Permaculture guild refers to more than planting companion herbs and vegetables or planting companion fruit trees. The main reason behind this is that permaculture emulates the productivity of natural ecosystems by incorporating animals too. Guilds, in regard to permaculture design, refer to a harmonious assembly of plant species that are physically related with a certain animal or plant, and from which benefits can be reaped. Generally, guilds are selected to ensure improved productivity and enhance sustainability as well as self-sufficiency of the system. Permaculture guilds have several benefits some of which are discussed below.
Facilitate root penetration: Unlike grasses that tend to interfere with growth, plants used as guilds rarely interfere with the ability f other plants to feed at the surface due to the fact that they have an open root structure. Such plants include globe artichoke, comfrey, winter and spring bulbs, as well as comfrey.
Nutrient provision: Plants that enhance provision of nutrients are allowed to grow and are slashed periodically to provide mulch. Such plants include nitrogen fixing plants such as casuarinas, Lucerne, acacias, tagasaste, and clovers. Foraging animals are also important for permaculture guilds as they provide nutrients to the soil by providing it with manure.
Kills root pests and parasites: The Australian Bird Plant is known to have the ability to disable nematodes that cause damage to citrus and solanum plants like capsicum, eggplant, tomato, and potatoes among others. Tagetes marigolds also have the ability to fumigate the soil against grass and nematodes.
Deter or prey on pests: Planting a few plants that produce nectar or host insects like salvia, callistemon, fuchsias, dryandras, banksias, and buddleia can go a long way in attracting insect eating birds, thus warding off insects from your vegetable or orchard farms. Attracting birds of prey like eagles with guinea pigs, pigeons, or rabbits can help to keep fruit spoilers like parrots away from your farm. Duck breeds are great for cleaning up snails and slugs while a single donkey or alpaca can e used to keep the foxes away from the sheep.
Offer protection and shelter from sun, wind or frost: Tagasaste, acacia or honey locust are just a few of the nitrogen fixing ‘nurse’ plant species that can provide shade for sensitive trees like citrus and avocados, provide mulch, nitrify soils, and moderate the effects of frost. Others like Casuarinas, poplar and cane grass can help by deflecting the wind and diminishing frost.
The benefits of permaculture guilds are diverse and cannot be exhausted in one article. To find out more about what they can do to improve food productivity and sustainability, enroll at Open Permaculture School or Regenerative Leadership Institute.