If you haven’t picked up on the recurring theme of the past several months, I am planning a small scale forest garden something bigger than a permaculture fruit tree guild but certainly less elaborate than the ones Robert Hart
created almost 30 years ago that have received some coverage of late. I guess I am thinking of linking about 6-8 tree guilds into a mini ecosystem. Perhaps Orchard Gardening is a better term, but I won’t belabor the point.
I have a few goals in this experiment:
Tidiness Alright I may be accused of snobbishness here, but I am trying to “bioneer” a system that is replicable in suburban homes across the US, and if it looks like the weed fest that Mr. Hart grew no one is going to be on boarding anytime soon. I know his Forest Garden was brilliant in many ways: self sustaining, productive, and groundbreaking, but I am looking for something that will pass the HOA police. To that end it needs to be structured, functional, and well tidy. That means I will need to add more inputs in weeding and mulch rather than letting succession do the work for me, and I want it to ramp up fast so it will entail alot more prep work instead of waiting for nutrient accumulators and legumes to enrich the soil for me. I figure my garden club attending Mother will be a decent measurable here-if she approves I have passed.
Natives Right, so this may have already nixed my goal of readily identifiable species, but I want to make these guilds decidedly Upper Midwest in Character by including natives to fill niches when possible. This goal is rough to begin with-apples are imported, peaches shouldn’t grow in WI, etc but I want to give it a go. So at least in the understory I will be incorporating natives as I go. For every niche if I can find a native to do the job I will be giving it a try. This will only be a partial win as productivity suffers without hybrids and “domesticated” plants but I will be giving it a shot.
Enjoyable, not just Edible This goes back to Mia’s euphemism that “just because you can eat something, doesn’t mean you should…” So I will be sticking with “normal” edibles as much as possible. Peaches, pears, apples (okay and Paw-Paw but its native) will be the anchor trees in the guilds. Strawberries will be a ground cover of choice, raspberries, kiwis, chives, sorrel, and other familiar plants will be in attendance. I want to be able to serve produce from these guilds without explanation to guests-and then spend the explanation time on the beauty of a (mostly)self sustaining garden instead of driving home that, yes, indeed, that dish is edible.
Some wins to date:
New Jersey Tea
I first noticed this plant in the Prairie Nursery’s catalog as one of the few
native shrubs, and then started seeing it virtually every where I turned in my winter reading: Noah’s Ecology, Edible Forest Gardens, Gaia’s Garden. Mostly it is mentioned for one of two reasons. 1) The cute anecdote that the colonists used the leaves of NJT as a Tea substitute post Boston Tea Party… planting this shrub is Patriotic! 2) Hummingbirds apparently can’t pass it by-they capture some of the pollinators to feed their young. Cool. So it was going into the guilds already for its nativeness, tea-ness, and beneficial attracting-ness, but then came the coup de grâce…
this bugger is a nitrogen fixer
This plant just rocketed to my Top 5 along with Russian Comfrey, Goumi, Sunchokes, and Black Locust Trees. I bought 9.
Nodding Pink Onion
I have a few of these in my perennial beds, and I knew they were a native allium, but it took Edible Forest Garden’s freaky useful appendices to dial home that this native was a great onion substitute (can you call it a substitute if it is still an onion?) They might not bulb up like a Walla Walla, but they are perennial, can be divided annually, attract beneficials and emit enough chemical odors that they can mask more susceptible plants from pest pressure. I’m in for a half a flat.
some others that will be included: New England Aster
for a late season benifical attractant, Bergamot
(beneficals and more good tea), Leadplant
(N-Fixer), Alpine Strawberries
(edible ground cover), Indigo
(N-Fixer), and about a dozen other native perennials will be about 8′ away in a 500 sq ft prairie transplant bed as a beneficial insect haven to try to keep the Curculios off my apples.
Other plants that will be in attendance in force will be Russian Comfrey and Chives (both great nutrient accumulators). French Sorrel (great snacking green), some Dill, Miner’s Lettuce
, hardy kiwi, edible mushrooms breaking down the mulch, some clumping native grasses like Prairie Dropseed, and I plan on tucking in traditional annual veggies like peppers, tomatoes, etc to harness some of the wicked good soil.
I know I have given this alot of press lately, but I have eaten my nails down to nubs waiting for Edible landscaping to get me my trees and kiwi (3 week delay!!) and I have to burn the energy off somewhere: Mia is about ready to burn the Edible Forest books if I mention edible fungus or nitrogen fixers more than once an hour.
This week’s task will be finding a source for 5 yards of compost (I actually ran out and used all the City’s…oops this will probably come on a truck), tearing up the sod, finishing the irrigation swales, and sourcing 3 yards of wood chips. Like I said-I am going uber input to get it up and running!
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