DESIGNING PERMACULTURE APPLE TREE GUILDS

AMRITA FARMS SUMMER 2015 RESEARCH RESIDENCY PROJECT:
Haley Evans   halevans@umich.edu
Prepared for Chad & Ajitha Kymal
Sponsored by Nathan Ayers

This summer has been an excellent learning experience for everyone involved in the development of Amrita Farms.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from both Ginny and Nate. Their different educational approaches and prior experience in agriculture gives Amrita Farms a wide breadth of problem solving approaches.

My research paper discusses the current challenges that we face in the orchard and how we can ethically, sustainably, and productively overcome them.

WHAT WE’VE DONE IN THE ORCHARD AND WHY

– Application of chemical fertilizers
We applied nitrogen (in the form of blood meal and cottonseed meal), and phosphorus (powdered).  (all USDA organic certified) We took this action because there was a deficiency of nutrients in the soil that are vital to the trees. These nutrients were externally sourced and highly concentrated.  This approach was quick and easy, but there are more sustainable and holistic options.

– Application of Bt
Bt is an insecticide we sprayed to prevent the spread of coddling moth.

– Weed whacking

We weed whacked around every tree in the orchard in order to reduce root competition, create a nitrogen rich mulch of plants, and make the orchard look nice. The problem with this technique is that the grass ended up growing back first and was more prominent than ever – resulting in the root competition being worse than before.  We did create a surplus of nitrogen for the trees – at the expense of destroying every bit of biodiversity.  This monoculture approach is unsustainable and dangerous for our interns (we each obtained a multitude of wasp stings). We can better manage the surrounding biodiversity by using it to the tree’s benefit.

– Fence addition and restoration

We added to and repaired the fence to keep deer from destroying the crop.

– Pruned and trained trees
We pruned and trained every apple tree to shape them in a way that allows us to obtain a better yield from them as they grow.

– Harvested strawberries

Collected strawberries (the plants are now destroyed because of weed whacking).

– Weekly spraying of compost tea
We brewed and sprayed compost tea (made with compost from the farm, fish emulsion, and molasses) to add nutrients to the soil and cover the tree’s leaves for pest resistance.

GOALS

A growing orchard undoubtedly faces many challenges. It’s important to keep our goals in mind, repeat them often, and to align them with the challenges that we face. So – why are we doing what we’re doing in the first place? Why did we plant an orchard? Why did we hire Nate, Ginny, Joe, and the interns?

Goals of Amrita Farms:

– Obtain a yield

– Build community

– Empower through knowledge and experience

– Help the environment

– Inspire others

These motives are rich in ethics.  To stay true to our holistic principles while approaching challenges will require a diversity of perspectives, discussion, research, and experimentation.

ORGANIC AGRICULTURE

The Amrita Farms’ apple orchard follows all organic certification regulations. This is a major part of what makes the farm friendly and progressive. Here is a list of qualifications to clarify what it means for crops to be certified Organic:
–  No irradiation used

–  No sewage sludge used

–  No synthetic fertilizers

–  No prohibited pesticides

–  No GMOs

Organic certification is definitely something Amrita Farms should strive to achieve. However, it is a list of rules and regulations – not a list of ethical guidelines.  There is nothing mentioned about ethics, principles, or holistic problem solving.  With no spiritual connection to the land, farmers can and have found loopholes in these regulations. Just because an action falls under the organic certification, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ethical or sustainable. Joel Salatin, a farmer made famous by Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, refers to his farm as “beyond organic.” He is quoted saying, “You know what the best kind of organic certification would be? Make an unannounced visit to a farm and take a good long look at the farmer’s bookshelf. Because what you’re feeding your emotions and thoughts is what this is really all about. The way I produce a chicken is an extension of my worldview. You can learn more about that by seeing what’s sitting on my bookshelf than having me fill out a whole bunch of forms.” Amrita Farms should absolutely still strive to be organically certified, but we should also keep looking closer into how to align our thoughtful ethics with the most holistic approach.
ETHICAL DECISION MAKING

As we interns earn our Permaculture Design Certificates, we have been studying patterns found in nature, systems of design, and strategies of intervention.   Permaculture is a humble and adaptable ethical decision making model.

