Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New project: an apple guild!

I have a new project, a really BIG project: building an apple guild!

3 years ago someone gave me an apple seedling (unknown variety) from his grandfather's old tree. It is now about 5 feet tall. I've been reading up on "guilds" since watching the A Farm for the Future videos and reading about the forest farming concepts.

To me, a guild is like companion planting that has advanced to college level. Generally, guilds are perennial with a fruit or nut tree at the center, and collectively everything around it provides for the needs of all the things planted in the group, in as many ways as possible so it becomes self-sustaining. Each "guild" needs 5 things: Nitrogen, Nutrients, Mulch, Pollination, and Protectors from competition and pests. 

There are other guilds possible, too. I found Bee Guilds (perennial), and annual Bean Guilds, Strawberry Guilds and Tomato Guilds on the internet. The annual guilds are basically heavy companion planting rather than concentrating on a self-sustaining circle of plants and trees.

So for my apple guild, I'll need a thick ring of "protectors"  just barely outside the eventual drip line to keep grass from encroaching and also deter pests; those will probably be daffodil bulbs in the beginning since mine need dividing. I don't have enough for the entire perimeter and will hopefully buy more bulbs in the fall.

Inside the 'protector ring' will be another ring spotted with a few comfrey plants and maybe a couple of artichokes just inside the daffs; they will mine nutrients with their deep roots, plus provide nutrient-laden mulch by cutting the comfrey back several times over the summer and letting the leaves litter the ground. Planted among (as well as just inside) the comfrey will be some bird and insect-attractors like dill, fennel and bee balm (monarda).... and some nutrient accumulators like yarrow, borage, chives and lemon balm. Also interspersed will be some annual vegetable plants like beans, peas and squash.

Next in and closer to the tree will be some ground covers like strawberries and red clover (a nitrogen fixer), and maybe some plants that can take a bit of foot traffic, like thyme. Right close to the trunk will be more "protector" bulbs to deter pests that might gnaw the trunk, or climb for fruit. (The shallow roots of ground covers and bulbs will not interfere with the root system of the apple tree.)

Apple tree I have to build a guild around. As you can see, lots of hard work to do!
I will have a post with photos of how it's changing in a few days. It will be a 'work in progress' for several years to get it all established, and as I add more fruit and nut trees to the yard, I plan to make them all into guilds as well.

Two good books on the subject:
Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops
Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture


  1. Well.. apples have some crazy genetics. You may want to consider also getting a known variety to hedge your investment in time as well as provide a potentially needed pollinator. Many fruit trees are like this with their genetics. If space and time is limited, go for a known strain (which will be a grafted tree as cloning is the only way to propagate them to get the same qualities.)

    We have some experiments going at the farm courtesy of the deer. Absolutely no idea what they will offer.. but they survived the weather and the bugs.. now we might see how the fruit is this fall on a couple of them. We planted 6 known varieties as well. No idea what the old orchard apples are as they were planted over 100 years ago. Chances are 1 out of several thousand that it is a palatable apple from the experiment trees.

  2. Oh, I agree completely about an unknown apple, pollinators, etc.

    However, this is more about learning to build a good guild and seeing how it functions over time. The apple tree itself is unimportant and can always be replaced with a fruiting tree I'd rather have anyway.


I'd love to hear what you think about my posts! We all learn together.