Apple tree guilds

By the time you read this snow will have fallen a plenty and dusted Byng Brook with a wintry blanket.  If it gets bad I'll have to fight my way up there and make sure the beehive hasn't been covered and the entrance blocked.  I have been regularly hefting my hives and they are heavy and will hopefully be fine.  The weather at this time of year is so changeable.  I enjoyed warm sun and saw the bees flying two days ago and tonight we have an amber warning from the MET office threatening deep snow and ice.  All of this is to be expected as it's winter but when you are in lockdown a change in the weather gets everyone excited. So on to the Apple Tree Guild.

What is an apple tree guild?

Last week I mentioned that I hoped to start working on my Apple tree guilds and this week I did.  But what is an apple tree guild?  It is a secret society where groups of apple tree growers gather around and stroke their trees and whisper secrets about best apple growing practices... actually it's really a very sensible permaculture practice which uses companion planting to create a self sufficient system where each part benefits each part of the system.  The principal really appeals to me - as a micro traditional orchard hasn't the luxury of an expansive ecosystem.  It will need to be supported and encouraged to be as fruitful as possible and if a range of different plants and insects can do the job that chemicals are used for elsewhere then all the better.

A typical apple tree guild will have 7 parts.

    1)  The tree - in my case each of my 16 trees will each have companion plants supporting the central trees production.  I learnt an interesting fact about tree planting recently: apparently a 2:1 mix of water and honey makes a good root dip prior to planting.  Apparently equivalent to a mycorrhizal rooting powder.  I wish I had learnt this before I planted mine as I would have loved to give it a try.

    2) Suppressors - these are bulbs that compete with the grass roots.  Daffodils are a great option as they can deter deer as well as suppress grass.  I think I will also try leeks, garlic and chives as I like the idea of my guild being edible.

    3) Attractors - These plants pull in the insects that pollinate and other beneficial insects that help with productivity of the guild.  I'm thinking i'll plant mint, buckwheat, dill, lavender, lemon balm, thyme, marigolds.  

    4) Repellers - There are some insects that aren't quite as welcome at the party - aphids, codling moths etc can build to an infestation level that can damage a tree and reduce its ability to fruit well. The go-to plant for this is the nasturtium they send them packing and they also flower beautifully which is a bonus.

    5) Mulchers - Plants that have extremely deep roots and voluminous leaf growth can be used to mulch a tree throughout the growing season.  The champion in this area is the comfrey; deep deep roots and huge juicy leaves.  No guild would be without a comfrey or three.

    6) Accumulators - As I mentioned in the Mulcher section a deep rooted pant pulling up goodness from the deep soil is a benefit in the tree guild and the accumulators (dandelions, borage, plantain, and yarrow) do just that.  

    7) Fixers - And finally the fixers. These are the plants that absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it in nodules on their roots.  I am going to spread clover in the orchard as it is a main nectar crop for the bees but other good ones are sea buckthorn, peas, broad beans etc.

So far I have sown clover seeds that will hopefully come up in spring and I have planted a piece of comfrey root by every tree. When you are planting comfrey you need to be very confident that you are planting it where you want it forever as it very difficult to remove once it is established. This has to do with its extremely long roots and the fact that if you chop up the root at all a new plant will grow from every section that you cut up. It is also advisable to plant a particular variety that can't multiply from its seeds as they are infertile.  This variety is known as Bocking 14 and is what I planted (I ordered it from an ebay seller).  Once you have established it you can take your own root cuttings and create as many new plants as you like.

So after the snow has gone and the spring slowly appears I will continue to plant and sow around my trees which will hopefully develop into healthy little ecosystems. Next week I will write an update on the bees  and about my recent hefting habit.


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