There are 12 main principles of permaculture:

Observe and Interact with Nature

Catch and Store Energy

Obtain a Yield

Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback

Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services

Produce No Waste

Design from Patterns to Details

Integrate rather than Segregate

Use Small and Slow Solutions

Use and Value Diversity

Use Edges and Value the Marginal

Creatively Use and Respond to Change

The principles that I will highlight and elaborate on are: 1, 3, 4, 5,

1. Observe and Interact with Nature

As cultivators, we should go outside and observe our gardens as often as we can.  We should pay close attention to details. We should experience the seasons, and the growth of plants over time. We should experiment.

3. Obtain a Yield
The driving force. Selling produce is how to make a farm economically sustainable.

4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
As designs get put into place, we realize new situational factors that we did not before.  We must be humble enough to admit our faults, evaluate the situation, and experiment. Keep paying attention to each solution. New solutions and alterations will have to be made indefinitely.

5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
Not only use, but also value. Every organism plays a part and has multiple functions.  As farmers, it is wise to understand these processes and use them to our advantage.

GUILD

What is a guild?

A guild is a grouping of mutually beneficial plants that surround a central tree.

A guild is a human made design that is inspired by a forest.

A guild design uses biomimicry (the act of recreating patterns found in nature) to work with nature rather than against it.

Next time you go for a walk in the woods, observe all of the many layers of biodiversity.  There is a community of plants that coexist and benefit from each other.  These plant communities exist with other organisms like animals, insects, bacteria, and fungi. They are all interdependent and connected.

When designing a guild, there are two sensible principles from Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Designers Manual to keep in mind and be inspired by:

PRINCIPLE OF STABILITY

It is not the number of diverse things in a design that leads to stability, it is the number of beneficial connections between components.

PRINCIPLE OF SELF-REGULATION

The purpose of a functional and self-regulating design is to place elements of components in such a way that each serves the needs, and accepts the products, of other elements

WHY GUILD?

To attract pollinators

To support biodiversity by creating a healthy ecosystem of plant, insect, bacterial, and fungal networks

To improve soil health and fertility

To reduce root competition for the tree

To obtain a yield

PLANTS FOR THE GUILD

The design for the apple tree guild is broken up into three categories:

1: Grass suppressors

2: Insectary plants

3: Nutrient accumulators

All of the plants suggested below have overlapping functions and fall under more than one of these categories. For organizational purposes, I will present them by their most prominent contribution an apple guild. I will also include some of their other functions as well – such as edibility and pest deterring.  More information about how to upkeep each of these plants can be found online. While browsing, keep in mind that Amrita Farm’s geographic plant hardiness location is Zone 6.

1: Grass suppressors

In a garden, grass is the enemy.  Grass spreads very easily and its roots can suffocate other plants that are trying to grow. Grass suppressors benefit the tree by eliminating the spread of grass.  Grass suppressing plants take up the same layer of soil that grass does.  Many grass-suppressing plants are bulbs. Here are some examples:

Daffodil
Narcissus poeticus
perennial
deer and rodent repellant

Camas (hyacinth)
Camassia quamash
perennial
edible bulbs

Garlic
Allium sativum
perennial
edible bulb, leaves, and flower

Chives
Allium schoenoprasum
perennial
edible stalks and flowers

Leek
Allium ampeloprasum
biennial
edible stalk leaves and flowers

Onion
Allium cepa
annual
edible bulb stalk and flower

2: Insectary plants

Any plant that has flowers will attract beneficial insects because they feed on their pollen or nectar.  We want insects around as either pollinators or predatory insects. We want our orchard to be visited by pollinators so that the flowers go to fruit and we can have a great apple harvest. We want our orchard to be home to predator insects like wasps because they feed on the larvae of coddling moth and other insect larvae that nest in the fruit, eat the flower, or hurt the tree.

