Ten Reasons Why Guild Planting is Amazing

Posted by on Nov 23, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on Ten Reasons Why Guild Planting is Amazing

Ten Reasons Why Guild Planting is Amazing

Guild planting has so many benefits for your permaculture garden. By growing certain species together, you increase the chances of having a bountiful, productive site. Here’s are the main reasons why.

Guild planting means you can get more, different types of plant into your beds. The beneficial, symbiotic relationships that plants growing together develop help them all to thrive, giving you a more abundant and diverse harvest from the garden. The variety that guild planting encourages is also important in increasing biodiversity in your site, which creates a more effective, resilient ecosystem, making your permaculture garden less likely to collapse if it is subject to adverse conditions. Plus, having a wide variety of plants in your garden is more aesthetically pleasing than a single or a handful of crops. Guild planting lets you experience the great diversity and natural bounty of nature.

Vegetarian FoodProductivity
Plants grown together in guilds complement each other. They each bring different benefits to bear upon the guild that help the other plants around them , and in turn they receive benefits from their companions. This promotes healthy, abundant growth and maximizes the productivity of the guild. For example, onions and carrots are ideal companion plants. Onions have shallow roots, straight leaves and deter carrot fly. Carrots, meanwhile, have deep roots, feathery leaves and deter onion fly. By planting hem together you maximize the chances of both flourishing.

All plants need nutrients. Some plants are better than others at ‘fixing’ certain nutrients in the soil. Guild planting means that you plant companion species that provide high levels of nutrients that others might not be so adapt at securing. Take nitrogen, for instance. All plants need it to grow, but some are better at taking it from the air and fixing it in a form that plants can use (via bacteria that live on their root nodules. Primary among these are the legumes, such as peas, beans and clover. Plants nearby benefit from the legumes’ ability to fix nitrogen, making for healthier, more nutrient-soil, which, in turn, promotes robust plant growth.

Soil Structure
Besides increasing the amount of nutrients ion the soil, guild planting also helps to improve the soil’s structure. Planting guilds that include deep-rooting plants – like trees – means that their roots act to break up the soil, allowing those with shallower, less robust roots to more easily access the moisture and nutrients that are in the soil. Deep rooting plants also bring minerals up to the surface layers of soil where shallow rooting plants can then make use of it.

Guild planting allows the permaculture gardener to practice the principle of stacking. This involves planting species that grow to different heights, meaning not only can you get more biomass into a site, but also the variety of heights themselves provides benefits. Taller plants that need more sunlight can help lower growing plants that require a greater proportion of shade, while those lower plants can provide ground cover that helps protect the soil from the sun, retaining moisture that the taller plants can then access.

Sometimes early-stage plants need some help to establish themselves in a site. Compost and mulching have their part to play in this, but guild planting is also an important element. Planting seedlings or young plants with others that provide protection from the elements, either through their height, foliage density or both can provide a nursery, affording the more vulnerable plants protection from sun, wind or frost until they grow hardy enough to fend for themselves. As an example, young tomato plants can benefit from proximity to salad species, which provide shade for the more delicate tomatoes.

Guild planting is an excellent technique to protect certain species of plant from attack by insects. Choosing the correct companion species can help to camouflage vulnerable plants, by disguising the scent or visual shape of a plant so that insects cannot distinguish it. You can also use guild plants to act as a decoy, attracting insects away from more vulnerable species. And, of course, guild planting can also be used to attract beneficial insects, such as pollinators or predators of less beneficial insects. And it is not just insect behaviour that can be modified by judicious guild planting. Including plants that make a habitat they prefer, the guild gardener can attract other animals to the site, such as birds, frogs and lizards, which in turn can prey on insects. Even larger animals that you wish to deter from the site, such as foxes or goats, can be put off by guild planting with thorny bushes and dense foliage.

