several habitat features for current species on site, and 6 trial beds that will house 4 perennial polycultures, designed to be highly productive and wildlife enhancing.

Perennial Polycuture Trial Garden

Click here for the Garden location (labelled as  East Side Trial Garden on our Project map)

We are planning to record all aspects of the project including observed levels of invertebrate diversity, weather data and soil analysis. We’ll be looking closely at inputs i.e set up/running costs, fertility/water requirements and time, and outputs i.e produce, income, soil fertility and invertebrate diversity.

The aim of the trials is to test the ecological and economical viability of growing these polycultures in market gardens and farms in order to meet the following needs/wants:
production of high quality, high value food
cash crops from secondary/ tertiary polyculture partner species
improvement of soil fertility
provision of biomass for use as mulch
timber supply for use as vegetable supports and larger round wood material for farm infrastructure
enhanced levels of biodiversity

Some of the resident wildlife from our permaculture market garden.

Click here for month by month activities.

Why should you take part ?

?This is an excellent opportunity if you are considering starting a garden and/or are interested in ways to provide affordable healthy food whilst increasing biodiversity.

As a participant of this study -
You will gain valuable insight into what it takes to actually run a market garden. As well as the practical skills you will develop, we'll dedicate time each week to covering essential theory including site design and implementation, plant propagation, polyculture management, basic botany, record keeping, harvesting, irrigation, marketing and advertising, and budgeting/financial planning.
Enrollment to the 6 month program entitles you to participate in courses and training events that take place during the program.
You will be contributing to an area of research where little information exists i.e the productivity of polycultures and associated biodiversity dynamics.
This study will be published online and freely available to all for future reference and you will be credited accordingly.
You will be spending time in a truly unique area of the world, working as part of a dynamic team of fellow enthusiasts in an inspiring environment.

2015 team in the gardens 

Where will you be?

?The project is based in the town of Shipka, Bulgaria on the foothills of the Central Balkan mountain range in the Rose Valley. It's an area of high biodiversity, beautiful countryside and historical sites of global, cultural and scientific significance. The project site is located on an abandoned piece of agricultural land on the western outskirts of the town that we call the Paulownia Garden. See Map for Paulownia Garden Location.

Shipka Town - home to Balkan Ecology Project

You'll also be learning from our existing garden, a 10 year old residential property with a highly productive and well established forest garden composed of over 400 species of plants. Our central garden is a good example of small scale intensive ecological design and includes examples of rainwater harvesting, grey water reed beds, wildlife ponds, multiple composting facilities and hosts a small plant nursery. We practice various methods of biological vegetable production including guild planting and crop rotation, and rear pigs, chickens and rabbits from this property.
1 year ago
Hi Michael

Thanks for your support. We're planning a perennial polyculture study in the new year. You can read more about that here

We're hoping to have the study written up professionally for peer review in the future.


1 year ago
We've completed the second year of our Market Garden Polyculture Study with some interesting results. This year we added a new polyculture to the trials and included a comparison between growing vegetables in a polyculture and growing them in more traditional blocks.

Below you will find an overview of the trial garden and the polycultures we are growing, a description of what we record and the results from this year's study.

To view this post with tables and images from our blog click on the link below

First of all we'd like to say a huge thank you to the team of volunteers that joined us for the study this year and that make it possible for us to carry out our experiments and research. It was a pleasure to work together with you

Thank you -  Ala Pekalska, Alexandre Duclouet, Biljana Kostovska, Charlotte Wrist Kirk, Dimo Stefanov, Jack Carlowe, Johannes Heuschkel,  Marika Wanklyn, Natasha Barbier, Pauline Lousteau, Peter Alfrey, Sandra Koljackova and family, Susan Eggers, Tadeo Melvin and the core team Ute Villavicencio and Kata Prodanov.    

