A couple of weeks ago we did a fun “forest guild” project in my permaculture design course. Below is my conceptual design for the peach tree guild. The real life guild has something a little different going on.
The purpose of the guild is to have mutually beneficial plants stacked together so you get a more productive garden with good soil cover. This garden is self-mulching. There are yields available as fruit, leaves, herbs, seeds, and bulbs. This guild can be replicated across the landscape, or even better, it can be mixed in with compatible guilds to create a diverse forest garden.
The guild I am working on at home is a little bit different. My first garden bed is about two and a half years old, and I’ve done soil testing to compare my garden soil to the original soil on my home site and it seems that somehow, through all of my experimental management, I have managed to do some good here. I’ve raised the soil pH from an acidic 5.0, to a slightly less acidic pH of 6. Water infiltration is much improved and our beloved invertebrates, the earthworms, are abundant.
In the beginning, this garden was planted in fall herbs, carrots, mesclun and swiss chard. I also planted some garlic late in the fall. My husband did the first preparations for this garden bed. He dug all of the soil out about 18 inches deep and mixed it back in with cow manure and peat moss (not a sustainable soil amendment, and we do not intend to use it anymore). I mulched it pretty heavily with green wood chips (not composted) and kept it mulched until spring.
The following spring we planted cherry tomatoes, potatoes and collards and composted the old fall crop. Some of the fall-planted chard came up in the spring, and I also noticed many interesting wildflowers including the butterfly pea. Sunflowers were planted and shot up in the early summer. These flowers went to seed and shed the seed in place. I also collected some seed for the next year.
By the summer, the mulch was running out and the garden was overtaken by weeds. The tomatoes were going bad and the harvests seemed to stop coming in. Times were tough and the garden was neglected, so it grew a nice crop of weeds, including golden rod, which were established in a nice cluster. This patch of golden rod eventually taught me that they spread by root rhizomes and will grow more and more in place every year.
I deconstructed the garden bed, removed the fence and the wooden border and left it that way until October.
By October, the wildflowers had gone to bloom and there was a beautiful display and a frenzy of activity among the bees and the butterflies. The small rose that I had planted in the corner started to grow wildly and the garden became more of an ornamental garden at the time. Seth and I both found out that we really liked the flowers and made the decision to grow more the next year.
I mulched with hay in the fall and created a new border of old timber (pine and tallow tree). I planted rosemary, collard greens and chives among the wildflowers and let the flowers grow and die without interference.
Over the winter, the collards grew up and provided winter greens in small amounts, and plenty of greens in early spring. I gradually began to add more to the garden. I created a border in the front of this garden, along the walkway, planted with garlic, garlic chives, common chives and mesclun. I also planted a small vitex tree (a medicinal, drought-tolerant shrub/tree) in the front to create low shade in the garden and the lawn (for as long as this lawn lasts).
Spring has come and almost gone. The garlic has come up, the herbs are doing well. Additions over the winter included catnip, lemon balm, yellow flag iris, buddleia and passion vine. At this point, all of these plants are thriving and the soil is a fine organic loam. I have started weeding with the “chop and drop” technique promoted by Bill Mollison, where I simply chop the weeds and leave them where they are as a green mulch. Sometimes I tuck the green mulch under dry brown mulches to prevent nitrogen loss. The key here is to make sure your weeds haven’t gone to seed, and that they aren’t especially good at vegetative reproduction. So far the only plant I can’t “chop and drop” is the tradescantia, because it will grow wherever I drop it. For that one, I have started piling it in a pit with a lot of other rotting weeds tossed on top of it and so far it seems to be working, especially in the very dry weather we’ve had.
Now for the second succession. I’ve been planting fruit trees since I moved out here, but I’ve finally decided that if any spot of ground is ready for a fruit tree, its this garden. I bought a peach and a kumquat and planted them directly into my garden. This means there will be 3 tall shrubs/small trees growing in here together and I am hoping that conscientious pruning and care will help them grow in such a way that they don’t crowd each other. I am going to keep herbs, perennial and annual, growing underneath them, including garlic which is a deterrent for some peach pests. I mulched this whole garden with bamboo leaves from our bamboo forest and I’m keeping up with the chop and drop weeding.
What do we have in this garden now? The peach, kumquat and vitex trees, sunflowers, cosmos, marigolds, salvia, buddleia, camellia, roses, goldenrod, tea rose, leaf lettuce, rosemary, passionvine, chives, ornamental peppers, green peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, irises, cilantro, radish (flowering), a few weeds and newly planted pumpkins to cover the ground. It sounds like a lot, right? Well, it is, and it may lead to crowding, but if so, I can always move things out.