Tag Archives: companion planting

Planning a Fruit Tree Guild

For those who aren’t familiar a fruit tree guild is a permaculture method of planting a fruit tree in combination with other plants that will grow together to create a mini ecosystem around the tree. While there hasn’t been a lot of scientific study of tree guilds they do show a lot of potential. Research has shown that intercropping (planting more than one species together) can be a valuable tool for increasing yields and crop health. Plus, tree guilds, in stark contrast with monoculture orchards are space saving and great for wildlife.

Selecting Plants

The first step is to research the type of tree you’d like to start with. For an example I’ll be talking about a peach tree guild but you can use any type of tree whether it’s an existing tree on your property or one you’d like to plant this spring. The important part is that you do some research into the tree such as its growth pattern and mature size. Also consider what soil types it prefers, where you’ll be planting it, and if it’s prone to any disease or pest problems.

Based on your research you’ll select companion plants. Tree guilds are typically made up of six categories: suppressors, attractors, repellers, mulchers, accumulators, and fixers though there are variations and there’s no rule that you have to plant all of these or can’t plant more than one species from each category. If you see a need you can even make up your own category!

If you’re planting a particularly tall tree or working with a mature tree you can include perennial shrubs on your plant list. Just be careful with smaller, newer trees that they don’t compete for light.

Suppressors

These are plants that suppress weed growth through there own growth habits. Good examples include vining winter squash which shades out weeds, mint or buckwheat which outcompete weeds through rapid, thick growth, or strawberries, pennyroyal, or thyme whose vines form a thick mat of ground cover. For a peach tree guild I would choose strawberries partially because I enjoy eating them but also because they’re an excellent suppressor and their early flowers draw in pollinators.

Attractors

Mona’s Orange Cosmos

Attractors are plants that attract pollinators and other beneficial insect to the tree. Examples include yarrow, buckwheat, butterfly weed, and mustards. Many other species can also be used but it’s important to find something that will work well for your chosen tree. For a peach tree guild I would choose to plant cosmos as they attract trichogramma wasps which are a helpful beneficial insect and a natural enemy of oriental fruit moths which can severely damage peach trees.

Repellers

These plants job is to repel unwanted pests from feeding on your fruit tree. Lemon grass, marigolds, lemon balm, and almost any allium like garlic, chives, or perennial onions are all commonly used to repel pests. Knowing your specific tree’s common pest issues will allow you to best select a variety. For the peach tree example I’d use garlic as there’s some evidence that planting garlic around peach trees helps repel peach tree borers.

Fixers

Red Clover

Fixers refers to plants that are nitrogen fixing meaning that they add nitrogen to the soil as they grow. Great examples of these plants include white clover, red clover, beans, alfalfa, lupine, and peas. For a peach tree guild I would choose red clover. It attracts pollinators, beneficial insects including trichogramma wasps, and makes a wonderful tea.

Mulchers

Probably the most commonly used mulcher plant in permaculture designs is comfrey. It’s hardy, perennial, easy to care for, and its leaves do in fact make excellent mulch. Hostas have the same benefits. You can also use annual cover crops like buckwheat that winter kill and provide good mulch. Buckwheat also has the added benefit of self seeding. For this example comfrey will be used because it doubles as an accumulator.

Accumulators

These are plants that “mine” nutrients from deep in the soil and bring the to the surface where other plants will be able to access them. Good examples include alfalfa, comfrey, borage, and chicory. For more ideas look at deep rooted perennial plants. For my peach tree guild I would opt for chicory as it offers medicinal benefits for both humans and livestock.

 

Once you’ve got all your plants you can begin planting. Obviously it’s easiest to start with the tree and work your way out. You should consider how much space it will need and shade it will create as it grows when selecting locations for other perennials.

Utilizing this permaculture method can help you make the most out of your orchard space by incorporating other edible, medicinal, or flowering crops into your design and keeping your trees healthy and productive. It can also make your space more habitable for beneficial wildlife like birds, pollinators, and beneficial insects which lose habitat when space between trees is mowed. Lastly it may even help reduce erosion when compared to traditional orchard set ups. What’s there to lose?