The benefits that plants growing together in a guild give to one another are not just present when they are in the ground – they are also evident after you have harvested them as well. Some companion plants actually improve the taste of those they grow with. Herbs are the main species that do this, and lend themselves to guild planting with a wide variety of other plants. For instance, planting chives and borage in a guild with strawberries actually improves the taste of the fruits (making them more intensely strawberry-flavored, rather than oniony!).

Not only do guild plants help the taste of their fellow species, they tend to go well when eaten together. This makes picking your harvest easier as well, as you will often pick plants that grow together to eat together. Kale, for example, works well in a guild with onions, herbs and potatoes – all of which would make a lovely soup or stew.

Safety Net
Another brilliant benefit of guild planting is that it means you aren’t putting all your eggs in one basket, crop-wise. Guild planting increases the number of species you have n your site, so that if some fail or do not perform as well as expected, you still have plenty of other plants that will thrive and that you can harvest. If you plant a single crop and it fails, you are left with nothing.

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Nine Ways to Save Water in the Garden

Posted by on Nov 23, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on Nine Ways to Save Water in the Garden

Water is one of the most precious resources we have. Literally the source of life, if nourishes us, the planet and all of nature, including the food we eat. It is, as such, a necessary part of permaculture gardening. We need to provide the plants we grow with sufficient water to survive, grow strong and develop healthy crops. However, to preserve as much water as we can, permaculture design should always seeks ways to minimize water use where possible and, above all, to avoid water wastage. Below are some techniques permaculture gardeners can employ to save water on their site.

Good water use in the permaculture garden starts with the quality of your oil. Get a healthy soil that is rich in organic matter, and your have the basis for a very water-efficient plot. Organic matter, typically added in the form of compost, helps keep the soil balanced in terms of texture – meaning its not too sandy, which allows water to leach through quickly, or have too much clay which holds onto water and keeps it from the plant roots – and structure, giving plants room to branch out roots and access moisture.

Mulching your garden has many benefits, such as allowing the slow-release of nutrients into the soil, and inhibiting soil erosion by the wind. Another positive effect is that mulch helps prevent excessive evaporation of water from the soil, as well as limiting surface runoff, meaning more stays within and can be used by plants. A coarse mulch will allow rainwater to percolate through and penetrate the soil, although when laying mulch, ensure that the layers get a good soaking as you go for maximum effectiveness.

Choosing native plants means planting species that are most suited to the climatic conditions of your location. They will be adapted to conserve water during dry periods and maximize moisture uptake when it’s wet. Native plants are also likely to be complimentary to one another, having existed in the same locations together, so using natives in guilds where plants have beneficial functions for one another – where one species, for instance, might provide a deep rooting system to allow another to access water, and which provides shade to the first plant in return – is even more effective at saving water.

When you design your permaculture plot, you can utilize design and planting techniques to enhance water use efficiency. For instance, planting cover crops and low-lying species to avoid bare soil minimizes moisture evaporation, while planting tall species besides smaller ones offers shade and so limits excessive transpiration. Planting species that require a lot of water in low-lying areas where water gathers, and less water-hungry varieties at the top of slopes from where water drains more quickly, means you are designing with their natural needs in mind. You can also create swales to hold water on the land and allow it to percolate into the soil, and contour land to divert runoff to areas where it is needed.

Catch Rainwater
Rain is nature’s way of watering your garden, but not all rain falls where it can be most useful. Catching rainwater that falls in areas where doesn’t benefit plants, and then using it to irrigate your plot, avoids this waste. Doing so can be as simple as installing a rainwater barrel into which you divert the runoff from the roof of your house, rather than allowing the guttering to take it down the drain.

Reuse Household Water

One of the principles of permaculture design is that one thing can serve multiple functions, and that reusing and recycling material and resources should be pursued wherever possible to limit waste. This can be applied to water use as well. Some permaculturists may consider installing a greywater system to reuse bathroom water in the garden, but even on a smaller scale, water can be saved. For instance, when you steam or boil vegetables, save the water, allow it to cool then use on your garden.

