permaculture guilds

First step towards an edible forest garden

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As blogged about previously, our long-term goal for our South Coast property is to create an “edible forest garden“, following the books by Dave Jacke.

This week we took the first steps towards this big vision, with the planting of our first fruit trees.

The trees were all transplanted from Lewisham, with the bulk being citrus trees:

  • Ruby grapefruit (dwarf)
  • Cumquat x 2 (dwarf)
  • Meyer lemon x 2 (dwarf)
  • Kaffir lime (dwarf)
  • Pomegranate (full-sized)
  • Aniseed myrtle & Cinnamon myrtle
  • Acacia (various, all shrubs rather than full-sized trees)

The plantings were carefully designed in advance to ensure that we get the most out of the trees, with the least maintenance work:

GCADPlus drawing

The design was laid out accurately on the ground using triangulation, to ensure that reality matched the plan.

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Triangulating the position of each plant, with two tape measures

After planting, the patch was sheet mulched, with a layer of cardboard covered by hardwood chip mulch. This should keep the weeds down long enough for the cover crops to do their work.

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Sheet mulching the patch with heavy cardboard and wood chip

A few notes on the approach, with references back to Jacke’s book:

  • The planting is done in patches, with are then combined to create the overall garden design.
  • In this instance, it’s a polyculture patch (design pattern #44 from the book), which is a set of complementary plants that support and assist each other.
  • As outlined in our post on citrus guilds, there’s a big focus on nitrogen-fixing plants to support the hungry fruit trees.
  • The diagram above shows the eventual size of the trees (which will be some years off), and to achieve this an approach of instant succession (pattern #31) has been taken. This involves interplanting the gaps in the short term, to direct the eventual outcome.
  • There are at least three layers in the patch (pattern #38), from ground covers, to the dwarf citrus up to the pomegranate (which while full-sized, is deciduous).
  • A lumpy texture (pattern #39) of larger and smaller plants gives better light access, and confuses the pests.
  • I’ve used a number of native species (pattern #43), including acacias (for nitrogen-fixing), plus aniseed and cinnamon myrtles (for culinary purposes).
  • Underneath all the plants will be a thick ground-cover layer (pattern #49) that will be a mix of flowering plants to attract insects (pattern #42), and further nitrogen-fixers.
  • The patch was fenced, with five strands of tensioned wire. This should deter the wallabies and wombats (note I didn’t say stop the animals, as that would be optimistic!).

All the preparation and planting work was knocked off by dad and myself in three days, making it about a man-week of work in total.

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The finished patch, in the last of the afternoon light

Phew! It’s been hard (but rewarding) work this week to get our first patch in place. I’m sure there will be huge successes and crushing failures to come, watch this space!

A permaculture citrus guild (in Australia)

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At Lewisham House, we love growing citrus. But it’s a hungry crop, and high maintenance.

Now one of the core concepts in permaculture is that of a “guild”. The idea is that instead of just planting a tree by itself, you plant it with a community (a “guild”) of other plants, which provide supporting services. This might include extra nutrients, attractants for beneficial bugs, and the like.

If you search the net, you’ll find plenty of diagrams for apple tree guilds, hazelnut guilds, and other northern hemisphere deciduous trees. But not for citrus trees (that I could find).

So I did a fair bit of reading and thinking, and these are my draft citrus guilds, for Australian warm temperate conditions. All feedback welcome!

Design principles

  • Citrus trees are gross feeders. So the guild has to produce a lot of nitrogen, and other fertilisers, to support the citrus.
  • Design for full-sized and dwarf trees. Dwarfed citrus trees are widely available, and can be very useful in a permaculture context.
  • Minimal maintenance. Ideally, once setup, the guild runs itself.
  • Plants have to be available in Australia. There are plenty of great permaculture plants (like goumi), which I just can’t find in Oz.
  • Australian natives wherever possible. Rainforest plants are particularly useful, as they’re acclimatised to shade and competition.
  • Warm temperate or sub-tropical. Some of the species I’ve chosen would likely struggle in colder conditions.

Citrus guild (full-sized trees; version 1.0)

Citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of citrus guild (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of citrus guild (version 1.0)

Citrus guild (dwarf trees; version 1.0)

Dwarf citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Dwarf citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of dwarf citrus (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of dwarf citrus (version 1.0)

Notes and questions

  • I’ve packed in as many nitrogen-fixing species that I can, with a mix of native and introduced species.
  • Acacia (wattle) are great nitrogen-fixers, and they thrive in most conditions. But the big question from what I’ve read is: do acacias release that nitrogen into the soil for the benefit of other trees, or just keep it for themselves. An answer please! (I’ve done a lot of looking, and I’m still uncertain.)
  • A linear arrangement is just one possibility, and it happened to match some other design work that I was doing at the time.
  • Does this guild work in practice? I’m just starting to experiment in the real world, so all feedback and suggestions welcome.
  • Have I missed any good plants that can serve a productive purpose in the guild? Again, all suggestions encouraged.
  • Are there other citrus guild drawings that I’ve missed? Please post links in the comments below.