 

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12 Strategies for Battling Cabbage Moths

Premium Late Flat Dutch Cabbage

For many gardeners planting brassicas in anything but the very early spring or fall is asking to be devastated. Cabbage moths can quickly colonize a patch of brassicas leaving tons of eggs which seem to grow into caterpillars and strip entire plants in the blink of an eye.

Don’t give up on summertime brassicas just yet though! There’s many ways you can fight off the cabbage moths to reap bountiful harvests.

Pick the worms off by hand.

It’s certainly not fun but it can be effective particularly if you only have a few plants. Drop worms into a bucket of soapy water to kill them. Be sure to check the undersides of leaves. If you see a cabbage worm with little white cocoons on its back leave it be. The cocoons will hatch into parasitic wasps, killing that worm and eventually others.

Note: Know your worms! Species that also have a green caterpillar stage include Luna Moths, Black Swallowtail Butterflies, and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails.

Swat the moths.

Some gardeners swear by the tennis racket method. When the cabbage moths show up in the spring they head out with tennis rackets to swat them out of the air. If you go this route be sure avoid killing other non-harmful moths and butterflies.

Use your poultry.

If you have a backyard flock it may be worth letting a few birds into your cabbage patch once the plants have gotten big enough. Both ducks and chickens have been known to enjoy cabbage worms.

On the subject of birds, try to attract songbirds to your garden.

Many songbirds will eat cabbage moths but they need to be visiting your garden regularly to take notice. Make your garden more bird friendly by planting varying heights of plants for them to perch on or adding feeders, houses, and/or bird baths.

Try companion planting.

Red Acre Cabbage & Wormwood

There are several crops that can be planted in your cabbage or broccoli patch to deter pests. Wormwood, thyme, marigolds, tomatoes, tansy and peppermint are all believed to help keep the cabbage worms away. You can also use companion plants like buckwheat and yarrow to attract beneficial insects to fight the cabbage worms for you.

You may also consider interplanting single brassicas throughout a garden. Unlike a monoculture bed having a plant here or there is much harder for cabbage moths to find.

Be sure to read our other post, The 7 Benefits of Companion Planting.

Try moth decoys.

While we haven’t tested it there’s a belief that cabbage moths are territorial and will leave your plants be if you hang decoy moths on and around your brassicas. Check out this article from The Good Seed Blog for more information and printouts.

Make your own plant spray.

Some people have found that tansy tea or oil deters cabbage worms when sprayed on the plants because of the volatile oils it contains. Others have had success with sprays made from dish soap, crushed garlic, or blended hot peppers.

Plant a trap crop.

Have you ever noticed that cabbage worms or another garden pest really love a specific variety? While you might initially think you should avoid planting that crop the opposite is really true. Plant the offending variety and then the pests will be less likely to go after other varieties you planted. Some people also choose to burn the trap crop with a flame weeder once it’s covered in pests to eliminate many of them. If you choose the burn method make sure your fire doesn’t get out of hand and you follow local regulations.

You may want to try organic pesticides.

Before you think we’re advocating the use of harsh chemicals know that there are organic and natural substances that are considered pesticides. Probably the most well known example is diatomaceous earth which is a powder made from crushed, fossilized, prehistoric crustaceans. This powder will cut insects (but not people or animals) as they crawl through it but it does need to be re-applied every time it rains. If you want to be sure whatever you buy is organic look for an OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) certification label.

It’s also important to note that pesticides affect all insects, good or bad. Consider what beneficial insects may also be harmed by your pesticide choice before you choose this strategy.

Practice crop rotation and cover cropping.

Both crop rotation and cover cropping are important to a healthy garden for a couple of reasons. First they help lessen disease and pest problems by ensuring the same crop isn’t planted in the same area helping to break pest and disease life cycles by moving their food source. Second they help ensure plants receive necessary nutrients and stay healthy which makes them less susceptible to pest and disease issues to start with.

Remove and compost any leftover plant material at the end of each season.

Cabbage worms overwinter in dead plant material so it’s important to remove and compost it. Alternatively you can till it under.

Use row cover.

If you can’t find another solution that works for you, row cover will do the trick. Cover the plants right after you get them in the ground and cabbage moths will never get to your plants to lay eggs.

Gardening is never easy but it’s especially difficult when you have to deal without a lot of pests. Hopefully among these tips you’ll find a strategy that works for you and your garden.

