Permaculture Fruit Tree Guilds
Let’s revisit permaculture fruit tree guilds, for an apple tree specifically. What is a guild? A guild is a neighborhood of plants that work together to support the main fruiting tree. We strive to include nutrient accumulators, mulchers, a nitrogen fixer, weed suppressors, beneficial insect attractors and bad insect repellers. Often this style of gardening is called companion or polyculture planting.
Want to know what to plant around your fruiting tree? Check out page 160 of my book The Sustainable Homestead for guild “recipes” for loads of different fruit tree varieties.
Phenology and Crocuses
“When crocuses bloom, plant out chard, kale, lettuce, peas, and spinach.”
Phenology is the study of patterns and cues in nature with regards to plants, animals and insects. These cycles were what marked planting times before seed packets and weather forecasts. You can get truly local, microclimate-specific planting guides by watching what’s blooming in your own yard and learning what to plant. As the season progresses, I’ll share phenology timelines I follow. I’m thinking this will be my next book. 😉
If you're itching to get in the garden sooner than later, a hoop house can be a great way to cure that cabin fever. In this video I'm:
- Sharing why to grow in a hoop house/grow tunnel
- Prepping the site by weeding
- Removing last year's growth in a way that maintains the soil-food web
- Moistening the beds with duck water
- Sharing 2 spices you already have on-hand in your kitchen to get rid of hibernating mice, voles, ants and other garden pests
It's garden planning season! How do you know how much food to grow for canning? Well, there’s no straight answer because there’s too many variables. While canning recipes are consistent, plant yield is based on crop variety, season length, weather, soil type and quality and soil inputs. We also need to account for family consumption rate, ages, number of family members, etc.
But what we *can* do (no pun intended) to determine how much to grow is start by evaluating what you make for meals in an average week:
1. How often do you buy specific canned goods/ingredients?
2. From there, determine how many canned goods of a certain type you need.
3. Next we look at how many pieces of produce (on average) go into your desired can size.
4. Research crop variety average yields.
5. If we know how much food we need, we can better determine how many plants we need.
Here’s my calculations for what my family of four eats based on the following common items. Yours will look different and this is just an example.
Stats: 13 pounds are needed per canner load of 9 pints / 3 Tomatoes per pound /39 tomatoes in 9 pints / 4.3 tomatoes per pint / 1 plant can yield 20 tomatoes (average) / 104 pints needed
448 tomatoes needed
23 plants for preservation
+ fresh eating
= 35 PLANTS
Stats: 175g (6oz) black beans in pint / 1 pint per week / 52 pints per year
175x52 = 9100g per year
Plant yield highly variable, can’t estimate weight so go by average plants per person
20 plants per person for a year
= 80 PLANTS
Stats: 28 medium apples = 9 pints / 10 pints for the year / 280 apples
125 apples per bushel, on average
I need 2 bushels for canning + fresh eating + donation
Single semi dwarf apple tree produces up to 500 apples in a season
= 1 SEMI-DWARF APPLE TREE
Stats: 3-4 average sized cucumbers to fill pint jar / 25 pints needed for year / 12 cucumbers per plant, average
4x25 = 100 cucumbers needed
100/12 = 9 plants for canning + fresh eating + donation
= 16 PLANTS
Building a strawberry cage cover is a super simple, easy and effective DIY winter gardening project. Get out in the garden (jn winter!) and protect future berries by fashioning a hinged lid to an existing raised bed. This is perfect for keeping birds out of the patch. If you have the luxury of starting a new patch, hardware cloth on the bottom of the new raised bed can prevent critters from digging underneath. An all-natural way to keep strawberries protected.
