All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

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. My friend recomended me this site https://treeservicewarwickri.com/ where I can hire someone to plant my trees instead of doing it all by myself. 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 proximity of the tree and the type of tree planted should be chosen carefully, for it’s highly likely that the tree falls and damages your home, in which case, you must be prepared. 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!

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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.

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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, for example, I would use garlic as there is some evidence that planting garlic around peach trees helps repel wood-boring insects.

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. Also, here’s one of the best local tree service companies that can assist you in you garden.

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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How to Choose Plant Varieties

It’s so easy to flip through the seed catalog each winter circling varieties you want to plant only to flip back through and realize there’s more circled than not.

Despite the fact that common advice for the new gardener is, “start small.” There’s not a whole lot of good advice about how to make the tough calls when it comes around to seed order time. Hopefully these ideas will make the decisions a little less difficult.

Location, location, location.

While some varieties do well almost anywhere others need a little special consideration. If you’re from Vermont you’ll probably have better luck with a watermelon like Blacktail Mountain (73 days) than Amish Moon and Stars (100 days). This is not to say it’s impossible just that it’s easier and having some successes will inspire you to keep growing.

Grow what brings you joy.

Amy’s Apricot Mix Cherry Tomato

Another classic tidbit of advice is “grow what you know your family will eat” but sometimes I think that’s a bit over-rated. Don’t feel obligated to grow a ton of paste tomatoes just because your family eats a lot of spaghetti sauce if you hate canning so much you won’t be invested in the plants. If you’ve only got space for a few varieties and seeing a rainbow of cherry tomatoes or slicers is what inspires you and your kids to get out in the garden opt for them instead!

Consider your how much room you have.

If you want to try a ton of varieties but only have a small garden just make sure you select space saving varities. Opt for a bush type squash like Table Queen instead of letting Burgess Buttercups sprawl all over your garden. If you have a fence you may want to grow pole beans up it instead of growing rows of bush beans.

Plan out your space.

On the same note if you have at least a general plan of what your garden will look like this year you can write down a general idea of what you need before opening the catalog to help you stay on track. For example you’ll know how much space you have dedicated to carrots and therefore a better idea about how many varieties you may want to try. You can find Southern Exposure’s garden planner here.

Ask local gardeners and farmers.

Other growers in your area will know about certain varieties that work well or don’t in your specific location. They’ll also have ideas about their personal favorite varieties that you might want to try.

Grow what’s hard to get.

If you’re short on space or time you may want to pick varieties that aren’t readily available in your area. For example if you know there’s a lot of organic spring greens and radishes available at your farmers market you may want to use an area of your garden for snap peas instead.

Fall in love with a story.

Belle Isle Cress

Not every variety comes with a really cool history but some do. If there’s a story that really stands out in your mind like how “Radiator Charlie” paid off his house after developing the Mortgage Lifter Tomato or how shipwrecked Portuguese sailors survived a Canadian winter on Belle Isle Cress pick that variety. Your excitement will help keep heirlooms alive everytime you share that story with someone visiting your garden.

Try to find a variety that connects you with your heritage and culture.

Not that far in the past everyone had a garden and cooked from scratch. If you can find out what your grandparents favorite varieties were or more generally what varieties you share some heritage with you can help re-awaken cultural food ways. You may even find yourself more inspired to maintain family gardens and recipes.

 

Above all else choose what you love. Don’t let worry about having a “good” garden control your choices. If you love spending time in your garden with the varieties you’ve chosen that’s really all that matters.

 

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DIY Pumpkin Puree & Pumpkin Spice Waffles

Connecticut Field Pumpkin

Whoever decided that pumpkin spice food is just for autumn got it wrong. Now is when I scrambling to pack all the winter squash and pumpkins we put up this summer into our meals. Before long it will be spring and as much as I love the stuff I don’t want the house to still be overflowing with winter squash. Come spring I’ll be ready for greens, snap peas, and rhubarb! So for now it’s pumpkin spice, tasy, warm, filling and sweet.

DIY Pumpkin Puree

***for those who are ready for the waffle recipe keep scrolling****

Any local foodie will tell you pumpkin puree doesn’t come in a can! It’s actually super easy to make and nearly any winter squash or pumpkin will do. If you’ve got a Waltham Butternut or Table Queen on hand there’s no need to go search the farmers market for a pie pumpkin.

Split your squash or pumpkin in half and scoop out all the seeds. Place the pumpkin opening down in a shallow baking pan with about 1 inch of water. This will keep it from drying out.

Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes to 2 hours or until tender depending on the size of your pumpkin.

*Optional: clean the seeds and bake in a single layer on a cookie sheet with a little vegetable oil and salt while your pumpkin is baking. Bake until golden brown. Alternatively save them for next year!

On to the good stuff.

Pumpkin Spice Waffles

These waffles are a great breakfast or treat on a cold winter days and they’re an awesome way to cook with local, healthy ingredients. I bet you can get all the veggie haters in your life to eat some winter squash hidden in these little gems.

Another great thing about these waffles is that the squash takes the place of the egg in the recipe so they’re great for people with allergies or those who are vegan. I promise you’ll love them even if you’re not!

These waffles are that perfect mixture of crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of flour (all purpose or whole wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 TBS sugar
  • 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree
  • 6 TBS vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk (for dairy free replace with nut milk or water)

Option toppings:

  • maple syrup, butter, molasses, or powdered sugar

First combine all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl then add the pumpkin or squash puree, vanilla extract, and vegetable oil. Next, slowly stir in the milk. If you’re puree was watery you may need less of the milk. The batter should be easy to pour but not thin.

While you’re mixing up your batter you can pre-heat your waffle iron. A hot waffle iron makes better waffles that stick less.

Cook your waffle using the normal directions for your waffle iron and enjoy! Then promise your family you’ll make a double batch next time when they keep coming back for more.

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