I imagine it’s sounding like a broken record but the heatwave continues in earnest here. Most of our time is taken with watering the gardens and cleaning water channels, but every single time we do it, I count our blessings to have access to this diverted mountain stream.  Before designing your landscape, it’s a good idea to map out where your existing water sources are and how available they are. You may be fortunate enough to have ponds, rivers and streams, wells or mains irrigation already on your site. In hot dry climates, such water sources will often be present in the winter, spring and autumn, but may be empty in the summer when you really need it so that is something to certainly check out.  Asking local growers that have lived in the area for a long time is a great way to determine whether your water source is perennial and also to discover the extremes of drought experienced on a site . Often at this time of year when we haven’t had rainfall for months and extremely hot temperatures, the flow of the stream slows down, and by the time it arrives in Aponia, our market garden, it often has trouble reaching the third swale. Below you can see an image of Aponia, our forest garden, with the blue markings representing the water channels in the garden

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Image by author

The ESC volunteers have been helping to keep some of the local gardens irrigated too. Three times a week they have been watering the central park in Shipka, as well as helping some of the local elderly people with irrigating their gardens and other seasonal tasks.

Tara and Ruxandra watering Baba Nedielka’s crops
Keeping the Roses of Shipka hydrated :)

The end of August marks tomato canning season, although this year due to the slow ripening of our own crop, we will have to buy some from other local food growers to process. In the below image, ESC volunteers Ruhsar and Markus help a local family prepare their tomatoes to put in jars, followed by a water bath, to preserve for the coming winter months. You can check out the volunteer’s blog here.

Walking around the forest garden means feasting again at the moment, and especially prolific this year are Damson – Prunus institia. These trees are numerous in Aponia, and make up a large part of our native late scrub woodland. They are perfectly adapted to our local climate and can tolerate the long, hot and dry summers very well.

When we created the raised beds for the Annual Polyculture Study, we removed some of the saplings and planted them on the westerly edge of the property to create a screen and a boundary. Our prevailing wind on the site is north westerly, but the Damsons are resilient to this and do very well there.

The second flush of figs are ripening up in the home garden, the first being short and sweet back in late July.

Fig – Ficus carica in the garden – ‘Michurinksa 10’

The hot long summers here ensure a good reliable crop from these plants each year. From time to time when we have very cold winter the top growth dies back but in the spring new growth arises from the base of the plant and can produce a good crop of figs that same summer. 30-50 stems may come up in the spring and we found it good practice to remove at least 50% of the new growth before fruit sets and then thin down to no more than 8-10 of the best stems in the autumn after a harvest. For more information on growing Figs see our Essential Guide. If you’re thinking of growing figs in your garden you can check out the cultivars we’ll be offering in the nursery this season here.

The seed heads of Teasels Dipsacus sp. look striking in the forest garden.  I love this time of year when autumn makes itself known and the dry seed heads reveal their geometric shapes. Below are the seed heads of Allium cristophii – Star of Persia, a beautiful purple allium that is highly ornamental. Thanks go to Ruhsar, who spent a whole afternoon deseeding several seed heads, resulting in a bountiful harvest of seed to sow in the spring.

Photo of Paul Alfrey

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.