Dill
Anethum graveolens
annual
attracts pollinators and predatory wasps
edible foliage

Fennel
Foeniculum vulgare
perennial
attracts pollinators and predatory wasps
edible bulb, foliage, seeds
deflects fleas – good for planting near animals

Queen Anne’s Lace
Daucus carota
biennial
attracts pollinators and predatory wasps
edible – “wild carrot”

Cilantro
Coriandrum sativum
annual
attracts pollinators and predatory wasps
edible foilage

Bee balm
Monarda fistulosa
perennial
attracts pollinators
medicinal

Lavender
Lavandula spica
perennial
attracts pollinators
medicinal and relaxant

3: Nutrient accumulators

The third layer of this apple guild is made up of hyperaccumulators, or, plants that accumulate high concentrations of minerals in their tissues.  Before winter, these plants will independently lose their leaves and biodegrade into the soil.  You’re also able to harvest some foliage and lay it down as mulch when you make your rounds of weeding or observing (comfrey is a good plant for this because it has big leaves that grow back quickly). Whichever chemical the orchard’s soil is lacking, there is a plant that can help provide a supply of it.

Yarrow
Achillea millefolium
perennial
nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, copper
pollinator and predatory wasp attractor

Comfrey
Symphytum officinale
perennial
nitrogen, nitrogen fixer, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium
deep rooted – great at aerating soil

Lemon Balm
Melissa officinalis
perennial
nitrogen, potassium
edible and medicinal

Alfalfa
Medicago sativa
perennial
nitrogen, nitrogen fixer, iron
edible sprouts

Clover
Trifolium sp.
perennial
nitrogen, nitrogen fixer, phosphorus
pollinator attractor

Dandelion
Taraxacum officinale
perennial
nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, copper, iron
pollinator attractor – important in early spring

OPTIONS AND DECISIONS

Getting excited to make moves? As we come up with a game plan for the farm, it’s wise to keep in mind permaculture principle number 9 – Use Small and Slow Solutions.  The orchard lies on five acres of land. To guild its entirety in one summer would be an enormous project.  To begin, dedicate one section to the design.  Taking action on new projects is always a gamble. Beginning with a fraction of the orchard is a small and manageable approach that won’t overwhelm or disappoint you.

From Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Designers Manual:
OPTIONS AND DECISIONS
Design based on:

Product or crop options

Social investment options

Skills and occupations

Processing opportunities on and off site

Market availability / options

Management skills

A great aspect of polyculture is that it provides the farmer with a sense of security. If one crop fails, due to disease or any other unexpected, uncontrollable reason, there are always others. To produce enough crops to meet demand in a competitive market and a growing population, you have to use a decent amount of land.  The hugelkulture and kratergarten are incredible and productive designs, but Amrita Farms would need a few more of them to produce enough crops to realistically compete at a farmer’s market. There is also security in the plants that you choose to cultivate. Plants like garlic, chives, and other herbs that don’t get sold fresh on the market can be repurposed. These leftovers can be dried, jarred, and sold as kitchen counter spices.  (Picture this: Garlic honey flavored apple chips – all three products from your farm!)

If we observe the way that a forest grows naturally, we can create designs that replicate its dynamic and interdependent systems.  Guilds are designed to reduce root competition for trees, attract beneficial insects, and establish an on-site source of nutrients.  With proper research and attention, the apple orchard could one day be more self-sustaining and produce more than just apples.

BUZZWORDS

Agriculture

Horticulture

Agroecology

Agroecosystem
Agroeconomics

Agroforestry
Organic
Biomimicry

Food forest

Guild

Companion planting

Intercropping

Interplanting

Biodiversity

Monoculture

Polyculture

Permaculture

RESOURCES

– Official government USDA site:

http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/NOPOrganicStandards

– (print) PERMACULTURE – A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison

– (print) Gaia’s Garden – Toby Hemenway

– (print) The Holistic Orchard – Michael Phillips

– Backyard Orchard Culture (high density planting) – Deep Green Permaculture

http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/backyard-orchard-culture/

– Open Permaculture School:
https://www.openpermaculture.com/magazine/seven-parts-apple-tree-guild

– Guild planning

http://barkingside21.blogspot.com/2011/10/planning-apple-tree-guild.html

– Source about nutrient accumulators
http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.com/2012/01/dynamic-accumulators.html

– Research about monoculture vs polyculture productivity

http://www.biofortified.org/2015/06/mono-vs-poly-i/

http://csanr.wsu.edu/monoculture-vs-polyculture-part-ii/

– Dynamics of food forest gardeninghttp://www.edibleforestgardens.com/about_gardening​