When we purchased our house this past summer, I set out to convert the property from lawn to food producer as quickly as possible.
We still have a loooooooong way to go, but one of the first things I did was remove the azalea bushes and gladiolus bulbs from the front porch bed and replace them with dwarf blueberry bushes.
But not just blueberry bushes.
My goal is to use the principles of permaculture to create relatively self-sustaining systems that don’t require pesticides or fertilizers.
One of the most basic components of a permaculture garden is the guild. That is, one central food-producing plant surrounded by other plants that serve as
- Attractors: attract beneficial insects to your garden
- Repellents: repel the insects or animals that will damage your garden
- Suppressors: suppress weeds
- Mulchers: retain moisture and cultivate healthy soil
- Accumulators: reach deep into the soil to bring up nutrients for plants near the surface
- Nitrogen fixers: make nitrogen more accessible to the surrounding plants
One plant will often fulfill several functions. And my goal is for as many of the plants as possible to be edible.
So far this is what my blueberry guild looks like.
Chives and strawberries will both attract beneficial insects to my garden. I have yet to see my chives come up, but the strawberries are doing well and spreading all over the place.
The gladioli that I removed were also extremely prolific and left behind several volunteer plants that have been happily sprouting. I am hopeful they will be effective attractors as well.
So far the only repellent I’ve planted is chives. As I mentioned, they have yet to sprout, so I may eventually end up planting something else.
As much as possible, I’m trying to plant perennials rather than annuals, but I may try for some garlic around the edges of this garden bed.
Suppressing weeds is one of my top priorities since my grass likes to sprout up in the most inconvenient places. I imagine it’s a battle I’ll be fighting for years to come, but one can hope.
I have read that strawberries and blueberries thrive under similar conditions, including slightly acidic soil, so I planted strawberries as an edible ground cover.
I know eventually I will need to cull out some of the strawberry plants to keep them productive. But for now I am excited to see them sending out runners already.
I am also taking a “wait and see” approach to see what comes up on its own in this garden bed.
Since gardens are somewhat new to me, I have been using an app called PlantNet to identify the plants I don’t recognize.
I have identified two potentially useful ground cover plants that have come up without my planting them. One is lawn leaf, which is pretty and looks a little bit like tiny lily pads.
The second is ground ivy. From what I can tell, it’s edible and is often used in salads.
It’s also a member of the mint family and spreading rather aggressively, so I may regret letting this one do its thing. But we shall see!
As the blueberry guild is in its infancy I have it mulched with pine bark (for acidity), but eventually I’d like to have living mulch.
Comfrey is supposed to make a good “green” mulch. I purchased these root cuttings [affiliate link] for Russian comfrey, which is less aggressive than true comfrey.
A handful of them are already sprouting and I’m eager to see what they do!
Comfrey is not only supposed to make a good mulcher, but it also reaches deep into the soil and pulls up nutrients for other plants to use.
You can also make a compost tea from the leaves because of its accumulator characteristics.
Finally, to fix the nitrogen in the soil, I planted a plant that’s often a companion to blueberries in the wild: lupines.
They are in the legume family, and legumes accumulate nitrogen, making them effective fertilizers to the plants growing around them.
No, they’re not edible. In fact, they can be poisonous. But they’re pretty, and they make me think of Maine, where I grew up.
Here we go round the blueberry bush
So that is my blueberry guild as it currently stands.
A huge part of permaculture is observation to see what is and isn’t working, so I expect I will end up tweaking it some as we go.
Stay tuned for future developments!
Have you ever planted a fruit guild?