It can be easy to get into a routine when irrigating your plot, but always water to suit the weather conditions of the day. For instance, watering when it’s raining obviously seems inefficient (let nature do the job) but also when winds are strong, as this can evaporate the moisture before it has a chance to percolate into the soil.

On warm days, water early in the morning to allow maximum absorption by the plants before the sunshine starts to evaporate the moisture. Avoid watering too late in the evening, as plant foliage needs time to dry out before nightfall to minimize the risk of fungal diseases.

Avoid Overwatering

It can be easy to overwater your permaculture plot. If you see the surface of the soil looking dry, it can be tempting to irrigate immediately. However, it is always a good idea to check beyond the surface to see if watering is really necessary. As a general rule, the first couple of inches of the soil should be dry, and then below that the soil should be moist. This helps to encourage plant roots to grow deeply into the soil, making them more efficient at sourcing water and more strongly rooted in the ground. Soils that are waterlogged leave no room for other essential elements to plant health, such as oxygen.

Install Drip Irrigation

One of the most efficient ways to water your plants is to install drip irrigation. Rather than using a hose or a watering can, which can easily lead both to overwatering and to watering areas where plants may not be able to access the moisture, drip irrigation delivers the water directly to plants in a slow, sustained manner, saving water and making sure all of the moisture is available to the plants. Drop irrigation uses pipes or tubing with nozzles adjacent to each plant that allow water to trickle on to the plants. Such systems can be installed either above ground, with the nozzles by the base of the plant, or below the soil, delivering water to the roots. And you could combine a drip irrigation system with a rainwater catchment barrel for more water efficiency.

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How to Plan an Orchard

Posted by on Nov 23, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on How to Plan an Orchard

There are few things finer in life than going out of your house on a summer’s morning – perhaps holding your child by their hand – to pick the fruit you will eat with your breakfast. Plucking a ripe pear or a crisp apple from the branch, savoring its aroma and looking forward to the fresh, deep taste that comes from cultivating crops in harmony with nature is a wondrous thing.

Most permaculture gardeners with sufficient space will include at least one fruit tree in their garden design. It can provide a focal point in a small suburban plot, or even, if a dwarf variety, add variety to a courtyard garden. Fruit trees are typically the centerpieces of the common permaculture planting technique of guilds, and they bring a lot of benefits to any site, from shade to protect plants and deep roots to improve the soil structure, to attracting birds to the garden and, of course, providing a crop for eating.

For those with more space, an orchard can be a very attractive option. Indeed, orchards are arguably the most likely legacy of your permaculture garden, as with a little care and attention, they will provide fruit for years to come. While the specific attributes of your site and local climate will ultimately influence your choice of fruit trees and the location of your orchard, there are some general guidelines to consider when planning an orchard on your permaculture plot.

Orchards are typically a design feature for Zone 2 of your permaculture plot. Requiring less attention than the vegetables, herbs and fruits in Zone 1, they will still benefit from attention every few days – to check for any potential pest problems or to see if wildlife has been able to access the orchard, for example. You will visit more often when the crop is ready for harvest, and if you allow livestock such as pigs to forage in the orchard, you will want to check on them every day to ensure their needs are being met. However, once established, orchards need very little actual maintenance; with the correct planting when instituting your orchard, it should pretty much take care of itself.

Orchards need a lot of direct sunlight for the trees to grow robustly and to provide abundant, healthy crops – ideally six to eight hours a day. Be aware of any larger trees – or trees that will potentially grow large in the future – that are adjacent to your orchard, either on your plot or your neighbor’s land. These trees may shade out your fruit trees, and compete with them for soil nutrients. However, fruit trees are also susceptible to damage from string winds, so you might want to consider planting trees to act as a windbreak, as long as they won’t shade out the fruit trees.

They also need well-drained soil. A slight slope can be particularly apt as it allows water to drain slowly and avoids the risk of soil erosion. If planting on flat land, make sure the soil is humus-rich by adding lots of organic material, and not too high in clay.

