Permaculture system will help in increasing soil fertility, watershed health, and safe places for nature to survive and thrive. At Falls Brook Centre demonstration site, we have created apple tree guild or polyculture planting around fruit trees. A guild or a polyculture is the intentional planting of multiple plants that encourages beneficial and complex interactions.
We start by clearing out the current vegetation around the apple tree just past the dripline, the outside edge of the branches. We sow a running ground cover of white clover which acts as a living mulch, bee plant and fixes atmospheric nitrogen making it available to the soil. This reacts kindly to the comfrey we plant around the dripline which has high nitrogen needs. Comfrey has a deep tap root which pulls nutrients such as calcium, potassium and other trace minerals from the subsoil and makes the nutrients available in its leaves which then can be cut and dropped making it available to shallow rooted plants. Cut and drop mulching is quite important in this method of polyculture planting and describes the literal actions involved, the top of the plant is chopped off and dropped on the ground to break down in situ. This can be done with a wide variety of plants, including trees like mountain ash and sumac, which like clover, fix atmospheric nitrogen and release it into the soil.
We plant aromatic herbs such as lemon balm, thyme and sage to confuse pests and since all these plants contain high levels of essential oils they can provide additional protections e.g. antifungal to other members of the guild. Yarrow, another plant in our guild has nectar that is highly desirable to predatory insects such as the braconid wasp and syrphid flies that feed on apple tree pests (codling moth and aphids). In this way, soil fertility will increase, and plants and trees get healthier which increases the yield. As Executive Director Afton Conneely underlines, “Permaculture is a design methodology to create sustainable human habitat which means increasing over time our ability to create individual and collaborative economic security” For more detail about Permaculture, join the workshop at our 9th Annual Free School, August 18 – August 20, 2017. We will be also teaching this subject in a free workshop “Companion Planting” on August 28th, at Kings Landing Historical Settlement.