The idea emerged in tropical environments; they develop naturally. Guilds … are plant communities around fruit trees/shrubs that create a synergy so that individual plants help and foster each other: plants help to fertilize and cover the ground, attract pollinators, repel pests and diseases, weed suppression, water management – all of which take work off our shoulders. In time guilds build up to complete fruit forests.
For example a guild can comprise: fruit tree + fruit bushes + vines + perennial vegetables + mushrooms – more fruit and vegetables and less work.
Pitfalls: to dense planting and/or to many plants per guild – impede access for harvest, enhances competition for sunlight. Plant not more than 5-10 plants.
Generally you put a sheet mulch first to suppress grass. Then you look at the soil and tree and figure out what they need and this is what you plant in your guild. Central fruit tree needs fertile soil, pollinators, pest protection. So you plant flowers (aster family) for pollination; then you plant nitrogen fixers (peas, beans, clover); and you plant dynamic assimilators (bring nutrients from the deep soil up): comphrey. Then you need mulch producers (comphrey, nasturtium). And beneficial predators (flowers).
Then you plant plants that are mending soil deficiencies: dense soil (dandelion, radishes).
Watch over the guild so it remains balanced and there is no one taking over.
Take care in planting that you not plant too dense, respect the adult sizes and requirements of the various plants. Plant all guild members all at once to establish the biodiversity immediately. Plant cover crops to fill gaps.
Plants to avoid: mint, mugwort (they drain away water and are too invasive).
There are also difficult trees, like walnuts – they exude growth suppressors for other plants: go out and look in nature what kinds of plants grow under these trees; then plant individual of these families. Mulberry trees buffer the effect of Walnuts.
The need for irrigation comes with monoculture. In the times where we were getting our food from the nature by foraging there was no irrigation because there were only guilds and food forests; since we plant immediately around our dwellings, we cut the trees to free land for agriculture and by this we destroyed natural water management – thus the need for irrigation.
How did Tomatoes survive without human intervention for all these thousands of years? Water sensitive plants typically grow in riparian areas, oases and under trees.
Sepp Holzer established Hügelkultur in Spain and learned that little irrigation induces roots to go deep – much irrigation and plants stop grow tap roots. Other examples are Geoff Lawton in Jordan, Willie Smits in Borneo and Mollison in Australia, Owen Hablutzel at Whirlwind farm, NM.
All these projects show that the need for irrigation is inverse proportional to the amount of organic matter in the soil: the more organic matter the less need for irrigation.
Ok. how do we do this? Here is the list of tools: Hügelkultur, Polyculture, Trees, Mulch, raise humidity for morning odw, keyline, terraces, reduce wind, swales, less transplanting/more seed starting, taprooted species, paddock shift grazing, dew ponds, stacked rocks, edges, shade.
Hügelkultur is nothing more than agriculture on wood. They are too fast degraded in hot/tropical areas: 30 years in cold climates versus 8 years in hot climates. Biochar is a far superior technology for tropical areas. The point here in regards for irrigation is: that both Hüglelkultur and Biochar introduce/create lots of organic matter into the ground which is the best agent to hold water in the soil.
Poly-culture and trees takes advantage of planting a variety of plants; especially tap-rooted plants (trees) that take water and nutrients from the deep to the upper soil levels where food plants grow. For example an oak tree finds water 40 ft down; it excess of water helps the oak tree to execrate it’s exudate which are very rich in water and nutrients and minerals. Huge root systems foster mycellium which fosters exchange of exudate and with it water (increase by a factor of 10).
Morning dew is greatly increased by the installation of a fountain inside the garden. And there will be more frogs and other life forms that are natural predators of vegetable pests. Swales and terraces do the same job.
Taproots are super important because they go really deep into the ground. Taproots are only available if you do not transplant plants but grow them from seeds – every time you transplant you lose the taproots.
Paddock shift grazing: land is subdivided into separate paddocks where animals take shits in grazing: the cows start, then come the chicken and then there is a brake where all vegetation explodes before the cows come back.
Dewponds can be started with a cave structure (or any other) where water condenses and forms a puddle which eventually will enlarge into a pond, where the water is always a little cooler than the soil to condense more water.
It is also a good idea to create water retention basins along the key lines to retain water mechanically instead of its flowing away by gravity.
8 principals for welcoming rain: use all 8
First observe where and how and how much rain is falling; and see where the water flows and what it does flowing and infiltrating.
Then you start at the top and move downstream with gravity (swales); in tackling small volumes high up, you minimize the large volumes at the lower parts. It is of course good to already infiltrate the water at the top.
« Make it small and simple » makes it easier to really start and to have decentralized, small structures, that cause not much damage when they fail and they are never expensive. So you start with small found rock dams and not with huge underground tanks – anyway the groundwater table is the best water tank. Plants help infiltration very well especially plants with deep taproots.
Then you « slow it, spread it, sink it »; infiltration is best when water flows slowly and over large surfaces than though channels and pipes.
Always plan for a overflow route: what if the rain barrel overflows? Overflow pipe needs the same diameter than the inflow pipe! And of course each rainwater capture tank needs to be in the shade, so you can keep what you harvest.
Maximize the beneficial relationships and efficiency by stacking functions. We always favor living systems than static or mechanic systems only, like plants and swales and channels and infiltration ponds. Stacking functions refers also to our creativity to use water tanks as a support or column for a porch structure, or as a thermal mass in a greenhouse (waterwall on the north wall), or as wind breaks for more delicate plants.
Look for feedback loops and reassess continuously. Especially to find out why things you did, did not do so well.
Mulching, deep and 101
by Jill Winger from The Prairie Homestead
- Less watering (60% less)
- Acts as a weed barrier
- Reduces soil compaction
- Increases organic matter
- Less work and time required
Here is how you do it:
- Prepare your garden: composting etc.
- Spread a layer of 8″ to 10″ of hay
- The hay settles to some inches of thickness
- Plant seedlings in holes you make into the hay
- When the seedlings are strong, pull the hay close to the stem
Each year you add another layer of hay because the former layer has been composted.
The types of mulches:
Hay is inexpensive and ubiquitous as is straw. Grass clippings and leafs need to be dried before application, otherwise they create a compact impermeable layer; and you need industrial quantities if you want to make a 8″ to 10″ thick layer.
Wood chips (if it is ligneous wood) and sawdust have two caveats: never till them into the soil because they prevent seeds from germinating; and their decomposition may use all the nitrogen available – which will be missing for the plants to grow later.
Plastic or fabric does not decompose and is produced of mineral oil – ouasch!
The quantity you need is a minimum of 25 bales of hay or straw (about 50lbs each) for a 50’x50’plot; or 1/2 t of loose hay.With the layout allow much space in between the planted rows.
The results are spectacular because the micro-organism life is proliferate and there are no weeds sucking away the nutrients.
What about weeds in the straw/hay?
No issue as long as you make your mulch layer thick enough.
Do i plant in the mulch?
No, directly in the dirt through holes in the mulch.
Do i till in the hay in autumn?
No, let it decompose naturally.