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3 simple steps to start a fruit tree guild

 
gardener
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Coming up with a guild for your fruit trees is a core part of permaculture and can really help your fruit trees thrive. Really, a food forest is just a collection of fruit tree guilds that together mimic the connections that happen naturally in a forest.

But coming up with a complete guild for your fruit trees can be challenging. Especially, if you’re fairly new to planting in this way. Plus, if you don’t have your own propagation setup it can also be a bit expensive—even if you’re growing most of the plants by direct seeding.

Luckily, you don’t have to start with a complete guild—you can’t start with a few simple steps that you can then build on as you make more observations and learn about more plants.

This week’s blog post — 3 Steps to Start a Fruit Tree Guild – covers 3 steps that will get your fruit trees off to a great start.

The 3 steps recommend (and covered in detail) in the blog post are:

1. Mulch the ground around your fruit tree.
2. Plant nitrogen fixing plants.
3. Control pests by planting flowering plants and adding rock/log piles.

You might notice that starting a fruit tree guild does not just mean planting more plants. Let’s dive into why I think you shouldn’t focus only on plants when coming up with a fruit tree guild.

Moving the Fruit Tree Guild Beyond Just Plants



In Toby Hemenway’s book Gaia’s Garden, he states that plant guilds:

form healthy, interacting networks that reduce the gardener’s labor, yield abundant gifts for people and wildlife, and help the environment by restoring nature’s cycles.



But this doesn’t need to be limited to only plants. Most trees and shrubs form connections with fungi in the soil—these fungi can help your fruit tree get access to nutrients and water.

This is why mulching the entire area around your fruit tree is the first thing I recommend for starting a fruit tree guild. The result is that right from the beginning your fruit tree guild will include all sorts of beneficial fungi.

I also recommend adding rock and log piles in addition to flowers around your fruit trees. The reason is that these habitat features provide places for predators that will eat the pests that try to go after your fruit trees.

By adding these habitat features plus the flowers you’re essentially adding a wide range of predators to your guild—critters such as ground beetles, frogs, salamanders, and centipedes.

Of course you can also help your fruit tree grow quicker by planting nitrogen fixing plants around it. Combined with the other 2 steps that wraps up the 3 simple steps you can take to start a fruit tree guild.

Creating a Foundation to Build on



When you start with mulch, nitrogen fixing plants, flowers, and rock/log piles you create a foundation that you can easily build on.

It’s easy to add to this starting fruit tree guild by planting some edible shrubs—gooseberries are a great option but I’m also a fan of hazelnuts—perhaps some ground covers like strawberries, and some perennial vegetables like Good-King Henry or kosmic kale. Bulbs like daffodils are always a good option to add!

But you don’t have to start with all those plants. Just start with the 3 steps covered in the blog post and you will be off to a great start.

So what is your favorite plant to have as part of your fruit tree guilds? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to check out the blog post which covers these 3 steps in much more detail.

While you are over on the blog most make sure to leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.

Thank you!
 
pollinator
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Just posted on the blog. I love the synopsis. Really in-depth. I don't think there's a part you left out, or even skimmed much.

Thanks, Daron!

-CK
Staff note (Daron Williams):

Thanks for the comment on the blog! You were the first--pie for you!

 
pollinator
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Daron Williams wrote:
Coming up with a guild for your fruit trees is a core part of permaculture and can really help your fruit trees thrive. Really, a food forest is just a collection of fruit tree guilds that together mimic the connections that happen naturally in a forest.
The 3 steps recommend (and covered in detail) in the blog post are:

1. Mulch the ground around your fruit tree.
2. Plant nitrogen fixing plants.
3. Control pests by planting flowering plants and adding rock/log piles.



So far, I've got the mulch part in an orchard with lots of apple trees, a couple of cherry trees and mulberry bushes/ trees, aronias and blueberries. I'm planning to uproot a few comfrey plants [because that is what I have] out of the garden and make cuttings  and place them around each tree. I'd like to add hazelnuts: The wild ones grow like crazy here but they end up wormy and they are not big. The apple trees are planted in rows  about 20 ft apart. I may be able to pant them closer, or perhaps put rows of bushes. and I will have to fence the whole thing because the deer, who are notoriously absent during the deer season still manage to nip a lot of the new growth in the spring. And I don't need to tell you what they will do to the comfrey!
So, I've got the mulch covered (ha ha-could not resist). Rocks? Well, not unless I import: We are in sands, so, no go on rocks. For logs, I sure have: Lots and lots of oak trees dying of the wilt. Would my fruit trees be safe surrounded by logs like that?
I can get the chickens loose in the orchards once they are fenced at least for a few hours in the afternoon, after they have laid their eggs. I'm worried about what they too will do to the comfrey: So far. I've clipped it for them and it disappears in minutes. They love scattering the mulch too. The apple trees are mostly semi-dwarf, every 20 ft or thereabout, which limits what I can put under  them, but I would love to have more of a *forest* that I would not have to mow, so I'm very interested in this thread.
I will be avidly looking at the plants you suggest for apple guilds in zone 4.
 
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Location: Alpine, Texas: 5,400 ft elev, desert grassland foothills
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Hooray for this idea!  I want to get started but I first have to find the right species:  Does anyone from a desert environment have successful recommendations for fruit and nut trees?  (West Texas, mile high, Chihuahuan desert: Very low precipitation, high summer heat, late summer intense rains, variable inconsistent freezes in winter...... AND getting hotter, more susceptible to polar-vortex deep freezes but again not dependable, and fewer but faster more flashy rainstorms with ongoing & worsening climate change.)  Traditional nut farming around here is pecans but they are flood irrigated which is very water-wasteful and unsustainable for our shrinking aquifers.  Also I don't love pecans.

Related question:  I could site my guild near my septic field OR my greywater leach field (all subsurface... no ponds).  My land has a slope to it... how far from these leach fields and in what direction would be best for the fruit trees?
 
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Author Message
Jessie Kelsch

Hooray for this idea!  I want to get started but I first have to find the right species:  Does anyone from a desert environment have successful recommendations for fruit and nut trees?  (West Texas, mile high, Chihuahuan desert: Very low precipitation, high summer heat, late summer intense rains, variable inconsistent freezes in winter...... AND getting hotter, more susceptible to polar-vortex deep freezes but again not dependable, and fewer but faster more flashy rainstorms with ongoing & worsening climate change.)  Traditional nut farming around here is pecans but they are flood irrigated which is very water-wasteful and unsustainable for our shrinking aquifers.  Also I don't love pecans.  



I am not American so I'm not sure about the exact geographical relevance to your area, but Brad Lancaster has some success in Tucson, and I'm linking a YouTube video for you.




 
Daron Williams
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Chris – Thank you! Really appreciate it!

Cécile – I think logs are a great option. They shouldn’t cause any problems—the things that eat/decompose dead wood tend to be different than the pests/disease that bother living wood. Potentially, rodents could be an issue but I find creating habitat features like log piles also encourages the predators that eat the rodents. Thanks for the comment and good luck!

Jessie – Desert environment… I’m afraid I’m not a good source of info for your environment. I have never lived in that sort of climate. Hopefully others can help!

You should check out the permies forum for people living in Oklahoma and Texas: https://permies.com/f/215/oklahoma-texas

You might be able to get some more specific help there and there might be some good existing threads with the information you’re looking for.

Guida – Thanks for sharing! Brad Lancaster does have a lot of great ideas and information. I highly recommend people living in a dry area look up his books and online information.
 
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