Баба Марта – and March madness

bab-martaMarch in Bulgaria starts with Baba Marta Day on the first day of March, what was at one time considered the first day of Spring, and with a whole raft of traditions attached to it. Much has been written on the internet about Grandma March Day, and Bulgarians (as well as several other European nationalities) often give each other little wristbands or tokens made in red and white which are worn until the first stork is seen or the first blossom bursts – well both of those things have happened!  The red and white colours are said to symbolise new life or rebirth and a fresh/clean start (to the year) – something we could all do with sometimes! Anyway, this is not a folklore lesson so suffice it to say a belated Chestita Baba Marta – Честита Баба Марта – Happy Baba Marta to you all.

February and March seem to be relatively quiet months here for “village folk”; there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on in the home gardens apart from some digging and on sunny/warmer days the sounds of chainsaws have been common as people are either topping up their wood supply or cutting poles for plant supports or to repair fences.

We’ve done a bit of clearing up in the orchard area and replaced some of the trees that we’d lost for one reason and another, two apple and two cherries.  We also laid a few paths to divide up the area – cardboard and a thick layer of packing paper, covered with split vegetable sacks and weighted down the edges with roof tiles.  Not sure how resilient they will be to the weather, the wind and the dock plants pushing up from underneath – especially as we are not walking on the paths every 5 minutes! But at least they have helped to visualise having different areas and the placement of some small raised beds made from some of the many tree stumps we have around the place.

You may notice (ha ha) that the ground in the orchard is covered with a excellent cover crop of the dreaded dock weeds! Fear not – in a (not too distant) future post I hope to be able to show/explain an experiment that will not only suppress (and eventually squash) the docks and other broad leaf weeds, but also improve the quality and quantity of the soil and make it easier to maintain – well that’s the idea anyway!

It’s our first ever season of trying to grow our own fruit and veggies, so planting seeds has been a major learning curve and a continuing task. Yes of course I have planted mustard and cress 😉 the odd bulb or two and maybe (long ago) tomatoes, lettuce and spuds and things like that as well as flowering plants – but certainly not on this scale! I think I spent about £5o on vegetable seeds from the UK plus another BGN 50 on local seeds – and so every week since the middle of February I’ve been filling seed trays, flower pots, toilet roll tubes, yogurt pots and egg cartons with home made potting compost and sowing seeds – and I will probably continue doing that into mid-April. Apparently (I am reliably told) April will be soon enough for planting out any seeds that survive to be big enough to make it worthwhile :-).

So far I have sown the following seeds: kohlrabi (2 types), tomatoes (2 types), brussel sprouts (3 types), curly kale, kavalo nero kale, purple sprouting broccoli, sage, basic, parsley, coriander, dill, thyme, chives, aubergines, peppers (3 types), cauliflower, celery, cucumber, leeks, marrow, onions, marigolds, nasturtiums – and there are several more packets of seeds to open!

Not sure where all the growing seedlings will go as every window ledge in the kitchen, hall and living room is now full – perhaps my bedroom is next! Hopefully this week some of the earlier sowings that are getting stronger can go outside under plastic, but many people (including the weatherman) are still warning of some hard frosty mornings well into April and I don’t want to lose everything before they are even in the ground.

This month we also made a start on planting a small wood or copse (some people might call it a “food forest”) of fruit and nut and pod bearing trees which will eventually help provide foodstuff for livestock as well as wood for the fire eventually. Last week we planted 18 trees in an area which is an old (tired) alfalfa field – and half of this area has been spread with mud bricks from the old house we demolished.  These bricks have decomposed and broken down well over the winter and planting through it was very easy – just a question of keeping them well watered for a few months until they are established.

What did we plant?  Black Walnut, Honey Locust, Pea Tree, Paulownia, Broom, two types of Holly, White Spruce, Cherry Plum and Broom.  We also planted some blackberries and blackcurrants. 

For the next phase(s) I’d like to plant Persian Walnut, Silver Birch, Red Maple, Siberian Pea Tree, Mulberry, Willow, Judas Tree and Black Locust.  And with the aim of (always) making less work, in the coming weeks/months I will be trying to find a source of old and rotten hay and straw (from last year) to mulch this entire area to suppress the tired old alfalfa and the weeds before they start to flower/seed.  It’s a pretty big space at 25m x 40m but we’ve seen plenty of mouldy round bales in many local farms but the challenges are (a) finding the right person to talk to at each place and then (b) transporting it back to home.

So I think it’s fair to say that we are a long way on from what was happening here in March last year!!

Hopefully the coming week will see a few days of consistent sunshine, so a few more outdoorsy chores can get done including some planting and sowing in a few of the sheltered areas.

And now it’s Easter weekend – so Happy Easter to everyone, I definitely won’t be partaking in Easter holiday travel madness!

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