Thursday, July 28, 2016

Five rings and Plant Guilds

It's been hot for weeks. Up in the hundreds, dropping some nights only to the low eighties before going up again.

The tanks are empty. The apricots are long gone and the plums and early grapes are coming on. Not quite ripe yet, but almost there.

It's full summer. The squash are producing, the corn has tasseled, the tomatoes are turning red and I'm a little melancholy today. It's too hot to plant, and there's nothing to harvest so I have to be content with a little weeding. Except this morning I was watering the almond and I noticed that the water was just running away from it, down the hill. So I mounded up the soil into a semi-berm to hold the water. Then I planted beans in and around the berm.

I was thinking the other day about five circles as part of a plant guild. A plant guild is a group of plants, usually centered on a particular tree, that is supportive in nature. Plants that attract pollinators, plants that clean the soil, plants that put nitrogen in the soil, and so on. So I've got the beginnings of plant guilds but I was working on designs and came up with five rings--tree, protective ring, annuals, perennials, and herbs.

Many of the trees I have in my yard are fruit or nut trees, which are susceptible to bores. Each spring (as early as I can work the soil) I go out, dig down along the fruit tree and try to kill any bores that have overwintered there. Most of my life I've been a traditionalist, because that was how I was raised, but traditional isn't doing it. Traditional is bare dirt around any tree. But the bores lay their eggs in the dirt around the tree...Traditional is dry soil, but the bores need dry soil. The larvae then dig in to the tree and overwinter there.

So last year I planted chives around the trees. They still got bores, but I noticed that most of the bores were on the bare side of the tree, where the chives hadn't grown yet. So...circumstantial, but possible.

This year I expanded that, planting chives, garlic and tansy around the other trees. It'll take two or more years to know if it's working, but I'm hopeful. So that's the 2nd circle. Protective.

The third circle is the human care circle. Technically the whole thing is, but this circle is annuals--tomatoes, beans, beets, whatever I choose to grow. They will be in full sun during the spring, dappled shade during the rest of the summer so productivity might suffer a bit...but they will be a little protected from the full heat of the summer sun, so I think that will offset the losses. Less burn, less evaporation, etc.

The fourth circle is the other trees or bushes in the guild. Planted probably at or close to the tree's drip-line (the edge of the tree where the drips stop, not the soaker line that brings water to the tree) these would be the perennials that support the tree and are supported in turn. The tree provides shade, mulch (in the form of leaf-litter) and in turn is cared for by these plants.

The fifth circle is other perennials that fill out the guild. Medicinal herbs, insectaries to attract pollinators, nutrient accumulators, etc.

It's a slow process, but necessary. This small yard has to take care of itself, and me, and still maintain soil fertility and increase nutrient levels without outside input. No fertilizers, no herbicides or pesticides. I bring in bags of leaves in the fall. Other than that, the main inputs are water and light. Soon, soon I hope, water use will be reduced. That's another topic.

I'm learning as I go.