Polyculture Market Garden Study Crew 2016

Garden Overview

Climate: Continental Temperate
Latitude: 42°
Elevation: 565 m
Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5 mm
Co-ordinates: 42.71259, 25.32575

The six longer beds in the left hand corner (the Aceaes) of the photo are the trial beds and the focus of the study.
Photos by

Click here for the Polyculture Market Garden location (labelled as Paulownia Garden on our Project map)

Garden area: 256.8 m2
Cultivated beds area: 165.6 m2
Paths: 50 cm wide - 91.2 m2
Six beds: Dimensions - 23 m x 1.2 m  Area - 27.6 m2 per bed  

Study Area Path and Bed Layout

The beds are named after common vegetable families in order to familiarize participants with the use of Latin and introduce them to some major plants families. They do not correspond to what was planted in the beds.

The Polycultures

We are experimenting with many polycultures and have developed a categorization system for ease of reference.  They are categorized by life cycle i.e annual, perennial or combi  (annuals and perennials) and further categorized by function. i.e support, infrastructure or production. Often a polyculture will provide multiple functions, but the primary function is what sets them to each category.  I give all the polycultures nicknames. For example, all polycultures in the annual and production category are named after Stoic Philosophers.

The study is based on polycultures Zeno and Epictetus - both are annual and production polycultures. As we are looking to see how polycultures compare to conventional growing, this year we included a control for the Zeno polyculture  i.e, the same crops from Zeno but planted in a more conventional block pattern.  In the below illustration you can see the planting plan of the trial beds.

Polyculture Zeno

We've been growing Zeno in the garden for around 9 years now. It's been very successful in our home gardens and in 2015 we scaled it up for the market garden. You can see last year's market garden results here and three years of records from the home garden here.

Photos from Zeno Polyculture
For more info on plant spacing, management and maintenance of this polyculture see our previous post here.

Zeno Plant List  - The following plants and cultivars were used in this polyculture;

Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Black Krim'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Ukranian Purple'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Tigerealla'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Green Zebra'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Mirabel Yellow Cherry'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Anna Russian'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Citrina'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Marglobe'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Rozava Magia'
Basil - Ocimum basilcium 'Sweet Genovese'
French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris 'Cobra'
French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris - Local
Courgette - Cucurbita pepo 'Black Beauty'
Bush Scallop - Cucurbita pepo
Butternut Squash - Cucurbita pepo 'Waltham Butternut'
African Marigold - Tagetes erecta
French Marigold - Tagetes patula
Pot Marigold - Calendula officinalis

Zeno Planting Scheme 

Zeno - Vegetable and herb polyculture/guild 6.5 m section of  planting scheme

Zeno Control

We also included a control this year. The control included all of the above plants but planted in blocks along the bed (see below). We wanted to see how the two planting schemes compared i.e. whether the polyculture would produce more and the difference in the amount of time needed to cultivate them. The fertility inputs for both beds were the same.

Polyculture Epictetus

This is the first year we have tried this polyculture. It's basically a strip pattern of various vegetables from different plant families arranged to reduce pests and diseases, optimize space and nutrient share whilst respecting the individual plant needs for space and light.

Epictetus Polyculture

Epictetus Plant List  - The following plants and cultivars were used in this polyculture;

Beetroot - Beta vulgaris ' Bolthardy'
Beetroot - Beta vulgaris ' Detroit'
Dwarf Bean - Phaseolus vulgaris 'Lingua Fuoco Nano'
Dwarf Bean - Phaseolus vulgaris 'Rocquencourt'
Kale -  Brassica napus 'Siberian'
Kale -  Brassica napus 'Scarlett'
Swiss Chard - Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla ' Rainbow'
Parsnip - Pastinaca sativa ' White Gem'
Carrot - Daucus carota 'Autumn King'
French Marigold - Tagetes patula
Pot Marigold - Calendula officinalis

Epictetus Planting Scheme

Epictetus - Vegetable polyculture/guild - 6 m section of  planting scheme

The table below shows the floral species composition of each of the beds including the different cultivars and the dates that the plants were sown or planted.

