Sunday, June 29, 2008

Permaculture Basics: Guild Planting

Well, finally, I think I've figured out the whole photo-to-blog bit, so here's part of my vegie patch:
Is it chaotic? Yes. Deliberately so. This is guild planting. Guild planting, like all gardening, is a way of recreating nature -- but in order to take advantage of some of its processes.
Most ecosystems are mixtures of plants and animals, rather than vast monocultures. Why?
  • each species uses slightly different resources (the 'ecological niche')
  • each species has slightly different outputs, which are used by other elements in the system
  • taller plants shelter tender young plants from extremes of weather
  • not all species are susceptible to the same pests and diseases
  • some species shelter pest predators
  • potential exists for symbiotic relationships
A guild is a mixture of species organised to provide similar benefits, including benefits to the human designer. In a typical vegetable patch, plants are lined up in rows by cultivar. Snails call this a supermarket, I suspect. In a mixed planting, it's harder for pests to see or smell the plants they prefer, so there should be less pest damage. I haven't entirely managed to avoid rows here. That's because of the broad beans -- they are so tall that they need to be grown together so they can be tied up to prevent wind and rain damage. Behind them, however, is a random planting of Florence fennel, broccoli, Tuscan kale and volunteer parsnips.

Another idea of guild planting is to keep the ground covered by plantings all the time so as to minimise space for weeds to colonise, so that when one crop is pulled out, it should be replaced by another -- either by a new plant, or by a neighbouring plant growing bigger. In the picture above, you might be able to see radishes growing between the two rows of broad beans. They are a very fast-growing crop and I expect to pick them this week. The broad beans are now big enough to cope with root competition from weeds. The bok choy and the lettuces will also be eaten before the beans need the extra space.

And by the time the beans are out, it will be time for spring planting, which seems very far away!


Anonymous said...

I read a book called the self sustaining garden recently, which outlined a similar system to guild planting (He called it matrix planting). It makes a lot of sense on so many levels - it'll be interesting to see how it works in practice?
BTW why is it called guild planting?

Also good to see the photo on the blog!

Chookie said...

If the Wikipedia entry for matrix gardening is accurate, then yes, matrix planting is a type of guild. I'll look forward to seeing you use matrix planting in designs on your website!

Kin said...

That's quite ingenious (says she who is such a terrible gardener I lost a fight with a pot plant yesterday).

How would that go in a vegetable planter do you think?

Chookie said...

Give it a go, Kin -- just remember that pots of any kind are tricky to keep moist, and the more plants you have growing there the worse it is. Put faster-growing plants around the outside and the slower ones in the middle. I'd love to hear how it goes.

Kitchen Garden said...

My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

Bridget said...

Interesting stuff!