Once you have built a healthy layer of topsoil, wait a while (like months) while the materials break down and the heat isn’t so intense as to devour the roots of early-plantings. Guild-building is a long project for forward-thinkers. It can be frustrating in that folks who visit our backyard experiment often give us perplexed looks, seeing mostly circular raised beds dotting the landscape. “Give it a year,” I tell them.
We began our guilds in June, but this week we will begin planting bulbs for spring. The bulbs sit higher in the soil and won’t be heavily impacted by the heat rising up from the composting manure. [If you've never stuck your hand in composting manure, (and you probably haven't) it's HOT. When sifting through manure to remove larger rocks, the rocks would surprise us with their heat. I dropped one it was so warm. Like a hot potato (covered in poo).]
I digress… The bulbs are nice because they’ll give you something to enjoy next spring. Beautiful large blooms to squelch any unwarranted criticism from family and friends. AND they double as grass-suppressors, hopefully they’re edible or maybe they deter ground-rodents and deer. The other important element of a fruit-centered guild is that whatever you choose to plant, the roots and functions must be considered carefully.
The roots of a fruit tree extend out one and a half times the diameter of the tree. If you are planting an apple tree, consider the size of the tree once it reaches maturity and adjust your guild-size accordingly (you can always add on later, if necessary). As mentioned earlier, what to plant within your guild depends a lot on the roots and functions of the plants you wish to include within your guild. There are many kinds of bulbs available, but which bulbs offer the most functionality within the guild? Consider:
- which insects/animals these plants attract or deter
- whether or not any part of the plant is edible
- the plant’s vigor and whether or not it will spread
- pH requirements
- the type of root system and where it falls relative to the fruit tree
- when the plant takes in the most nutrients/water
- how and where the plant stores nutrients
- yields and value to humans, medicinal value, environmental impact/value
A dandelion, for example offers a deep taproot that won’t “compete” for nutrients from the tree; it breaks open and oxygenates the soil; it has edible and medicinal roots and leaves and it absorbs a higher level of CO2. Comfrey also has a deep taproot, enormous medicinal value, and stores a high concentration of nutrients in its leaves, so it can be mulched in place and makes a terrific fertilizer. Daffodils are grass-suppressors (they keep the grass roots away from our beloved tree roots); they take in the majority of nutrients in the spring (before the tree); and they deter deer and rodents, but attract beneficial insects to our guilds.
These are just some examples. We’ll talk more about the specific plantings later in our third installment. For now, start thinking about roots and plant functions. Think about the sort of things you would like to grow and research their various functions. Also consider nearby trees. Some trees, like the black walnut, are allopathic to neighboring trees and will deter healthy growth.
Keep in mind, I’m not an expert in permaculture, I’m a student. There’s a lot to learn and as the old adage goes, if you’re not killing some of your plants, you’re probably not learning anything new.
In healing we may teach others and in teaching, we may heal.