We have not included a list of native wild plants that are encouraged to grow around the perimeter of each bed that we mow and apply as mulch to the beds during the growing season.

What we Record - Inputs

Time Input - We record how long it takes to develop, maintain and manage the garden. The time is recorded for each task starting from sowing the seeds, preparing the beds, planting and caring for the plants, harvesting, preparing for market and packing away. The time taken for each task is rounded up or down to nearest minute. Nearly all of the records are based on 2 people carrying out each task unless otherwise stated in the record sheet.  

Fertility Inputs  -  All fertility additives are recorded including; seed sowing mediums, composts, mulch, liquid fertilizers (comfert) and ash.

Alex and Kata loading up compost for the beds

Financial Inputs - Costs  - The costs associated with the garden are recorded.  We do not cost the time spent on the garden but do provide the precise time the activities take. Set up and tool costs were included in the first year records. This year we only recorded operating costs.

N.B. We eliminate many costs by growing our own plants from seed, making composts and sowing mediums, growing summer and autumn mulch and saving seeds. We also provide our own support materials for the crops.

Basil seeds in the nursery room

What we Record - Outputs

Crop Yields - All produce is weighed directly after harvest. The produce is recorded into two categories, fit for market and fit for processing/fodder.

Polycultures Yields

Financial output - Profit -  The market value of the produce is estimated based on the average prices we were receiving from local buyers, veggie boxes and Trustika buyers club in Sofia.

N.B. We do not sell all of the produce from the garden. Some of the produce is consumed by the team or preserved.

What we Record - Surveys

Soil Analysis - Each spring and autumn we obtain a soil sample and send it to NAAS of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. To take a sample we take approx a hand trial full of the top 20 cm of soil  from 8 random areas from the beds, mix it together and send 400g "bagged and tagged" to the lab the same day.

Physical Analysis -  Each spring the team carry out a series of 9 tests that are designed to provide an indication of soil health based on observable physical properties of the soil. It's a soil management tool developed by farmers for farmers to track the developing health of soils. You can download the form with instructions how to carry out the tests here.  We have slightly modified the test for our purposes.

Regenerative Landscape Design Course participants working through the soil health test cards

Invertebrate Survey - We made a start on the invertebrate survey but have incomplete records and are not entirely happy with the method, so we will try again this coming year. We are looking for entomology enthusiasts to help us with this part of the study. If this interests you please get in touch for further discussion.

Support Species Tagetes spp. and Calendula officinalis are planted within the vegetables and attract a large diversity of invertebrates some of which are beneficial to the crops.   


We'll start off by looking at the results from the soil analysis and soil health tests, then look at the results for each polyculture and finally finish up with the overall garden results.

Soil Results - Mineral Analysis

Each spring and autumn we take soil samples and send them to NAAS of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. The March sample is taken before we add any fertility and the November sample is taken after all of the crops have stopped producing.

The first sample taken in March 2015 in the table below is the base sample taken before work in the garden began.

Plant available Nitrogen mg/kg Potassium and Phosphorous mg/100g
March pH (KCI) N03N NH4N P205 K20
5.69 15.4 2.89 16.3 13
November pH (KCI) N03N NH4N P205 K20
6.44 16.2 4.45 43.9 14.4
March pH (KCI) N03N NH4N P205 K20
6.65 4.43 5.79 88 25.2
November pH (KCI) N03N NH4N P205 K20
6.61 8.17 3.83 44.1 22.1

Soil Results - Soil Health Card

This year's soil health card test scored 58.9 - an increase from last year's base test of 39.4. The highest score obtainable for this test is 88.

You can find the full results for the 2015 and 2016 test in the spreadsheet 2016 Annual Polyculture Market Garden Study - Published Records - Sheet 6.Soil Test Cards

Should you wish to use this excellent tool you can download the Soil Health Card forms with instructions on how to carry out the tests here.

