Once we have allowed for ample decomposition and the accumulation of multiple nitrogen/carbon-rich layers of biomass along with a healthy number of lively microbes, planting may begin. Really, what you plant within your guilds is completely up to you, but there are some general guidelines to consider and you may go as deep into these as you’d like. Permaculture can be quite the scientific endeavor, but it need not be overly complicated in your first attempt. Grow and learn with your guilds.
If you’re planting a fruit-centered guild, think of the tree as your centerpiece. Everything around the tree should compliment the tree. I don’t mean aesthetically, though it will naturally assume a beautiful pattern all its own, but rather compliment in the sense that those things growing around the tree either work with the tree or do not interfere with the tree during major growth cycles.
Cat mint works to attract beneficial bees and insects; comfrey accumulates nutrients and mines for water from deep within the soil and offers medicinal value to humans; grass-suppressing bulbs act as a deterrent for deer and other scavengers while attracting beneficials while the tree is blossoming. One of the most important things these plants share in common is their lack of competition at root level with the fruit-tree. Another is that they supply a food or medicinal source for humans and none of them require much upkeep other than the occasional watering.
In certain cases, there is a very specific and “magical” relationship between plants. Blueberry roots feed off of a specific microbe found in the rhizomes of certain members of the Rhododendron family. Since both of these prefer a lower pH, blueberries and azaleas, for example, may be planted side by side and will establish a harmony all their own over time.
A tree that takes in more nitrogen, might do well with N2-fixing plants such as clover or wild blue indigo. Our mulberry guilds will contain some of these lovely blue accents to benefit the tree, offer some diversity in the guilds and attract insects. The mulberry itself is an excellent food source for both birds and humans and will keep birds interested in the mulberries over your apples or cherries.
I’ll suggest some specific plantings in a future installment. Email/comment with questions.