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easily introducing a guild under a fruit tree (stump the permie experts)

 
paul wheaton
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This is a question that I would like to put to the permaculture experts out there.  This is something I have run by several experts and I have yet to get a solid answer.

Before the question, there is the set up:  many people are still using "weed and feed", growing grass under their fruit trees and raking up the leaves.  I would like to propose a simple alternative.  I would like to hand to them two small packets of seeds.  In packet 1 is a seed that can be tossed under a tree where there is grass; it germinates, grows, outcompetes the grass, smothers the grass, and then conveniently dies back ready for the seeds from packet 2.  Packet 2 contains the seeds for a nice guild planting under fruit trees (lots of tap rooted plants, including nitrogen fixers).

The idea is that somebody has a pretty strong fixation in their head of "going with the flow" of what all of their neighbors have been doing for as long as they can remember.  So maybe I can propose something that is very simple for them to do that will be less effort than what they are currently doing, and will produce results right before their very eyes that will convince them that permaculture is worth more exploration. 

This is not something for a beginner permie.  The idea is that this is something for somebody that has never even heard of permaculture.  This may very well be their introduction to permaculture.

I think the big challenge is:  what goes in packet 1?  My first thought was field peas planted in erly spring.  Big seeds; don't germinate well on top of grass; and die around the end of june (end of may would be better).  Then I thought of hairy vetch.  But I've never grown hairy vetch successfully (I once planted some in a patch where I later learned it had tokic levels of P and K).  Would it germinate well if just tossed on top of grass?  What happens in the spring?  Does it die off?

How about austrian winter peas?

Any other suggestions?



 
Dave Boehnlein
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First of all, there are lots of different kinds of grass...I suspect it would be a lot easier to "outcompete" a fescue or bluegrass than quack grass or reed canary grass.

Instead of a seed I might start by putting a little something special in packet #1...a weed burner (you might need a bigger seed packet). You can blast a 1 meter ring of grass around the tree first. By eliminating the grass first you open up options a little more for those "expert" permies out there to find your perfect species for packet #2. 

I can't think of anything you can seed directly into grass in the spring that will die back (without reseeding) by May 31st...

Things that will come up through grass, you may not want (e.g. dandelion, thistle, blackberry, etc.). I don't know of anything that would germinate in the spring and die back on it's own by May 31st (maybe dead nettle or chickweed?). Anyway, the combination of parameters is too extreme for my plant knowledge.

Good luck!

Dave
 
paul wheaton
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Dave,

Have you ever tinkered with hairy vetch?

How about miranda pea?

 
Dave Boehnlein
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Not personally.

You could ask a Bullock when you come up and try it out when you get home.

Dave
 
                        
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I can't think of a grass that will die that quickly just from shade.  Most perennial grasses are very hardy little buggers that are able to go dormant for long periods of time, surviving on their extensive root mass.  That said, some grasses are more easily eliminated than others, and you may need to plant a highly competitive, possibly annual, but non-weedy grass there first, give it a year to do it's magic, then hit it with something else the following spring. 

That's a tough one - good luck.
 
                    
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Planting shade-flowering ground cover under fruit trees attracts predator insect species that keep aphids, fruit flies and codling moths (and others) from attacking fruit trees. It also makes the area more attractive to pollinators. Ground cover species are not a competitive threat and help keep ground moisture high. It looks great, reflowers every year just before tree flowering time (most of the time) and lasts through the spring season into summer. Because of the blooming pattern (sun through bare branches in early spring starts the ground cover) the predators arrive at the egg and larval stages and leave after the hatching stage is well over, catching all the development stages of fruit tree ravagers (again, most of the time). Over time, insects that trouble fruit trees find other places to infest, recognizing the increase of predators in a maintained ecosystem exchange between trees, ground cover, insects and their predators.