Inputs and Outputs - Epictetus

The total amount of time spent on Epictetus was 37.5 hrs. The time inputs are recorded into different categories as seen below.

Task Time in mins
Propagation 336
Planting/Sowing 919
Fertility 8
Weeding 721
Irrigation 130
Observation 33
Mowing Paths 99
Total 2246
Total hrs 37.5 hrs

The fertility inputs on Epictetus were as follows:

Fertility Inputs Total Quantity
Mulch - Lawn Mower Clipping 540 L
Mulch - Spot Mulching 1 Bale
Wood Ash 6.720 kg
Seedling mix for Beans 14 L
Compost planting out Kale, Chard and Aubergine 30 L
Compost for sowing beetroot strips 100 L
Seedling mix for Sowing Parsnips and Carrots and Beetroots 75 L
Compost for Propagation 90 L
Seedling Mix for Propagation 87 L

The yield outputs for Epictetus totaled 87.42 kg of produce. This translates to approx 1.58 kg per m2.  

Crop Weight in kgs
Carrots 15.465
Parsnips 19.775
Dwarf Beans 5.025
Swiss Chard 21.56
Kale 13.35
Beetroot 12.245
87.42 kg

N.B there is still some produce in the beds namely parsnips, chard and kale. We'll add these to the records later but I would estimate there to be no more than 10 kg of produce remaining.

Inputs and Outputs - Zeno

The amount of time spent on Zeno was 38 hrs.

Task Time in mins
Set up
Planting /Sowing
Garden Care
Total hrs 38 hrs

The fertility inputs on Zeno were as follows:

Fertility Inputs
Item Total Quantity
Strawbales 31
Compost added to beds pre planting (L) 460 L
Compost for
Tomatoes (L) 17.6 L
Seedling Mix
for Squash (L) 10.4 L
Seedling mix for Beans
(L) 13.2 L
Comfert (L) 44 L
Wood Ash kg 6.72 kg
Mulch - Lawn Mower Clipping (L) 540 L

The yield outputs for Zeno totaled 130.08 kg of produce. This translates to approx 2.36 kg per m2.

Crop Weight in kgs
Tomatoes 55.08
Tomatoes for processing 25.17
Basil 8.01
Beans 14.19
Summer Squash 23.63
Winter Squash 4
130.08 kg

Inputs and Outputs - Zeno Control

The amount of time spent on Zeno was 37 hrs. See below for a breakdown of the time spent on this polyculture.
Zeno Control
Task Time in mins
Set up
Planting /Sowing
Garden Care
Total hrs 37 hrs

The fertility inputs on Zeno control were as follows:

Fertility Inputs
Item Total Quantity
Strawbales 31
Compost added to beds pre planting (L) 460 L
Compost for
Tomatoes (L) 17.6 L
Seedling Mix
for Squash (L) 10.4 L
Seedling mix for Beans
(L) 13.2 L
Comfert (L) 44 L
Wood Ash kg 6.72 kg
Mulch - Lawn Mower Clipping (L) 540 L

The yield outputs for Zeno totaled 112.57 kg of produce. This translates to approx 2.04 kg per m2.

Crop Weight in kgs
Tomatoes 46.55
Tomatoes for processing 20.7
Basil 8.92
Beans 12.55
Summer Squash 22.38
Winter Squash 1.47
112.57 kg

Some time categories were difficult to assign to each polyculture so I clumped them together into a general task category. It's mainly the time preparing the produce for market as well as soil analysis, initial propagation tasks and end of season tidying up and packing away of the garden.

General Tasks
Task Time in mins
Soil Analysis 20
Propagation 240
Set up/down 20
Market Prep 1920
Total 2200
Total hrs 36.5 hrs

Zeno Polyculture vs the Control

It's only the first year we have tried this comparative study so it's too early for any clear implications,  but this year's result shows the polyculture out performing the control in terms of yields and the control taking less time to operate in. The fertility inputs were the same for each.

