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Apple tree guilds/perma apples

 
Matthew McCoul
Posts: 68
Location: Southeast Michigan
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My father was an orchardist in charge of a small U-pick orchard for years. When the owner decided to sell, it left a bad taste in his mouth and he hasn't grown fruit trees since.

Now, years later, he's bought some apple trees to plant on his property, but this time he wants to go the natural route.

No heavy pruning. No chemical sprays.

What can you folks tell us about apples in permaculture? What comprises a good apple tree guild? How can we keep pests and fungi down? Is there a no-prune method like Fukuoka did with his citrus?

We want to work with these trees, not against them.
 
Henry Jabel
Posts: 58
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forest garden fungi woodworking
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It depends what you are growing the fruit for and other factors like your climate. If you are growing for juice, cider you can get away with less perfect looking fruit so less work is involved. U-pick you would need to be more dilligent as the consumer would be more fussy. If its purely for yourself you can do what you want.

Its quite an in depth topic but the best source of information I have found for this would be 'The Apple Grower' by Michael Phillips and "the permaculture orchard" videos.

The Fukuoka method of no prune only works if you grow them from seed because you have aready 'pruned' an apple tree when you have grafted it. You can of course not prune a tree and it will still produce but in a commercial setting especially you would want to continue.

Its possible but the approach and effort involved will vary according to cicumstances.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1556
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I love apples and have some young apple tree guilds developing.

Key guild components:

Comfrey - aim for one of the sterile bocking varieties and propagate by root cuttings. Comfrey deep mines minerals from the soil and returns them to the root zone of the apple tree. Regularly chopping leafy material mulches the surface of the soil, and the flowers attract pollinating insects. A well established patch of comfrey will also do an excellent job of shading out and suppressing grass, which competes substantially with apple trees.

Deep taproots - I like thistle family plants here - globe artichokes and cardoons for example. Their root zone is much deeper than that of the fruit trees, they have an edible yield and their leaves again can suppress grasses once established. Another pretty good mulch material if you let the old leaves fall.

Creeping ground cover - again, this is about limiting opportunities for grasses to establish. I have strawberries running under my trees and it looks like I'm due for a bumper crop this year.

Berry bushes - I've got some redcurrant under/around my apples. They are a new experiment but I'm hopeful they will work well. Again, I'm looking for a dense leafy shrub that will shade the soil and keep the grass at bay.

Various herbs/alliums etc - I've got a few odd alliums in as well. Some walking onions, a few chives that I let self seed, some creeping ground covers.

N-fixers - I don't have any at present, but would be looking for some perennials. I've heard good things about alder, coppiced regularly to ground level. Lupins can work if you can get the roots innoculated well. Honey locust would be good to mix in - looks for a thornless variety, ideally one also bred for high sugar content in the pods.

Getting established

Wood chip mulch is amazing for this. It tipped my from dense grass sod to rich, dark, fertilise soil full of moisture and earth worms in under 6 months. We get loads dropped off occasionally by tree surgeons. Lay it down thick (like 4 to 6 inches thick) and when you need to plant just scrape it aside to get to the soil. I'm hopeful that once everything is established and holding the grass at bay then I will only need to very irregularly top this up. I've noticed that the strawberries really love growing on the wood chip. They like being elevated from the mud a bit I think so the fruit and leaves stay dry and clean.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1556
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Also, there was an excellent video published recently called "The Permaculture Orchard". Well worth getting hold of - good tips on species, planting strategies, pruning, pests etc...
 
Steve Hitchen
Posts: 30
Location: Yorksire - North England
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Apples like Potash a lot - I am not sure about plants which bring are "potash" fixers, but wood ash is rammed full of it - adding wood ash from either firepits or log burning stoves to your mulch will have a powerful effect on the fruit quality and quantity.

And, if you're going to go down this route where you will end up with "islands" of high potash, then adding other potash craving plants, like gooseberries and red currents would make for an interesting guild. Planting them fairly close - say an Apple, a gooseberry and a red current in a triangle - would give them a little competition to spur on growth and then have something low growing in between th em.

If you go down the woodchip mulch route, then I would also suggest seeding the bed with Oyster and Garden Giant mushrooms - this will drive better all around plant growth from the fruit trees and increase cropping weights, give you another source of food, and break the woodchip down a couple of years faster, while also retaining water better.


Steve
 
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