"An apple tree plant community might include daffodils, irises, or other early-flowering bulbs.  While blooming under the fruit tree, they provide beauty for us and attract pollinators to the tree.  Dill and onions planted under the drip line of the apple tree repel pests that are otherwise attracted to the tree.  Beans, peas, or purple clovers fix soil nitrogen, improving the quality of the soil in which the tree is growing.  Comfrey and borage are herbs with many human uses.  In addition, they grow quickly and can be cut back and used as mulch around the tree. 

native plants can be incorporated into plant guilds as well.  Indigo and lupines fix nitrogen and add beauty.  Wild strawberries provide ground cover and small but tasty berries. "

www.eagle-ecosource.org




 
                    
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Sorry...the grass probably isn't such a problem if the flower guild is planted densely enough.
 
                            
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Shade flowering ground cover... Can you give some examples....? Lavender would be one right...?
 
Susan Monroe
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Here is a list of groundcovers, separated as to the ones that grow in partial shade, and those that grow in full shade.

But investigate any possibilites, as they've got some that can be invasive there: Houttuynia, Creeping Buttercup, bindweed  and some ivies.

Wild strawberries are on the list.  I just bought some alpine strawberries from Bountiful Gardens, only $2.  And they're edible.

Sue
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Cut grass down the first time in season as usual, and save it for mulch. Then go to packet 2 right away. I would include dandelions, some annual flowers, peas and  ground cover plants mentioned above. Mulch. Some plants could also be planted to speed up the process. Mint comes to mind, strawberries, ... Thinking about plants i could also grow in edible lawn we discussed in other thread.

i'm not an expert...
 
                    
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In the first packet (and it would have to be a big packet) - maybe buckwheat. It is a pretty good smother crop.

Second packet - white clover.

Third packet (assuming trees are large enough) .... geese.
 
Emil Spoerri
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sheet mulching

that's what i have planned for these apples and peaches anyways

lob some lillies and comfrey and rasberries/blackberries in there

buckwheat + light tillage can beat sod, but i doubt there any seeds that can be broadcast onto grass and be expected to dominate it
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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My beekeeper ex-husband says it's not good to have dandelions blooming under your apple trees at the same time that the apples are blooming, because the bees prefer the dandelion blossoms.  This affects both the pollination of the apple trees and the quality of the honey you get (beekeepers like to be able to advertise pure apple-blossom honey).  I imagine it wouldn't hurt to have dandelion plants under the apple trees, as long as you could keep them from being in bloom at the same time as the trees -- perhaps let them grow tall for a bit, then cut them just as the apple blossoms open.  Might be hard to have anything else growing under the trees at the same time, though, if you had to do that.

Kathleen
 
tel jetson
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I don't think a plant exists that satisfies your conditions for packet #1, Paul.  doesn't mean there isn't a way to do this easily, but I don't think it will work exactly the way you describe.

wild strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis) can compete well against grass, but that's more of a transplant scenario, not seed scattering.  and it won't happen in one season.  eventually, though, they'll form a very dense groundcover.  at that point, it's easy to poke other plants into it.

I like to plant musk strawberries (Fragaria moschata) with any new tree I plant.  they need a little bit more attention to get the upper hand than the wild strawberries, but they'll still fill in without much trouble.

quite a few mints and their cousins would do well against the grass.

you could plant some ivy and let it spread out and cover everything.  then when you're ready, tear it all out by rolling it up and plant your packet #2 onto the bare dirt left behind.

I don't think Dave's torch idea is that bad.  if what you're after is a convert, meeting them where there at has advantages and wielding fire has wide appeal.  a one-time judicious use of herbicide followed by an ecosystem enhancing plant guild seems reasonable enough, as well.

sheet mulching also seems like a pretty good compromise.  plenty of squares mulch, so it's not really a fringe practice.

Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
My beekeeper ex-husband says it's not good to have dandelions blooming under your apple trees at the same time that the apples are blooming, because the bees prefer the dandelion blossoms.  This affects both the pollination of the apple trees and the quality of the honey you get (beekeepers like to be able to advertise pure apple-blossom honey).


honey bees are good for honey, not very good for pollination.  there are a great many wild pollinators that do a vastly superior job.  they'll visit the dandelions and any other flower around.  granted, it may seem easier to guarantee a sizable population of honeybees than their wild counterparts, but unless I was running a giant orchard that didn't have suitable habitat for other pollinating critters, I wouldn't worry too much about dandelions under the apple trees.

did your ex-husband contract with commercial orchards?
 
Brenda Groth
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when i plant trees my best friend is a pitchfork..(maybe it is a potato fork?)...

i measure and cut a circle..the ones i was working on today were 8' circles..but that is a bit of overkill..(my way)

then i take a pitch fork and stab it in around the  circle..stepping on the handle and prying out whatever is on top of the ground, weeds, grass, etc..shake out all the soil and pile the weeds (generally quack grass here) ..and repeat until the entire circle has been rid of weeds, then rake..then i'll use the same fork and turn in any nutrients, generally here it is compost and char..and then it sits until the trees arrive in April (tomorrow is April)

then i plant the tree in the center..then i generally divide my perennials and stick them in the ground around the tree..if i have seeds for new ones they may go in..and a lot of good mulch and water.

i have just finished two such beds and the first one, still waiting for the tree, has already got chives and multiplier onions on the border of the 8' circle..as they had to be moved and no better place..

i prefer perennials around the trees so i don't have to disturb the soil after..generally they'll be food, herb or ornamentals..so as to draw in bees..but occasionally around the farthest edges of the bed i will use shallow rooted annuals like peas, beans, etc.


most of my fruit trees are parts of my mixed garden beds anyway..most have some kimd of herb or flower under them..all my  beds (except a few i haven't goten to) are edged with a weed barrier so the lawn doesn't get into the beds..these two 8' beds just got finished with their edging this week..one yesterday..


my sweet cheerry trees have strawberries and pachyusandra and a few siberian iris and daylillies and violets under them...my pear trees are planted in a bed with comfrey, dayllies, bearded iris and siberian iris, oriental poppies and sminiature hollyhocks, my plum treees have mostly dayllillies and mixed perennial flowers under them including some lilies..the hazelnuts have a few dayllies under them..(you know daylllies are edible right?)

apple trees are in my perennial gardens but some new ones are gonig in the new garden which will house fruit and nut trees, have berry hedges and ontain herbs and perennial and annual vegetables and some flowers too..all my gadrens have some flowersand many of my flowers are edible..the new garden has a lot of herbs too, which draw in a lot of bees
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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tel wrote:

honey bees are good for honey, not very good for pollination.  there are a great many wild pollinators that do a vastly superior job.  they'll visit the dandelions and any other flower around.  granted, it may seem easier to guarantee a sizable population of honeybees than their wild counterparts, but unless I was running a giant orchard that didn't have suitable habitat for other pollinating critters, I wouldn't worry too much about dandelions under the apple trees.

did your ex-husband contract with commercial orchards?


Yes, on a small scale (he only had/has around twenty hives).  I wonder if honey bees aren't being underestimated for pollination, though, since orchards that don't have honey bees available normally have much lower fruit sets?  (I do realize that their monocropping system is partly to blame for that.)

Kathleen
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I'm no expert, but I understand rye is allelopathic to some plants. Maybe planting rye in the fall would help knock the grass back over the winter, although it would need to be mowed to prevent it from becoming a weed.

I think the ideal would probably be a plant that frost-kills before it sets seed, produces a fair amount of quickly-decomposing biomass, and exudes lots of grass-killing chemicals that are gone by Spring.

Compromising from there: would running a mulching mower over the right species of mustard, at the right stage of development, release enough allyl isothiocyanate to kill the grass, but not enough to harm the tree or the person?
 
Dave Miller
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I would put a rabbit in packet #1, and your favorite fruit tree guild plants as seed balls in packet #2. 

We have wild rabbits living in our yard, and they do most of my mowing and fertilizing for me.  Rabbits will not kill the grass, but they will weaken it a great deal, leaving it about 0.1 inches tall.  Perhaps chickens could finish off the grass?