Choose Trees
The two primary things to consider when choosing fruit trees for your orchard are which are suited to your location, and what fruit you like to eat. However, most fruit trees will flourish in most situations given enough sunlight and a well-drained soil. It is worth bearing in mind that some fruit trees – such as Golden Delicious apples, Bartlett pears and most varieties of peach – self-pollinate, meaning you can have just a single specimen in the orchard and it will still set fruit. Others require at least two individual trees in order to cross-pollinate and set fruit. If neighbors have trees of the fruit you want to grow on their property, you may well get pollination that way, but having at least two on your plot is the best guarantee. For these species, plant the specimens next to each other to assist with pollination (and to make harvesting easier).

Preparing the soil before you plant your orchard is a very good investment to make. It is much harder to adjust the soil once the trees are in the ground. Add lost of organic material to the soil and water it in well. Not only will this help with drainage and nutrient supply, it should get the soil pH to around the desired level. Most fruit species prefer a soil pH of between 6.5 and 7. If your soil is still too alkaline, add some composted animal manure or compost with coffee ground in it, while if the soil is too acidic, consider adding some organic agricultural lime.

Consider the space that your fruit trees will need when fully grown. You want them to be close to each other but not so close that their canopies intermingle, as this can affect growth and crop productivity. Individual species will requires distinct spacing, but as a general rule you want to allow a 10-foot circle around a dwarf fruit tree, and a 25-foot circle around a standard-sized tree. If possible orientate your trees north to south so they get maximum exposure to the sun.

Allowing sufficient space for your fruit trees also gives you room to plant companion plants around each tree in a guild that will benefit both the fruit tree and the companion plants. For instance, the tree can give shade to lower-lying legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil that the tree accesses. Different fruit species favor different companions, but an apple tree guild, for example, could contain dill and fennel that attract pollinating insects, as well artichokes, whose roots help keep the soil in good condition, and nasturtiums to repel pest insects. It is worth considering that most fruit tree species do not do well if surrounded by grass, as the grass competes with the tree roots for soil nutrients and moisture. Plant companions that suppress grass growth, such as leeks, garlic or daffodils. You can also mulch around the tree – although always leave a space around the trunk.

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Five Methods of Natural Pest Management

Posted by on Nov 23, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on Five Methods of Natural Pest Management

In permaculture design, we are always looking for natural ways to solve problems. So, for instance, if we detect a lack of nitrogen in the soil, we might consider planting a leguminous crop to help fix higher levels of the element in the soil. Or if we notice that deer have been nibbling the vegetable patch, we might plan to plant a thorny shrub to act as a barrier.

Another potential problem that can affect permaculture gardens is overpopulation of insect pests. These are insects that, if allowed to breed in too great a number, can negatively impact the success of crops and the populations of other organisms.

Naturally, as a permaculture gardener, we do not want to tackle this situation with expensive, damaging inorganic pesticides, whose effects can be much more far-reaching than we initially consider – such as killing unintended species, becoming part of the food chain, and leaching into the soil and from there the water table. Rather, we look to nature for a solution and design our site to maximize the effectiveness of nature’s answers. Here are some of the ways permaculture designers can harness nature to manage pest populations.

Choose Natives
Arguably the simplest method of preventing attacks on your plants by insects is to plant species native to your location. Choosing trees, shrubs, bushes and plants that are adapted to thrive in the local soil and climatic conditions means that they have evolved to cope with the indigenous insect life. Indeed, over time the plants and the insect populations are likely to have built up symbiotic relationships and, if undisturbed by human activity, would naturally find appropriate levels of all species so that all have viable populations. And by being adapted to the weather and soil conditions in your location, natives will be the most likely species to grow strong and healthy, making them much more adept at fighting off disease and insect attack.

