A Beginners Guide To Building Guilds On Your Permaculture Homestead

On This Episode of The Modern Homesteading Podcast, Harold Talks About Plant Guilds. What They Are, The Benefits Of Guilds, and How To Build Them On Your Permaculture Homestead.

The Modern Homesteading Podcast, Episode 195 – March 28, 2023

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What Is A Guild?

A plant guild is a grouping of plants that are carefully selected and placed together in a way that mimics the structure and function of a natural ecosystem. The idea behind a plant guild is to create a mutually beneficial relationship between plants, where each plant performs a specific function that helps to support the overall health and productivity of the system.

A guild typically consists of a “central” plant, which serves as the main focus of the guild and provides the primary yield, such as fruit, nuts, or edible leaves. Other plants in the guild are chosen to provide specific functions that support the central plant and the overall health of the system. These functions may include nitrogen fixation, pest control, soil building, and more.

Guilds are designed to be self-sustaining and require no, or at least minimal inputs, such as water and fertilizers, once established. By mimicking the structure and function of natural ecosystems, permaculture plant guilds help to create sustainable and regenerative food systems that are in harmony with the environment.

The Benefits of Permaculture Plant Guilds for the Environment and Your Garden

  • Builds resilient ecosystems
  • Increased biodiversity and habitat creation
  • Improved soil health and fertility
  • Reduced maintenance and inputs
  • Improved yields and food security
  • A design for long-term success

The Seven Layers Of A Food Forest:

A food forest typically has seven layers of vegetation, each serving a different ecological function.

  • Canopy (overstory) layer 
  • Subcanopy (understory) layer
  • Shrub layer
  • Herbaceous layer
  • Groundcover layer
  • Root Crops layer 
  • Vertical layer (Vines, Climbers)

The Supportive Roles of Plants in a Permaculture Plant Guild

  • Nitrogen Fixers
    • Herbaceous – Clover, legumes, alfalfa
    • Shrub or Understory – Sea Buckthorn, Autumn Olive, Goumy
    • Understory – Alder, Black Locust
  • Dynamic Accumulators
  • Groundcovers
    • Suppress weeds
    • Help with moisture retention
      • Low ground plants – clover, herbs, purslane
      • Broadleaf plants – comfrey, borage, rhubarb, hostas
  • Insectary Plants
    • Attract pollinators – Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
      • Comfrey
      • Borage
      • Milkweed
      • Goldenrod
      • Yarrow
      • Coneflower
    • Attract Predatory insects – Ladybugs, Praying Mantis, Earwigs, Wasps
      • Carrot Family – caraway, cilantro, dill, fennel 
      • Aster Family – goldenrod, coneflower, sunflower, yarrow
      • Mustard Family – yellow rocket, wild mustard
      • Pea Family – alfalfa, lentils, chickpeas, vetch
  • Balance Fungal Populations
  • Deter Animal Pests
    • Scent Deterents
    • Irritant Deterents
      • Gooseberry
      • Gojiberry
      • Boysenberry
      • Blackberry
      • Raspberry
      • Hawthorn
      • Sea Buckthorn
  • Deter Harmful Insects
    • Through either undesirable scent or masking scent
      • Lavender
      • Basil
      • Thyme
      • Mint
      • Lemongrass
      • Chives
      • Onions
      • Garlic
      • Marigolds

Building a Permaculture Plant Guild in Your Garden

  • Site selection and preparation- (frost, heat, hilly, wet etc)
  • Selecting appropriate plants
    • To avoid overcrowding choose plants that serve multiple functions
  • Building and planting the guild
    • Plan and plant but adapt as needed

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Permaculture Plant Guild

  • Overplanting or underplanting
  • Ignoring plant needs and preferences
  • Failing to plan for long-term maintenance- (growth, disease, harvest, age (you), chop and drop)

Maintaining and Adapting Permaculture Plant Guilds Over Time

  • Pruning, harvesting, and fertilizing techniques
    • Chop and drop
    • Design with harvesting access in mind 
  • Adapting the guild to changing conditions
    • Changes in sun and shade
  • How to prevent and manage plant diseases and pests
    • Change plants in guild if the need arises

Let’s Build a Hypothetical Apple Tree Guild

  • Starting with a young but fruit producing tree
  • Groundcover – Red Clover, White Clover, Comfrey, Basil
  • Fixer – Clover, Sea Buckthorn
  • Dynamic Accumulator – Comfrey, Yarrow
  • Insectary Plants – Comfrey, Yarrow, Clover, Dill
  • Fungal Balance – Basil, Garlic
  • Animal Deterrents – Garlic, Sea Buckthorn
  • Insect Deterrents – Basil, Garlic

This Week’s Book Recommendation

Integrated Forest Gardening: The Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant Guilds in Permaculture Systems
  • Weiseman, Wayne (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages – 08/05/2014 (Publication Date) – Chelsea Green Publishing (Publisher)

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