Of course if the trees are less than 3" diameter you will need to protect the trunk from the rabbit.  Also when you throw out packet #2 you will want to encourage the rabbit to go elsewhere.

If there are wild rabbits around and you don't have dogs running free, you can encourage the rabbits to stay by building brush piles for them.  Just make sure there is some open space at the bottom of the pile, and make sure the pile is at least 10' diameter.

I have also noticed that they like it when I leave pruned branches on the ground in late winter - they eat the tender bark at the tips of the branches.  So I guess you should throw your branches on the pile such that the tips are touching the ground.

Hmm, maybe packet #1 should just be the branches, piled around the base of the tree.  This would 1) shade the grass, weakening it greatly; 2) attract rabbits, who would finish off any remaining grass; 3) attract birds, snakes, newts, mice, etc. who would eat any remaining seeds, insects, and fallen fruit, and scratch up the soil surface.  When you are ready for packet #2, you move the branches to the next tree, and the whole wildlife community would (unhappily) move with it.   Or you could just leave it in place to rot, seeding it with the seed balls from packet #2 around the edges of the pile where there is sufficient light for the seeds to grow (and any other places in the pile where sunlight reaches the ground).  Once the pile begins to collapse, you would start a new pile around a nearby tree and the creatures would tend to move there.  Otherwise they would just think the plants growing out of the seed balls you put around the pile were intended for them.
 
Emil Spoerri
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watch out for supposed annual rye grass, if you try to kill it in the wrong stage, it will go crazy and turn into a hard to get rid of biennial weed!

same goes for hairy vetch and i imagine quite a few other things

have you heard of the no till method of planting into rye or vetch? they have this big roller on the front of a tractor, with a seed drill in the back. they hit the cover crop with the roller and plant a bit late in the season, when the rye or vetch is in bloom. the roller crimps the stem of either just so to not quite kill the plant outright, but to prevent it from being able to stand up and finish making seed, it then slowly dies.
they were getting conventional midwest corn yields, organically in upstate new york!
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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asmileisthenewak47 wrote:have you heard of the no till method [where] they hit the cover crop with the roller and plant a bit late in the season, when the rye or vetch is in bloom...they were getting conventional midwest corn yields, organically in upstate new york!


I love the videos Ron Morse etc. put together on that sort of system. They go through the various design considerations, and talk about systems that don't need a roller.

Weed 'em and reap
 
paul wheaton
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Maybe a standard field pea in a seed ball is the best for packet A.



 
Paul Cereghino
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You need a clean tidy edge between the guild and the remaining lawn.  Most people have been conditioned to anticipate and understand clean edges.  Ledgibility is everything.  A labor intensive and artificial edge makes everyone feel better.  Not trying to be cynical... I have spent lots of time trying to comfort the conditioned.  Maybe that is why I'm not a landscaper anymore.
 
Max Kennedy
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adunca wrote:
Rabbits will not kill the grass, but they will weaken it a great deal, leaving it about 0.1 inches tall.  Perhaps chickens could finish off the grass?


This is probably an excellent idea, just the chickens though.  Pen a larger number around the tree in a small pen and they will scratch the ground bare.  Then seed pack 2 based on you growing zone and move the chicks to another tree.
 
                                      
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Hi, for pack 1: Rhinanthus angustifolius or Rhinanthus serotinus is a very effective one. Its a parasite on grass and very popular with biologists that create native or heritage gardens to prepare the soil for natives.
Rhinanthus is an annual, usually fighting back grass will mean sowing them the first year and allowing them to set flower the first year, maybe repeating the treatment next year (depending on how effective they were the first time. When the grass has been fought back, you cut them down before they flower.
(edit: i just realize these might be tipically european plants)

two things you really want in a rose guild (apples belong, like most fruit trees, to the rosacea family):
- Umbelliferae, predators like hover flies live in and around them, variaties that are even more usefull for us are things like valerianis officianalis, parsnip, carrots and lots of others...
- compositea, The adults from certain insects eat this, their larvea are great predators on insects that feed on fruit.

i would also go for nastertium as a ground cover below the tree. from stem to drip line comfrey and nastertium. around that, patches of herbs mixed with carrots and onionny things, and not further that 4-5 metres from the tree valerianis.

