Guilding the Plum

by Daisy on 04/07/2014

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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.

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Elements:

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.

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Soil Conditioners/Fertilizers

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.

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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.

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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.



{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie April 9, 2014 at 7:11 am

Do you have any concerns about the yarrow and comfrey spreading all over the rest of your yard? I really appreciate you sharing this!

Cynthia April 9, 2014 at 8:07 am

I was wondering about the use of yarrow. It is very invasive, how do you control it in your guild so that it doesn’t become a problem?

Caitlin | The Siren's Tale April 9, 2014 at 8:30 am

I love reading about permaculture! It’s always so interesting to see companion planting and ways to build mini eco-systems. I hope the plum trees grow beautifully and deliciously!

Holly April 9, 2014 at 9:09 am

Just started an online permaculture design certificate course with Geoff Lawton. He has a slew of free videos at his website (down for a while, but will be back up soon). Inspiring and informative. Lots of vids on Youtube as well, by any number of authors. Hope lots of people read about permaculture and adopt the ethic underlying it: Care of People, Care of Planet, Share the surplus! Good for personal resilience and food security….

Nancy from Chickasaw Country April 9, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Chickasaw plums grow wild here. They make the best tasting and most beautiful jelly. The color is fantastic. I juice my plums and then freeze the juice for jelly making. I love to do it for Christmas presents. This is my “most favorite” jelly. Enjoy!

Daisy April 9, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Cynthia–I haven’t had too much of a problem with it in my veg beds. I can always divide it up and move or give it away.

Daisy April 9, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Julie–My comfrey is the noninvasive type and the yarrow is pretty well behaved. I let it go up to a point then divide it.

Helen April 26, 2014 at 7:14 am

What’s the best way to find out what plants to “guild” with for a particular tree if you don’t have time to take courses?

Daisy April 26, 2014 at 9:00 am

Helen–Here’s a good table: http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/companion-planting/companion-planting-table/
You can find other similar lists by searching for your particular tree plus “permaculture guild” or words to that effect. Good luck!

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