Guilding the Garden

Recently I was searching for some good reading for breakfast and I stumbled across a much more sophisticated ecological gardening business located in Minneapolis, MN. Besides being significantly more educated in ecology than myself, they are also better marketers-I simply love their garden “products” for the ubiquitous herb spiral and fruit tree guilds. Here is a marketable turnkey permaculture planting that fits into a flyer, and can have a price assigned to it up front. The Fruit Tree Guilds are some of the most accessible pieces of permaculture-providing easy visual descriptions to interplanting and function stacking to reduce inputs and maximise outputs.

The business plan for our Someday Gardens is simple-to market the gardens, rain barrels, and compost bins we have created here in our Suburban Paradise to other ecologically aware suburbanites who through either lack of time, inclination, or knowhow aren’t interested in installing them themselves. The problem is that we don’t have any plant guilds anchored around fruit trees. Yet.

My first foray into edible perennial permaculture gardens has already begun. Last summer we installed a rain garden and had high hopes despite the sad results from our perk test. Predictably, it was not to be and our garden turned into a nice sized pond-draining almost nothing for weeks at a time. So we purchased some goldfish for it and moved on. Then I stumbled across an anecdote somewhere about wild blueberry bushes growing on decaying logs in bogs and a idea was born. Could I, in permaculture fashion, turn my drainage problem into a solution for my lack of blueberry habitat? Perhaps…. So one weekend when I had an abundance of energy, I dug a huge trench (2’x10′ by 4′ deep) that I backfilled 3/4 full with chips and needles from a pine tree. I topped this with 30 gallons of coffee grounds from our local watering hole, and top dressed it with an 8″ layer of finished compost. I then connected this filled trench to the (drained) rain pond with a 2′ swale even with the pond bottom-and then backfilled the swale with a compost/chip mix to allow infiltration, but only slowly. My hope was to basically build a bog for a pair of blueberry bushes. The trench would act as a huge acidic sponge for several hundred gallons of rainwater which would then slowly spread out into the hillside in the top of my backyard forming a underground lens of water to tide my other gardens through times of drought. Results? The bushes won’t go in until spring, but the “pond” is now a true rain garden, draining its 1500 gallons slowly over 2-3 days. Nice! I plan on interplanting a legume under the bushes for a living mulch/beneficial insect attractant/fertilizer. Not sure what cultivar can survive the low PH-I’ll plant a mix and let nature decide for me!

I have plans for that buried lens of water from the bog. Come spring I intend to plant a half dozen guilds centered around as many fruit trees. In the works are guilds for apple trees, pears, and even apricots though they are a stretch in my zone. In addition to supplying my family with a truckload of produce, these gardens will also become a living catalog for Someday Gardens, and an example to visitors as our village progresses down the road to a more sustainable municipality.

These gardens will be a huge undertaking, entailing 6-10 trees, hundreds of supporting plants in the understory and the conversion of over 1000sq ft of lawn. Only 12,000 sq ft more to go!


2 Responses

  1. One of my favorite concepts from permaculture – try to turn problems into assets. Nice.

    I’m eager to hear about the details of your guilds. I love the concept, but I always struggle with the details. I love seeing examples.

  2. Thanks E4. Click on the Green Jewels link under my blog links and then search her site for Apple Tree Guild-they are about 3 years ahead of me.

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