Also i dont think (dutch?) fruit trees are that dependant on honey bees for pollination but i'm going to look into that, since dandelions are important compositea
 
                    
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I vote against the chickens.  I normally plant some annual flowers under my fruit trees.

But, this year, the chickens had scratched and dug, until we could see the tree roots.  We immediately topped it back up with dirt, but at the moment, I have boards laying over the new soil, to keep the chickens from digging there again.

Today, we noticed the chickens are now digging under the apricot tree, no idea why, unless it is the dropped blossoms?

I am considering a mixed planting of walking onions, and domestic strawberries, that keep escaping from their bed anyhow, and just let them spread.  I hope this will keep the soil chicken free, and let it stay on the roots.  These trees are 6-7 years old, not new ones.

Interesting thread, but I haven't found a grass yet that will grow here.  So, I could just start with packet 2.
 
Travis Philp
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paul wheaton wrote:

I think the big challenge is:  what goes in packet 1?  My first thought was field peas planted in erly spring.  Big seeds; don't germinate well on top of grass; and die around the end of june (end of may would be better).   

Any other suggestions?


What about tossing the peas on the ground, and covering them with some type of mulch. I suppose woodchips would be most acceptable to the neighbours if the person in question is worried about such things. The peas would germinate, and in my experience they still crop well. And of course the woodchips would have a smothering effect on the grass. I put about 1-2 inches of chips overtop of the seeds
 
Jill McPartlin
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I have apple (I have NO CLUE what variety but it doesn't seem to matter) and peach trees in Michigan.  I have some mint in another patch of the yard, and my mom has some daylillies I could transplant.  There is already some small purple weeds? growing under the trees.  I think I may be a candidate for packets #1 and #2.  I want to try some of this but it seems a bit overwhelming!  Starting with the mint and daylillies seems feasible.  I like the idea of edible strawberries too.  Do I start those from seed or transplant?  Will the "guild" plants then spread to my whole yard, if left unchecked?  Thanks for your advice!
 
                              
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sorry for answering i'm not an expert, but i can't help making a guess....

Buckwheat in packet #1 sowed thick. It's a fast grower, and large leaves might shade out the grass. let it flower, go to seed, and reproduce itself for a year, and the frost will kill it.  Then the birds (wild or chickens) will scavange the rest of the seed sitting on the surface.

The next spring sow packet #2 into the dead buckwheat. you might get some buckwheat volunteers, but nothing that a little weeding (shouldn't take longer than the original raking) will solve.
But I would tell the person with the fruit tree to keep their expectations realistic. If all they understand is the inconvenece and confusion of it all, then they won't stick with it.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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That parasite is probably the best idea for packet 1, as it specifically kills the grass, and does so more rapidly than mere competition. It can also, presumably, tolerate a fair amount of shade, allowing seeds with other functions to be included in the same packet (as long as they are not targets for the parasite).
 
                                      
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hi,
yeah i would start with the rhinanthus, as it parasites specifically on grass-roots. the buckwheat might shade it out, if it is able to sprout and outcompete the grass in its early life stage which i thin k is unlikely. grass itself is very much capable of smothering seeds and other plants.

buckweat however is a good one to start with immediately when you see the grass being detered (is that proper english?).

Where i live rhinanthus is easy to gather from the wild but otherwise im sure that a flower seed distributor will have them. it looks very pretty also...

But the downside is that after having it work the ground for you you really wanto get rid of (most of) it.

so the next two years you would want to cut them down before they flower/make seed). i got this method from someone who makes native gardens (ornamental and for building seed-banks for natives), is stead of using a lot of oil powered equipment and chemicals he uses the rhinants...
 
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