"All the world's a stage we pass through." - R. Ayana

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Permaculture Companions: Grow a Permanent, Self-Renewing Food Source

Permaculture Companions
Grow a Permanent, Self-Renewing Food Source

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Six Benefits of Guild Planting

Anyone who has had even a little exposure to the ideas and techniques within permaculture is likely to have heard the phrase ‘guild planting’. Also known as companion planting, this is the system by which species of plants are grouped together in certain locations to provide mutual benefits to the group as a whole. They are akin to webs, with each strand of the web on its own weaker than when all the strands work together. Guilds can be instituted in time – with plants growing and maturing together – and over time – by planting successive crops in the one location. Effective guild planting also means that you avoid its inverse – plating species next to each other that may have a detrimental effect on one another.

Guilds are typically instituted around a central plant, most often a fruit tree. The plants located around the tree offer it benefits and receive others in return, including shade and protection from wind. Guilds also include animals, both wild and livestock, as they can help influence growing outcomes as well.


Guild planting is one of the most effective ways to use the available productive space in the garden. This is because by planting species next to others that can provide at least some of the inputs they require, you can locate them closer together. For instance, stacking is a common feature of guilds – the planting a taller growing species beside more low-lying plants, providing those latter plants with shade or support. Common stacking combinations include planting lettuce and cucumber in the shade of sunflowers, and allowing beans to use corn stalks as trellises.


The other means of maximizing space with guilds is to plants species next to one another that mature at different rates, meaning that those that develop more quickly afford the slower-growing specimens shade. This means you can harvest crops at different times, giving you produce across the growing season. You could also plant species next to one another whose crops grow at different levels, making harvesting easier.

Furthermore, often in guilds, plants that grow well together also taste good together, so you can harvest some of both species at the same time for use in the same dish. For instance, dill hosts a predatory wasp that keep down pest populations that attack apples, so it beneficial if planted nearby, while also tasting great with the cooked fruit.


Guild planting can also help you ensure that good levels of the nutrients all plants need are in the soil and available to the roots, especially nitrogen. The family of plants known as legumes, which includes peas and beans, has a symbiotic relationship with a certain bacteria in the soil that allows them to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the atmosphere on their roots. This nitrogen also helps plants nearby to grow strong and healthy. Beans planted with plants of the cabbage family (such as lettuce, cucumber and parsley) helps these spices, which do not have the nitrogen-fixing ability, helps them thrive. Acacias planted near to fruit trees are another example of a guild that boosts nitrogen uptake.

An example of a guild working through time to improve nitrogen levels in the soil, is if you are trying to revitalize a piece of poor quality soil, perhaps one that has been used in intensive agriculture. When damaged bare soil is left exposed, the first plants that will colonize it are weeds such as white clover and dandelion. The former can fix nitrogen, while the latter has deep roots that break up the soil and access nitrogen and other nutrients lying further down in the soil profile. Allowing the weeds to grow helps bring nitrogen levels up towards the surface. You can then slash and mulch the weeds so that the nutrients are retained in the soil for you first crop planting to access.


Guild planting can also provide other nutrients, in the shape of organic matter that serves as natural mulch. For instance, sweet potato acts as living mulch, crowding out weed species that then rot into the soil as it grows, while other plants, such as poplar, shed organic material that then serves as mulch as it lies on the ground.


Guilds are also beneficial in protecting species from potential pest problems. Certain species can be planted next to vulnerable specimens to confuse or repel pest insects, using scents or chemicals to confuse insects or strengthen other species against attack. For instance, mature basil plants release a chemical that repels insects that are attracted to tomatoes and apricot trees, so should be planted as part of a guild that includes those species, while marigolds have a scent that repels the White Fly that can attack food crops.

Table Top of Pumpkins and Squash
There are other methods by which guild planting can deter pests. A diverse canopy of foliage can confuse pests, such as planting pumpkins and squash alongside corn, while shapes can also confuse insects and attract them to species that are less susceptible to damage. For instance, if moths are a problem in terms of attacking you cabbage, planting collards nearby can help draw some of the moths away from the more vulnerable cabbages.

In terms of a guild’s inter-relationship with animals that keep pest populations under control, providing sufficient canopy cover for nesting birds will attract insectivorous species, while allowing livestock such as chickens to forage will help keep slug and snail populations down.


It is not only from pests that guild planting can offer protection; it can also serve to modify weather conditions to help sensitive plants species. The most obvious one is that taller plants, such as your central fruit tree, offer those underneath it shade. The tree also helps to disperse rainfall so that the moisture falls over a wider area and does not cause soil erosion. Hardy tress and grasses, such as cane grasses, can be planted to act as windbreaks, protecting other species from the potential damage strong winds can do, as well as limiting evaporation of moisture from the soil.

