At the place I'm living at/will be designing, there's already a lot of great trees established. Walnuts, chestnuts, apples, pears, plums. But some of these trees are isolated in a very stand-alone, no bennies around non-permaculture way.
As I think of good beneficial plants to add near them, I realize I'm grateful that there's not too many plants around them too! It's just so much easier to have flat ground to put a ladder on, or to collect nuts from. At the plum tree there was a swale built at one time. Of course that helps with water absorption, but what a pain in the arse for getting a ladder on solidly. (the slope is a little chaotic)
My question is this: what are some ways to have diverse plants and topography, but keep harvest of the fruit/nut trees a happy experience?
I've heard of putting chestnuts over road/parking areas, so that harvest is easy (so long as the nuts don't get driven over. )
And here we have one apple with the lovely lush groundcover of dandelion. I think that's nice. Easy for the ladder. But also multi-functionally dynamic accumulating, and medicinal herb. But it's just the apple and the dandelion, not a very diverse guild.
For things you intend to harvest off the ground, I would probably keep the area around their base relatively clear.
For things you will harvest off the trees you could throw in some buddies. I think the ladder problem would be solved if you had an orchard ladder. These have 3 points of contact with the ground instead of 4, making them better for uneven terrain. See the pic...
Also, be careful with limiting your airflow. If you already have problems with brown rot on the stone fruits or powdery mildew on the apples you might want to keep it more open so there is better airflow.
It seems like whatever you plant will probably need to be at least somewhat shade tolerant since you'll be putting it under mature trees. Bulbs might be a great option. Daffodils & tulips will come up in the spring before the trees have leaves. Also, consider interesting groundcovers like trailing raspberry, pennywort, or creeping comfrey (depending on your soil & moisture).
Principal - Terra Phoenix Design
If you could find some cheap used ladders you could level them with some strategically placed urbanite and make them permanent. Then interconnect them with some bamboo, then maybe put some other type of vining fruit up them.
I have let my grapes go up into my bamboo grove and they love it.
One solution for uneven ground under the trees (and ladders) might be to widen your catchment basins under the trees. Most people make theirs too small, when they should be about as wide as the dripline of the grown trees, not just a little 3ft-wide basin around the trunk.
Clover under the trees will help keep the weeds down, provide nitrogen, and shade the soil to prevent the drying effects of the sun and wind.
Run a flock of chickens under the trees to clean up windfalls and insects. A 50-ft roll of 3ft welded wire fencing could be unrolled around a selected tree to confine the chickens to clean up there. Then you could move it to another tree later, and roll it up and put it in the shed when not in use.
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