Seed Stratification, 2 Ways
Some seeds, mostly perennials, benefit from experiencing a cold and damp period just like they would if outside in nature. Cold or seed stratification is the process of the seed coating slowly degrading from moisture (but not too much or they’ll rot). Once spring hits and temps warm up, the seeds will be ready to germinate. Here’s two ways to help stratify seeds:
Sow seeds just as you would during seed starting season. Make sure soil is damp and seeds are lightly covered in soil. Place in a cold but protected location like an unheated greenhouse or covered porch. Water as needed to retain moisture. Grow light/sunshine not needed at this time.
Place a damp paper towel in an airtight container. Add seeds and make sure they’re well folded inside the towel. Seal the container and store in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks, depending on seed variety. Then sow as usual.
SEEDS THAT LIKE STRATIFICATION
Perennial herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano. Perennial kale, collards and spinach. Asparagus, strawberries, apples, plums, cherries, artichoke. Perennial flowers such as lupine, milkweed, coneflower, rudbeckia, larkspur, and more.
Note: Seed stratification can be done naturally by sowing seeds outdoors in fall. If you have mice, squirrels and critters that eat seeds overwinter, these hands on methods can be helpful.
A guild is a neighborhood of plants that surround a fruit or nut tree. This species-specific curated ecosystem works to repel unwanted insects and even disease, attract pollinators, suppress weeds, mulch the soil, pull up nutrients from deep within the soil’s layers, and fix nitrogen.
All species require different guild members to successfully support them, just as in nature. In this video I’m sharing an in-depth explanation about how and why we implemented this practice that has been successfully used for centuries. We use sheet mulch to create square growing spaces, discuss foot traffic concerns, and placement of different plant species.
DIY Upcycled Window Greenhouse Tour
In my last post, I shared all about my new greenhouse which I just completed construction on. Join me for a tour sharing how I address designing, heating, and ventilating my new growing space for plants, vegetables, and other crops.
Upcycled DIY Greenhouse
This new greenhouse has been in my head for a long time. Come spring, I'll be starting and growing the majority of our homegrown produce from this new space--which I'm building 100% on my own. This greenhouse uses old windows and doors from our barn loft and will make the process of growing food so much easier.
I am currently lucky enough to have an underground greenhouse with skylights and a sliding glass door. What's better is this is just off of my living room. But I've been using grow lights for 100% of my homegrown food efforts. In an attempt to be as energy efficient as possible, and to reduce hardening off time by as much as 10 days, I'm building this new space which will require only the energy of the sun for heat and lighting. Plus, it's positioned just off the barn which will take advantage of thermal mass from a larger structure and is positioned closer to the garden itself.
Every single window and door you see here was found in my barn loft left behind by previous homeowners, and only 3 windows came from a free roadside pile. It’s also southwest facing so lots of sunshine here.
Finishing up the greenhouse has been slow going since I started school again. But I’m finally finished with the outside construction, solar lighting, and exterior white paint. Tonight at dusk I wrapped up the last coat!
Next I’ll be painting the interior trim-work black. Why? White on the outside reflects light, black on the inside absorbs heat and better retains it for nighttime temperature consistency.
Fall foliar sprays can be used to offer fruiting trees a boost before they go into dormancy. This way the trees can store the added nitrogen, sugars and carbohydrates in their roots where they will be ready and waiting for spring budding and leaf set.
Applying fertilizers, maintaining nutrient rich soil, and installing guilds around trees are all helpful options for feeding orchard stock. But if the tree is unable to absorb the nutrients due to soil issues, damaged roots or disease, leaf sprays are another way to introduce the tree to nutrients and microbes.
This recipe belongs to Michael Phillips, author of The Holistic Orchard, so I don’t feel it’s my place to share it. You can check out his website for the recipe.
Angela is the farmer and content creator behind Axe & Root Homestead LLC. This historic six-acre permaculture farm is home to two Clydesdale horses, ten honeybee hives, five sheep, two guardian dogs, barn cats and a flock of 40 geese and ducks. The farm produces maple syrup, fruit from a small orchard and loads of garden produce for consumption, preservation and donation to the local food pantry.
The Sustainable Homestead, is out for pre-order NOW!