Diverse Range
The principle of maximizing biodiversity that lies at the heart of permaculture design is also useful in limiting crop loss to insects. One of the reasons that monoculture agriculture uses so many chemical pesticides is that a single population boom of one insect species can spell disaster for the whole crop. In a permaculture garden with lots of different species, even if one crop does suffer from an over-exposure to an insect population, there are lots of others that will not be susceptible to the same fate.

Furthermore, by planting a diverse range of species you are likely to attract a greater variety of insects to your plot. Some species will predate on others to ensure healthy numbers of both. You can also site plant species near one another than will ward off insect attack, either by confusing the insects via the shape and colour of their flowers and leaves, or through conflicting scents. The mutual benefits of certain species in pest management are one of the things to consider when planning plant guilds.

Different Harvest Times
A tactic linked to biodiversity, is to design your site with crops that have differing harvest times. By staggering the times throughout the year when crops ripen, you not only ensure a supply of fruit and vegetables for your kitchen for longer than a single growing season, you avoid exposure to an insect population bloom decimating your entire harvest. There might be natives that help you achieve staggered harvest times on your plot, but you can also utilize microclimates ad greenhouses as well.

Livestock Foraging
The animals you choose to keep on your permaculture plot are useful in controlling insect populations. Chickens have a very wide diet and will eat most insects, which they come across. With the habit of scratching and turning over leaf litter and soil, they are also effective at controlling soil-based pests and eating insect eggs. Ducks also eat insects and have a taste for slugs and snails, which can be useful if populations grow and attack your vegetables. If you keep larger livestock, such as pigs, these creatures are beneficial in pest management on larger scale plots. For example, pigs will forage fallen fruit if allowed to range in an orchard, eating not only the fruit but also the eggs and larvae of insects which breed in it.

Habitat for Wildlife
When it comes to the animal kingdom, it is not just your livestock that can help in controlling pest populations. Insectivorous wildlife will arguably have an even greater effect, if your provide conditions which will attract them to your site. For instance, if your permaculture design incorporates plenty of tree canopy for protection from predators and the elements, as well as nesting sites, you are likely to attract birds to your plot, many of whom have predominantly insect-based diets. Every type from wrens and woodpeckers to sparrows and swallows will help keep insect populations in check. And, in another example of nature finding the right balance, they birds will eat more insects in the spring and summer, as they raise their young – exactly the seasons when insect populations are liable to be at their most abundant.

And it’s not just birds that will keep insect numbers in check. Creating a pond on your site will attract frogs, while undergrowth and shrubs will attract insectivorous mammals like hedgehogs and shrews, as well as spiders.

Balance Nutrients
Nature will always respond to the conditions. It is highly adaptable in that way. So, if you decide to fertilize heavily and your plant growth enjoys a rapid spurt, nature will respond to this abundance and produce more insects to take advantage. As such, you want to aim to provide a constant, but not excessive, supply of nutrients to your plants. Mulching is a good technique, as it offers the slow-release of nutrients as the organic material breaks down over time.

Generally, a healthy garden, with a diverse range of species, will naturally find a balance with the insects that visit or inhabit it. Remember that your permaculture plot is an entire ecosystem that, run in accordance with nature, will adapt and change over time to retain that balance.

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Five Reasons for Rewilding

Posted by on Nov 23, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on Five Reasons for Rewilding

Rewilding is an ecological idea that is gradually gaining traction within environmental circles, and it bears significant comparison with some of permaculture’s guiding principles. Permaculture emphasizes the preservation of natural ecosystems and making efforts to repair ecosystems that have been damaged by human activity. Rewilding also proposes people taking a proactive approach to assisting natural ecosystems retain their former diversity and abundance – which have been curtailed by human encroachment on the land.

Whereas much wilderness management as it is currently practiced seeks to somehow contain or suppress natural processes, or managing the environment for the benefit of a single species, rewilding proposes letting nature re-find its own balance – in many ways letting the land turn feral, so that nature itself can work out what is best for it. Rewilding is about making a whole wilderness ecosystem truly wild – self-sustaining, abundant and diverse (which just happen to coincide with the aims of permaculture design). It is about creating a future in which humans and nature are equal parts of a global ecosystem, rather than separate and often antagonistic elements.