Zeno Control
Total time 38 hrs 37 hrs
Total Produce 130.08 kg 112.57 kg

You can find the above results in the spreadsheet 2016 Annual Polyculture Market Garden Study - Published Records - Sheet 9. Inputs and Outputs per Trial. For date stamped harvest records for Zeno see here and for Epictetus see here.

Inputs and Outputs -  All Beds

The amount of time spent on all beds was 149 hrs.

Tasks Minutes Hours
Weeding 721 12.01
Propagation 797 13.28
Set up 1012.5 16.87
Fertility 8 0.13
Planting /Sowing 1436 23.93
Garden Care 1578 26.3
Observation 45 0.75
Mowing 297 4.95
Irrigation 390 6.5
Harvesting 438 7.3
Market Prep 1920 32
Set up/down 20 0.33
Analysis 20 0.33
Total Time Input in hrs 149 hrs

The fertility inputs for all beds were as follows:

Total inputs for all beds
Strawbales 63 bales
Compost 1205 L
Wood Ash 20 kg
Sieved Compost
/River Sand 50 /50 224 L
Lawn Clippings 1620 L
Comfert 88L

Special thanks to Dimo Stefanov from Wastenomore for the excellent compost that we use for our sowing mix and to plant out the crops with. Great stuff !

The yield outputs for all beds totaled 329.96 kg of produce or 3.78 kg per m2.

Produce - All beds
Product Weight in kgs Average weight in
kgs per m2
Carrots 15.465 0.28
Parsnips 19.775 0.35
Dwarf Beans 5.025 0.09
Swiss Chard 21.56 0.39
Kale 13.35 0.24
Beetroot 12.245 0.22
Tomatoes 101.53 0.91
Tomatoes for processing 45.87 0.41
Basil 16.935 0.15
Beans 26.73 0.24
Summer Squash 46.005 0.41
Winter Squash 5.47 0.04
Total kg 329.96
Total kg/m2 3.78kgs/m2

The market value of the produce is as follows:

Market Value
Crop Our Average market price per kg Total Market Value (BGN)
Carrots 2 lev30.93
Parsnips 5.5 lev108.76
Dwarf Beans 6.5 lev32.66
Swiss Chard 12 lev258.72
Kale 12 lev160.20
Beetroot 2 lev24.49
Tomatoes 3.5 lev355.36
Tomatoes for processing 1.5 lev68.81
Basil 34 lev575.79
Beans 6.5 lev173.75
Summer Squash 2.2 lev101.21
Winter Squash 3.8 lev20.79
Total Market Value lev1,911.46
Value per m2 of garden - 256m2 lev6.99
Value per m2 of bed 165.6 m2 lev10.84
Value per hour worked lev12.05

The polyculture garden in Summer

Results in Summary

The garden produced just under 330 kg of produce from a cultivated area of 165.6 m2  -  3.78 kg of produce per m2.

The time spent on the garden was 149 hrs. this time being distributed from sowing the first seeds indoors in February to packing up in late October.

The fertility inputs of the garden were 63 Straw bales, 1205L of compost. 20 kg of wood ash, 224 L of sowing medium, 1620 L of lawn clippings and 88L of Comfert ( Comfrey Tea)

The garden expenses  were 115.56 BGN and the estimated value of the produce was 1911.46 BGN providing a profit of 1795.9 BGN. This translates to 12.05 BGN per hr or 10.84 BGN per m2.