Seven Typical Components of a Guild

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Guilds really are great. These interconnected systems of plants and animals are clear demonstrations of how nature achieves balance and harmony. Taking their cue from natural ecosystems such as forests, guild planting seeks to recreate the beneficial links between organisms by planting species that will aid one another close together. The resultant guild will also form relationships with insects and other organisms to create a thriving ecosystem.


Within a guild there are those plants that feed us, by producing edible crops. As in all permaculture practice, planting a guild should have the aim of maximizing biodiversity and so expanding the range of foodstuffs grown. Most guilds are organized around the central species of a fruit tree. Around the tree, the gardener should be able to cultivate a wide variety of edible plants, including fruits, herbs, vegetables and legumes. The guilds interaction with animals can also provide a source of food, such as bees visiting blossoms in the guild, or livestock foraging fallen fruit. It is also worth noting that often plants that grow well together taste good together as well, making harvesting for a meal easy.


Fixers refer to the plants in a guild that help to make nutrients in the soil available to all the plants in that guild. Chief among these nutrients is nitrogen. Second only to water in importance to healthy plant growth, nitrogen is a primary component in plant proteins and in chlorophyll, which the plants use to photosynthesize. Certain plants are able ‘fix’ nitrogen in the soil, by interacting with a certain soil bacteria to hold nitrogen on their root nodules. From there the plant itself uses the element, but some is also released into the soil from where other species can access it. Legumes are the order of plants best suited to fixing nitrogen in the soil, so planting beans, peas, nuts and leguminous trees such as tamarind and acacia as part of your guild will ensure good nitrogen levels in the surrounding soil.

Guild plants can also add to the nutrient load in the soil with their fallen leaves and other mater that falls from them onto the ground. In nature, this provides compost, and the permaculture gardener can mimic nature by simply leaving such material to reap the nutritional benefits. As the matter breaks down it adds all the nutrients that where in the organic matter to the soil from where plants can use them to grow. In this respect, you could also classify microorganisms in the soil as fixers, as they break down the organic matter within it and release the nutrients.


Certain species of plant can be used in a guild for the benefits that their deep rooting systems bring to the guild as a whole. Plants that send down deep roots – such as trees, yams and potatoes – help to improve the structure of the soil, providing pore spaces into which air can flow and water can percolate. They also reach deep into the ground in the search for nutrients and minerals that they bring to the surface where shallower-rooting plants and microorganisms in the topsoil can access them. In fact, some of the microorganisms in the soil could themselves be considered rooters, as earthworms, beetles and other insects help to keep the soil soft and well structured by burrowing through it.


Cover crops are plants that are low-lying and spread out to shield the soil. Sweet potato and pumpkins are examples of cover crops that can be utilized in a guild. By covering the soil, these types of plant protect the soil from the sun, limiting moisture evaporation and preventing weeds from getting the level of sunshine they need to photosynthesize. They also help protect the topsoil from erosion by wind and rain. Cover crops can also be useful to prepare a site prior to planting a guild system. The cover crop will help improve the soil while it is growing, then can be slashed and left to rot as part of mulch. The subsequent guild plants will then be able to access the nutrients provided by the cover crop.


While some plants thrive lying low to the ground, others climb upwards in order to grow. Climbers are typified by slender stems and branches and thus smaller crops items. Beans, cucumbers and passion fruit are examples of climbers. They can be particularly useful in increasing diversity and yield from a small space.


If you have climbers in your guild, you’ll need something for them to climb up. That’s where the supporters come in. With thicker stems, trunks and branches than climbers, they provide the solid base on which the climbers can grow. In nature, trees, bushes and tall string plants like sunflowers would be classified as supporters. The permaculture can use these types of plants in a guild, but may also wish to use non-living things, such as trellises, fences, the sides of buildings and garden walls as well. Some climbers can overwhelm some supporters; so plan ahead when pairing the two.


Cover crop,soil There are a lot of different types of organism that can play a protecting role in a guild. Some plants can be used to repel or confuse insects that may attack other plants in the system. Certain species may also be used to deter grazers such as deer. Insects themselves can be beneficial to the guild by predating on pest species, while other animals such as birds, lizards and frogs, and livestock such as chickens and ducks, can perform a similar function.

It is certainly true that each species is not limited to a single role within this framework. Fruit trees, for instance, the specimen at the centre of the guild could be considered a feeder, a rooter and a supporter. It can also be a fixer if its fallen leaves remain on the ground. This is a characteristic that guild planting takes from natural ecosystems and dovetails with the permaculture principle of maximizing the functions of any single element on the plot.

From the Open Permaculture Course @ https://www.openpermaculture.com/magazine/six-benefits-guild-planting and https://www.openpermaculture.com/magazine/seven-typical-components-guild

For more information about permaculture see http://nexusilluminati.blogspot.com/search/label/permaculture   
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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this great article! I would stick to shrooms unless you absolutely know the chemist!


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