Sunday, May 8, 2011

Guilding My Gravenstein

My Gravenstein apple tree is going to bloom this year, for the fist time.  I'm very excited.  I'd be a lot more excited if the tree I got to pollinate it, my Liberty apple tree, were going to bloom also!  There's a chance that my Resi, which is also going to bloom for the first time, will bloom early enough to pollinate the Gravenstein.  But it'll be dicey.  Gravensteins are triploid, and so do not pollinate other trees.  So I won't get any Resi apples.  But it would be nice to at least get some Gravensteins.

Up until now I've just been mulching around my apple trees.  But I've decided it's time to get serious about making an apple guild. 

"Guild" is a permaculture term that means a group of plants, usually with a food-bearing tree in the middle, that support each other, providing for each other's needs.  They typically consist of some combination of nitrogen fixers (so you don't have to fertilize so much), deep-rooted nutrient accumulators (for bringing nutrients from deep in the soil up to where other plants, including the tree, can use them), insect attractors (for attracting pollinizing and pest-eating insects), mulch makers (than you can slash periodically for on-the-spot mulch, or that drop a lot of litter to act as mulch), and ground covers (to protect the soil from splashing rains and too much sun, and to suppress weeds).  Typically, some of the plants will be shrubs and some will be perennials.  There may even be a vine or two.  Annuals are usually avoided in a guild, unless they self-sow.

I'm just starting this guild, so it doesn't have everything it will eventually have.  For example, I'll want to put 4 or 5 berry bushes around the edges--maybe goosberries, currents, honey berries, or goumis (which are nitrogen fixers).  And I don't have any nitrogen fixers, but I bought a packet of sweet peas, which I'll plant to grow up the cheap-and-cheesy deer fence.

So here's what I got, and why I got it.

  • 2 artichoke plants.  I really like artichokes, so that's a good reason to grow them--although 2 plants isn't very many.  But artichoke plants are nice in a fruit-tree guild or a food forest because they have leafy growth that you can slash for mulching in place.  I'm not sure whether you can do this during the summer, or whether you need to wait until they die down at the end of the year.  That's the deer fencing in front of the plant.

  • I transplanted a couple sprouts from the black-eyed susan in my front yard.  I see all kinds of little bugs flitting around the ones in the front yard, so I'm sure they'll attract some that are beneficial.  And I've seen Red Admiral butterflies on them too, so that's another benefit.  And...I just like them (not everything has to be utilitarian!).  They will spread into a nice-sized clump. 

  • I planted a lemon thyme plant.  Just one, but it will spread--I think.  I know English thyme can spread quite a bit, but I expect this to be a little tamer.  Thyme is good because it's a ground cover, and it's a nice culinary herb.  But it's also aromatic, so it's possible it'll help repell some pests.  If not, that's OK.  It's a pretty little thing.

  • I planted 4 strawberry plants.  I don't know that they do much besides cover the ground.  But they do do that, and they are mighty tasty berries.  Again, 4 strawberry plants isn't a lot.  But there will be more in other apple-tree guilds.  It's good to mix up the plants rather than having all of one kind grouped together.

  • In the strawberry picture, you can see a parsley plant.  They're supposed to be good for attracting beneficial insects.
  • And finally, I planted 1 small lavendar plant.  I must be really strange because I really don't like the scent of lavendars.  But they are beautiful small bushes, and they probably attract beneficial insects. 

  • Oh, and I sprinkled some seeds from a wildflower mix. 
  • I'm toying with the idea of planting some nasturtiums around the outside of this--haven't decided yet.  But "nasties" are a pretty ground cover, and nice mulching plant, have edible leaves and flowers, and are really pretty.  So I'll probably add some.
That's it so far.  One of the goals of creating fruit-tree guilds and food forests (which is basically an expanded version of a guild), is to increase bio-diversity.   I've got a fairly good start here.  I'll add more next year (or maybe later this year, if I get impatient!).

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