Comments on Results

Time Input 
Not included in the records were other tasks carried out around the site such as making compost, harvesting stakes and support sticks, establishing beneficial habitat such as wildlife ponds, hedgerows/stick piles.
The time for preparing the produce for market i.e quality control, packaging and delivery, was estimated at 2 hrs per week . We send out weekly veggie boxes and orders from a food coop with produce from our other gardens  and did not record separately the polyculture trials produce.
Financial Inputs - Costs
Not included here are the set up costs for the garden. These costs were included in last years results. The costs recorded here are the annual operating costs.
Financial Output - Income
A polyculture market garden should be a polyculture of revenue streams. Our study currently focuses on annual vegetable production. We chose to begin our study of annual vegetables as it is the most accessible practice to most people requiring the least amount of investment making it ideal for a novice or curious grower. Other potential revenue from the Polyculture Market Garden includes perennial crops (see here for a perennial polyculuture study we are starting next year),  plant nursery, adding value to produce and courses and training. We hope to add a study of these activities over time to represent better the financial potential of a Polyculture Market Garden.  

Design of our new perennial polyculture garden coming in Spring 2017

Entomology Survey - We did begin to record invertebrate diversity in the beds and here you can find a photo album of what was recorded along with some other wildlife that resides in the garden. Thanks to Peter Alfrey for the photo records and survey.

Dylan and Ute in spring sweeping the native plants that grow around the edges of the beds.

Crop failure :-

Aubergines were also included in the Epictetus polyculture and failed to produce any significant yield. 
A cold and wet April and May meant that many squash and beans did not germinate. This resulted in less production from beans and squash than would be expected. Next year we will be growing these plants in starter trays under cover and planting out when the weather conditions are favourable.

N.B. The majority of the tasks were carried out by a volunteer team that had little or no prior experience in horticulture. An experienced grower or with repeated experience of these cultivation methods should be able to reduce the task times significantly.

You can access the full spreadsheet here that includes all of the data entries and task descriptions. (note there are multiple sheets that can be accessed from the blue tabs running along the top of the sheet).

Why are we doing this research?

If you are reading this you're most probably aware of the environmental damage caused by industrial agricultural practices We believe this damage is unnecessary, and aim to provide healthier models of agriculture that yield nutritious affordable food while at the same time promoting biodiversity and general ecosystem health.

Polyculture gardens providing food for humans and other organisms 

Industrial methods are heavily researched and funded, and there is a general belief among many farmers and growers that this is the only practical way of operating. Following 12 years of cultivating polyculture gardens we are seeing that small scale biologically cultivated polyculture gardens are a realistic and practical way of providing food for humans whilst preserving biodiversity and general health in the environment. Furthermore we believe this type of agriculture can help create thriving local economies that strengthen community, provide dignified work and enhance the amenity value of an area.

Little data exists showing the productive capacity of polyculture systems and the economic viability of them. There is a big need to fill this gap and provide solid data and concise coherent models that can be replicated easily and provide real solutions to the environmental damage caused by industrial agriculture. This project intends to go some of the way in filling this gap.

We aim to address the following questions;
How productive can polycultures be?
What advantages can polycultures provide ?
How much time do polyculture gardens take to establish and manage?
How economically viable are these gardens?
How bio-diverse can our food producing systems be?
Can we provide clean, nutritious, affordable food whilst enhancing biodiversity?

Want to get involved? Sharing, Feedback and Collaboration

We have our record keeping spreadsheets on Google Drive. These spreadsheets (see here) include all of the data entries and task descriptions (note there are multiple sheets that can be accessed from the blue tabs running along the top of the sheet). If you would like to keep your own records we'd be happy to give you a copy of the spreadsheet, just drop us an email or leave a comment below with your contact details and we will send it over to you.

If you have any suggestions and feedback on how you think we could improve the study or you have heard about or practice similar studies on other guild/polycultures we'd love to hear from you.

Next Year's Study

We're looking for a team of volunteers for 2017. If you'd like to join us have a read through the process here, register and we'll get straight back to you.

Permaculture Research

For more info and links to research check out the PIRN ( Permaculture International Research Network ) and the Permaculture Research Digest.
1 year ago