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Are you dreaming of setting up your own orchard on your homestead? But are wondering if you should plan a traditional or permaculture orchard? Or better yet you wonder if a Tree guild is right for you? Perfect! Today you and I are going to talk about the differences between a traditional or permaculture orchard, the benefits of both on your homestead, and answer that burning question, which one is right for your homestead. Let’s get growing.

For many of you that are currently building a homestead or for those of you who are dreaming of starting. I thought I would answer a question I get asked a lot!

“Which should I develop on my Homestead, a traditional or a permaculture Orchard or a fruit tree guild?”

I am sure you will be very surprised by my answer. I wouldn't hurt my feelings if you just jump to the end to find out the answer but you will miss all the good stuff in the middle.

Let's get our definitions out of the way.

What is permaculture?

Bill Mollison, the founder of the term permaculture in 1978, defines it as “The conscious design and maintenance of agricultural productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people, providing their food, energy, shelter, and other materials and non materials needs in a sustainable way.”

In short, permaculture is a man using the systems God put in place, in the beginning, to satisfy all the needs for food, energy, and shelter! God designed this world to function and when man steps in and tries to change the way things work, we get less production, less food and we become dependent on things that aren't in God's nature! We become dependent on pesticides and chemical fertilizers. God has already invented the things we need to fix our world.

What is An Orchard?

An orchard is an intentional planting of trees or shrubs that is maintained for fruit production.

Let's look at the differences between a traditional or permaculture Orchard.

What is a Traditional Orchard?

Most traditional orchards are planted for a single variety of fruit. They are a monoculture of large mature fruit trees spread for ease of heavy equipment, and are planted at a high density of 150 trees per acre!

Wow, if I could grow 150 trees on 1 acre I would be set for life!

This type of growing needs constant maintenance and protection from pests! With close quarters and no other variety of plants to help, there is usually a strong dependence on pesticides and the orchardist. An orchardist is the manager or maintainer of an orchard. Traditional orchards also need a large water supply and most are planted beside lakes or reservoirs.

What is a Permaculture Orchard?

A permaculture orchard, unlike the traditional orchard, has multiple layers of vegetation that not only produce food, but also improves the soil and usually attracts beneficial pollinators and repels pests.

Most are planted in the Sobkowiak’s style of N. A. P. (Nitrogen fixers, apple, pear or plum). Every row of trees is also offset by a different N., A. Or P. So there would not be the same type of tree growing next to each other.

The rows of trees are mulched heavily to smother grass, the bane of all young trees. Then interplanted with an understory (just like forests of the world) of more nitrogen fixers, fruit bushes and/or flowers for pollinators. Things like red currants, raspberries, and honey berries.

Then there is a herb level planting of non-woody plants to help with the biomass for mulch; these are cut annually and placed on the mulch to help increase moisture and food production. Things like comfrey, dill, fennel, peppers, tomatoes, bush beans, and other herbs.

Next, comes the ground cover layer like strawberries and creeping thyme. Then the vining layer where you can plant things like hops, kiwi, climbing roses, and even annuals like pole beans, squash, and cucumbers.

Finally, there's the root layer with carrots, potatoes, ginger, onions and so much more. As you can see, a permaculture orchard is a mix or multi-culture of plants that benefit each other to produce food for you, me and the pollinators.

What Is A Fruit Tree Guilds?

A fruit tree guild is the idea of a permaculture orchard intensified. It brings that idea of an ecosystem into a small scale, like for your backyard. A fruit tree guild is about building that ecosystem but just around 1 or maybe 2 trees by underplanting with plants that only benefit trees.

Don’t get me wrong I love the idea of a fruit tree guild, I just feel that they are just a limited version of a permaculture orchard. For example, the list of plants needed is focused on the benefits where the list of the type of plants in a permaculture forest is benefiting as well as where they fit in the forest system. If you love to learn about planting a fruit tree guild, I found this great article by the Tenth Acre Farm. I have been following her blog for a while and just love what she is doing with a postage size farm.

Which is the Best for the Homestead?

I think all three can be. Many of you probably thought I would choose one over the other. But, I think you could easily adapt the three together!

What if you brought the idea of the permaculture orchard together with a traditional orchard by building an ecosystem. And what if that ecosystem didn't just include plants but animals as well?

The problem with the traditional orchard is it being a monoculture and its heavy machinery maintenance. But, what if you could lessen the number of trees and space them further apart so the ground would get a little more light? Then you could plant under the trees not just grass but nitrogen-fixing plants like alfalfa or field peas. This could improve the soil and bring in pollinators. Also what if you could take it another step and run your herbivores through the trees in the spring, like lambs and small goats, (as long as the trees are well-protected) Then followed by a few batches of meat chickens? Wouldn’t this also improve the soil and step away from the whole monoculture ecosystem?

Animals are part of and can be used to improve any ecosystem, not just plants, in a complete and true form of a permaculture orchard. Then you could even follow up your chickens with a planting of pumpkins for the summer.

Once the apples needed picking, you would do this without Machinery. Yes, it would take more time but with the added production of lambs and meat chickens to sell. You are not dependent on just an apple crop but now would have raised three crops in the same area and fertilized your trees for pennies.

Once your crop of apples was harvested and the pumpkins were slightly trampled, could you not finish your pigs on discarded apples, pumpkin vines, and pumpkins? As the old-timers used to say, “there's nothing like pumpkin finished pork!”

I have finished our pork on pumpkins the last two years and the difference is amazing!

As for the permaculture orchard and a fruit tree guild, you could easily bring both of those ideas into a fedge.

A fedge is a hedge made up of food-producing plants, trees, and shrubs. Permaculture also teaches that the best places to grow in an ecosystem are on its edges. Like the edge between a forest and a meadow, or the edge of a stream, or the edge of a garden area. I have my best crop of weeds on the edge of my garden along the fence. This place gets all the extra water my garden gets but because of the fence, I can't simply mow it down.

My vision for my homestead is to have a few traditional orchards that can be maintained with the help of animals and beneficial plants. I also see all my fence lines heavily mulched with permaculture orchards lining them as fedges! We currently have our first fedge planted and are choosing our trees for our next. We are also planning two new orchards! You can find our plans in this post, Farm Report #8.

These are only my ideas. I think that the true answer is that you need to find the best solution for your homestead yourself. Remember permaculture is when you take the ideas of others or nature and make them your own. I don't grow in your area and you don't grow in mine. I don't grow the same things you do and you don't grow the same things I do. Each of our growing journeys is different. And you have to become the expert of your own homestead. I say the same in my eBook, Dirt, about building soil health. You are You and your homestead is the same. All you and I can do is take the ideas and make them your own.

I hope I answered your questions as to what I think is the best and maybe given you some ideas of how to use all three on your homestead.

As always not let the world hold you back,

Pray, Just Plant!


Intro 00:47

Definitions 01:20

What Is a Traditional Orchard 02:33

What Is a Permaculture Orchard 05:45

Tips and Tricks- Bring in Pollinators 07:13

Details of a Permaculture Orchard 09:22

What is A Fruit Tree Guild 16:30

Growing With God 20:14

What Is Right For Your Homestead 24:42

A Few Ideas For You 26:15

Recap 32:51

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