Most people who know anything about permaculture have heard of a guild. but what is it, and why should you put one together?
What about those pre-made ones you can find on many permaculture websites?
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What’s a guild?
As far back as the Romans and very common in Medieval times, (human) guilds formed from groups of tradesmen or merchants for mutual benefit.
Likewise, a permaculture guild is a collection of mostly plants (but also insects, animals, soil life) that work together to support, nourish and protect each other.
Generally, a guild is centered around an overstory tree, but this is not a requirement. You will commonly see fruit tree guilds that use a fruit or nut-bearing tree as its tallest plant.
Bear in mind that you must design any guild to your climate and available plants.
Food forests can be built by combining guilds together, so you could think of them as building blocks with very intricate edges.
Like as in food forests, try to cover all layers to fill every possible niche with a plant you like. If you don’t, opportunistic plants (that the uninformed call “weeds”) will fill that niche.
Benefit #1: Self supporting system
A guild is an interconnected web of living things. The idea is to have multiple functions from each element, and have multiple elements provide each essential function.
Think about the difference between a fishing net and fishing line.
If one line breaks, it will not affect the net’s ability to catch fish much. But you will certainly lose a fish to a broken fishing line.
Guilds have many layers and a high level of diversity to the grouping, in type, size, root location and growth pattern.
The guild is a self-supporting system that gets stronger over time.
Benefit #2: Better growth
To provide essential functions in your guild, make sure to include “nurse” plants, nutrient miners and nitrogen-fixers.
Combined together, these plants will promote healthy growth and shelter young tender seedlings.
Plants will share essential nutrients between themselves, and this is helped by having them in close proximity like is done in guilds.
Make sure to have multiple plants (and types) for each role. Don’t rely on only leadplant or alfalfa (lucerne) or clover to fulfill your nitrogen-fixing needs.
Use all three and more to make sure each function is covered by multiple elements.
This is what makes guilds a strong, resilient system.
Benefit #3: Fewer pests
Using insectary plants to attract beneficial insects is a great way to lower the time and monetary cost of pest control.
These include hover flies, predatory wasps, ground beetles, praying mantis, ladybugs, lacewings, aphid midges, and damsel bugs.
They all like different plants, so make sure to include something for everyone.
Also, realize that diversity confuses pests, so cram as much diversity into your guild as practical.
Think about it – would you rather eat chocolate pieces from a bowl with only chocolate, or a bowl with chocolate pieces and mixed-in dog poop?
Would you pick through the dog poop to eat the chocolate? Hmm…
Some plants can repel unwanted insects, so pick these based on the pests you know.
Benefit #4: Less work
By planting thickly and including nutrient miners and nitrogen-fixing plants, you can also have less work.
Because the ground is covered (you did include ground cover plants, right?), weeds are much less common.
So now there’s no huge need to fertilize or weed. You can use “chop and drop” from coppiced or pollarded trees at your leisure to feed the plants.
Watering requirements are also reduced, because the ground is covered, more shaded, and protected from the sun.
In the desert, you may also want to locate your guild in a shallow basin, with lots of wood chips and old leaves.
Benefit #5: More production
For me, this is the best benefit.
You can have more production because you’re stacking plants in space and time.
You’re protecting, nursing and feeding the plants the nutrients they need.
Because they’re getting what they need to grow, the plant’s production will be higher.
- Guilds are a self-supporting system that get stronger over time.
- Better growth is possible in a guild due to proper nutrients.
- Pest pressure is reduced in a guild from insectary plants.
- Guilds require less work – less fertilizing, weeding and watering.
- You get more production out of guild.
OK, that’s all folks! Do you have any questions or comments about guilds, sustainable homesteading, permaculture design or anything else? Ask your question down below and let’s talk! You can also use the contact form, or email me at info at thepermaculture dot life.
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