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Fruit Tree Guilds in the Edible Forest Garden
A blend of grass suppressors, insect and bird attractants, nutrient accumulators, mulch plants, nitrogen fixers, soil fumigants, and pest repellants, all surrounding a central food-producer tree.
The members of the fruit tree guild support the fruit tree in numerous ways: by luring beneficial insects for pollination, boosting soil tilth and fertility, reducing root competition, conserving water, balancing fungal population to counter disease, diversifying the yield of food, creating habitat, and several other functions. The result is a healthier tree and a varied ecology. Also, this biological support replaces human intervention, shifting the gardener’s workload onto the broad back of nature. If we leave out one of the guild’s pieces, we’re stuck with performing that part’s task.
Eliminating grasses near fruit trees will lessen the need for fertilizer. Grasses are surface feeders and thus vie for nutrients with trees, whose principal feeding roots also lie near the surface (where most nutrients reside).With less root and nutrient competition, the fruit trees may be more vigorous.
Grass-suppressing bulbs: The shallow roots of bulbs keep grasses from moving into our guild. Bulbs should be planted in a circle at the mature drip line of the tree. Useful bulbs include daffodils, camas. garlic, garlic chives, wild leek. Bulbs for this guild should be spring flowering and summer dormant.
Insect- and bird-attracting plants: The tempting blossoms of flowering plants will lure pollinators for boosting fruit set and attract predatory wasps that feast on pestiferous larvae such as borers and coddling moth.
Mulch plants: Growing mulch under the tree helps the guild build its own soil. Mulch makers include soft-leafed plants such as comfrey, artichokes, cardoon, rhubarb, crimson clovers and nasturtiums, all of which can be slashed and left to compost in place. A ring of comfrey around the tree can be hacked down four or five times a summer. As the nutrient-rich greenery rots, it delivers a huge dose of minerals and organic matter to the soil. The resulting thick layer of compost is home to a thriving and diverse population of worms, fungi, bacteria, and other helpful denizens of the soil. This rich and living soil will suppress diseases because the churning soil life competes fiercely for food and habitat below the ground. With all the resources divided up among the soil’s many inhabitants, no one microbial species can get out of balance and become a pest.
Nutrient accumulators: The deep taproots of these plants plunge far into the mineral soil and dredge up important nutrients: potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur and others. As the guild matures, nutrients will begin to recycle within the guild rather than requiring extraction from mineral soil by deep roots. The accumulator plants will then become redundant and begin a natural decline that the gardener can accelerate by pulling them up and replacing them with others.
Nitrogen fixers: Since all-important nitrogen is so freely available from the air, nitrogen fixers are a critical component of guilds. Nitrogen fixers pull nitrogen from the air and hold it on or near their roots to provide nitrogen to plants that need it. Two or three small nitrogen-fixing shrubs can be placed at or just outside the mature drip line of the central tree.
Soil Fumigants and Pest Repellants: Certain plants exude substances that repel pests, like nasturtiums and certain marigolds.
Habitat nodes: Piling up stones, logs or brush near the fruit tree guild and creating small ponds and puddles will attract lizards, frogs, snakes, and birds. These beneficial animals gobble up slugs, leaf-eating insects, and harmful larvae. Predators such as these are important for preserving balance.
Basic Fruit Tree Guild: one fruit tree, one or two artichokes or cardoon, several comfrey, a dozen insectiary plants, dozens of bulbs, a hundred or so crimson clovers.
Currant – Red and black currants, plant at the mature drip line of the tree; insect- and bird-attracting
Yarrow – Nutrient accumulator; insect- and bird-attracting
Nasturtium – Soil fumigant and pest repellent; mulch plant
Dill - Insect- and bird-attracting
Welsh Onion - Bulbs at drip line
Garlic Chives – Bulbs at drip line; nutrient accumulator
Cardoon - Insect- and bird-attracting; mulch plant
Bellflower - Insect- and bird-attracting
Comfrey - Nutrient accumulator; insect- and bird-attracting; large quantities of biomass
Good King Henry - Insect- and bird-attracting
Mallow - Insect- and bird-attracting
Salad Burnet – Nutrient accumulator; soil stabilization
Other nutrient accumulators (for potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, and others): dandelion, plantain, chickweed, nettles, chicory, chamomile, fennel, lamb’s quarters, mullein, walnut, sunflower.
Other insectiary plants: lavender, sunflower, lily, mint, bee balm, coriander, feverfew, goumi, autumn olive, mallow, hyssop, lavender, honeysuckle, mock orange, black currant, red currant, gooseberry, rose, rosemary, red and black raspberry, elderberry, lilac, blueberry.
Other soil fumigants and pest repellants: false indigo, elderberry, marigold.
Wildlife nurturers: Dogwood, elderberry, chokecherry, blueberry, native roses, hawthorn, wild cherries.
Deer do not eat: Maximilian sunflower.
Vining: Maypop (exquisite, exotic-looking blossom, bees, butterflies, edible fruits)
Comfrey: Bees and other beneficial insects, nutrient accumulator (potassium, calcium, magnesium into roots and leaves), deep roots, vigorous biomass producer – slash down 4-5 times a season to compost in place or in compost bin.
Mashua (vine, trellising up a 6’ fence): Edible nasturtium, inca tuber – healthy plant produces 8 pounds of tubers packed with vitamin C, smaller than Inca relative, the potato – nectar and pollen for bees - repels nematodes, fungal diseases, and some harmful insects – interplant with potatoes, corn, beans to control pests of those plants.
From: Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
For more information contact: Edible Forest Gardens mailto:email@example.com http://www.oly-wa.us/EdibleForestGardens/