Given the damage that man has done to many natural environments, and the atomization of landscapes that would have once been joined by human activity, we must take active steps to help the rewilding process. There are several methods for doing this. The one that tends to get the most media attention in discussions about rewilding is the reintroduction of megafauna, typically apex predators, into environments from where they have been absent. The idea is that by, say reintroducing wolves into an area where there are a lot of deer, the wolves will naturally keep the deer population in check so that they do not decimate the native plant life, which in turn will create a more diverse ecosystem as more animals will be supported by the available plant life. Other methods of rewilding include creating corridors that link areas of wilderness that were once part of the same landscape but which have become separated by human construction (this allows different populations of animals to interact and thus breeding between family groups, which creates for a more biodiverse species) and regrowing native plants where invasive species have become dominant. This in turn should lead to the reinvigoration of native insect species and, in turn, the food chain that develops from them.

Then, once such steps have been taken and the ecosystem is able to function independently (the toxins we have introduced into the soil through agricultural practices have disappeared, for instance, or the invasive species have been eliminated), human interference is actively withheld; nature takes over. And given what we know about nature as permaculturists we can be certain that once that situation is reached nature will find the correct balance for that ecosystem, and will eventually reach abundance. There are several reasons why rewilding is an appealing prospect.

Human activity has been incredibly destructive in terms of the biodiversity of the plant. A 2014 report by the World Wildlife Fund detailed how in the last 40 years alone, humans have caused the disappearance of half the number of animals on the planet. This is through hunting, destroying habitats and pollution. Rewilding gives nature a chance to reestablish it natural state of abundance and biodiversity.

Self-Sustaining Systems
As we know from permaculture design, when ecosystems are allowed to blossom in their biodiversity, they naturally create a system that is self-sustaining. The elements of the system will eventually find a natural balance that allows all the elements to thrive. This means a system that does not require human intervention to support it. In permaculture, we seek to minimize the energy and time input we give to our site; by doing the same with natural ecosystems we allow them to form the balance that is their natural state.

Protect From Extinction
Reintroducing species to an area where they were once native is a way of protecting species from extinction. The large mega fauna in many areas, from the wolves and lynx in highland areas, to the bison on the American plains were reduced to near extinction by human activity (either deliberately through hunting or indirectly through destruction of habitat). By essentially giving them back land, and land that is their native environment and where they are best adapted to survive and thrive, we protect them from extinction again. This is also true of plant species and smaller organisms, from butterflies to beetles. All are potentially threatened by human activity (particularly in the case of insects and microorganisms by the impact of chemical use in agriculture). By allowing environments to return to natural states we protect the natural heritage of our countries.

Many critics of rewilding claim that it would harm the commercial interests of people that depend upon the land. They claim that by returning highland areas, say, over to wild animals you destroy the livelihood of the sheep farmers that currently use them. However, rewilding does have commercial potential that could help finance its implementation. The best correlative is whales. Many former whaling communities now realize that there is more commercial viability in whale watching than in hunting whales. Safaris are another example where natural ecosystems can provide financial gains – which should then be used at least in part to finance the continued protection of the rewilded area.

Rewild Ourselves
The popularity of safaris and trips to view wildlife suggests that having encounters with the natural world is important to many of us. As such, rewilding is not only beneficial to the land and the animals that live on it; it is also good for humans. Rewilding is a way of siting ourselves as just one part of a larger, complex natural ecosystem, rather than as the domineering, destructive species we too often become. By deliberately creating truly wild areas we get in touch with a more elemental part of ourselves. It gives us a chance to interact with nature on its terms, and escape the sanitized, unnatural environments that we have overwhelmingly built for ourselves.

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Carbon Based Lifeforms | Abiogenesis

Posted by on Nov 23, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on Carbon Based Lifeforms | Abiogenesis

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