In permaculture, fruit tree guilds are a way of creating a miniature sustainable ecosystem in your yard. Instead of sticking a fruit tree in the ground in the middle of a field and watering and fertilizing and spraying it conventionally, a guild is humans mimicking nature’s way of doing these things.
After all, in natural settings, trees are fruitful and successful without any of the deer having to run over to the Co-op to buy fertilizer–not that I have seen.
We create a mini-natural ecosystem in our backyards by observing what happens in nature and copying it. This way we can benefit from the low-tech, low-effort, self-perpetuating natural processes in our own yards.
In the following example, my plum guild, I truly mean MINI. Guilds can get huge, and become actual edible forests, but I live in the suburbs and I am starting small.
The tree was planted last fall, so I dug out a trench around the existing tree, but this can be done at the time of planting.
The tree or shrub
This can be anything you want to have in your yard: fruit or nut tree or shrub. Just like nature, though, select something that does well in your region. In this case I selected a Chickasaw plum, which is native to my state and region and is known for being adaptable and disease-resistant. The fruit is tart and tasty. It can also take dappled light, although it prefers full sun.
Insect Nectary Plants
These are blooming plants which attract beneficial pollinators and other beneficial insects. I planted yarrow (achillea millefolia), which is a terrific companion plant I grow throughout my vegetable garden. It attracts butterflies, predatory wasps, and ladybugs, among others, and repels ants, flies, and mosquitoes. (It makes a good insect repellent when tinctured). I also planted daffodil bulbs around the plum tree. In addition to their blooms, they are known to repel voles and so protect the baby plum tree root system.
These are elements that improve the tilth of the soil around the plant and add nutrition to the soil for the plant to thrive. I chose comfrey, a medicinal perennial that puts down deep roots to break up the clay and mines trace minerals from deep in the soil. It also has a nice bloom that attracts pollinators and looks pretty. The large leaves shade the soil, prevent weeds, and can be cut down a couple of times a year and left around the tree to fertilize the soil with all those good minerals that the deep roots sucked up. Comfrey roots easily from small pieces of root dug up from existing plants. I just ringed the tree with these chunks of root and they will sprout and come up later this year.
I put down some shredded bark from Mulch Mountain II (no longer PU!) to help keep the weeds down and keep a buffer zone around the tree for the lawn mower. The guild will grow up as the tree grows, spreading and maturing, and making friends with the chickens. I’m gradually guilding my other fruit trees, too. I’ll report on their progress as it goes.
P.S. The tomato cage isn’t a part of permaculture design. It’s because the tree is a little too close to the basketball goal.