How do you deal with cabbage moths? Did we miss anything?

12 Easy Ways to Help Your Garden Thrive in Hot Weather

Beck’s Big Buck (Snapping) Okra

So far this summer is promising to be a hot one. With the temperatures climbing and much of the east coast worrying about droughts like the ones they faced last summer a productive garden may seem like a mere dream. However there’s several easy tricks that can keep your plants cool, productive, and even lessen your water usage.

Install windbreaks.

Wind tearing through your garden can not only damage plants but also causes soil moisture to evaporate. The easy solution to this is to install or grow windbreaks in your garden. Windbreaks don’t need to be solid and stop all the wind. They can be quickly made from snow or pallet fencing. If you’d like living wind breaks consider tall annual crops, shorter perrenials that won’t shade your garden too much like berry bushes or dwarf fruit trees depending on your space, or hedge species. These should be placed perpendicular to the direction of the wind.

Invest in or diy some shade cloth.

Shade cloth can be super helpful for keeping those cools seaosn plants like peas and spinach producing longer. It can also be used over new new transplants that are adjusting to field conditions or seeds like lettuce that prefer cool soils to germinate.

Use a lot of mulch.

Mulch is one of the easiest ways to keep soil temperatures cooler and moisture levels up. Plus mulch cuts down on the weeding. Great mulch options include grass clippings, straw, hay, or old leaves all of which can be combined with cardboard or newspaper.

Water your garden consistently.

Your watering schedule will obviously be unique to your garden but you sould work hard to maintain moist soil conditions. Waiting for plants to start wilting before you realize it’s time to water harms your plants’ health and reduces your harvest.

Water at the right times.

Watering consistently is half the battle but you should also try to water at the best times of day. The early morning and evening are the best times to water. Less water is wasted waisted to evaporation because it has a chance to soak into the soil before it’s exposed to the mid-day sun and heat.

Practice interplanting.

Growing vining plants like watermelons, cucumbers, gourds, squashes, sweet potatoes, and nasturiums under taller plants like corn, sorghum, and sunflowers can help you make the most of your space and keep the soil cool. The vining plants will shade the soil, block weeds, and hold moisture once they’re mature enough.

Check out our The Three Sisters Garden Guide.

Build a shade trellis.

Create a trellis for climbling plants like cucumbers or runner beans and then plant a cool weather loving crop in the shade they create. These trellises are often set up so they’re slanted to provide maximum shade.

Learn more about trellising from Vertical Gardening: The Beginners Guide to Trellising Plants.

Use intensive planting. 

Intensive planting is a principle of biointensive gardening. Plants are grown in beds, not rows and are often planted hexagonally. This style of planting maximizes space. Mature plants may touch leaves but still have plenty of room for their roots. They shade the soil reducing moisture loss and blocking weeds.

Note: planting intensively will work best with healthy soils as you’ll be growing more plants on less space.

Transplant at the right times.

If you’re transplanting crops into your garden it’s best to avoid the heat and sun as much as possible, for your sake and the plant’s! Transplant in the early morning, late evening, or on a cloudy day for best results. The plants will suffer less transplant shock that way.

Catch rainwater around your plants. 

For transplants dig your hole a little extra deep and create a basin around each plant that extends outwards a little beyond the edges of the plant’s crown to funnel rainwater towards the roots.

For planting seeds dig your trench slightly deeper than necessary so that rainwater stills runs down into it even after you’ve covered your seeds.

If you’re feeling really productive go ahead and install some rain barrels on your gutters too!

Choose crops wisely.

Early Moonbeam Watermelon

If you live in an area with hot summer temperatures it’s a good time to start direct seeding crops that can handle the heat. These include plants like watermelon, okra, roselle, lima beans, and southern peas.

Learn about Direct Sowing Roselle.

Practice good soil and crop management. 

Whenever gardening you should be thinking about keeping your soil and therefore your plants healthy. Doing maintanence work like crop rotation, cover cropping, and applying compost will keep your soil and plants healthy. Well nourished, disease free plants will tolerate the stress of hot weather much better than those already struggling.

Gardening is never easy but hot weather can be especially tough on you and your plants. Follow these tips for a healthy and productive garden even in hot, dry weather.