Imagine 90% of the vegetation in your yard is edible, medicinal, pollinator friendly, and is a pest deterrent. The praxis of permaculture has been a human function for quite some time. Today, many around the world and for various reasons, practice some form of permaculture.
This article marks the first in a series of articles where I will share my two-decade, accrued portion of knowledge on the general subject of raising and maintaining crops, and how I am currently using it to transform my yard into a perennial food forest ecosystem. Since I can’t eat grass I decided to fill yard-space with edible, medicinal, and pollinator friendly plants, reducing the amount of mowing. The real work requires cultivating a balanced co-existence with these very plants.
I spent two years observing, collecting, and assessing data on insect and animal life, water flow and what previous occupants left of perennial plant growth. I designed a 5 year layering plan that promotes and sustains relationships between its component parts--trees, understory, ground cover, soil, fungi, insects, and animals. The idea is to simulate the patterns and features of a natural ecosystem--flowers and herbs attract insects, insects attract birds and bats, birds, bunnies, and squirrels attract raptors (hawks & owls). You get the picture.
This year I started with the canopy and sub-canopy layers. Plant your fruit / nut trees on the outpost (north and east sides of your yard). Start with taller trees first or dwarf trees. The Twin Cities area is a Zone 4, although areas along the river can be Zone 5b. Microclimates can exist near or around built structures. Zone 4 is a semi-wild area, mainly used for foraging and collecting wild food as well as for the production of timber.
There are several edible perennials, fruit trees, and berry bushes that do well in zone 4. Depending on how much work one wants to do, what sort of animals and pests to deter, and what types of edibles you want to plant, determines which type of plants you use. Plants such as mints, strawberries, mulberries, and berry bushes have a way of becoming very invasive and can also have
detrimental effects upon other plants, but they are wonderful to have if you can control and maintain them.
This year I planted a Contender Peach; A North Star Cherry; Mt. Royal Plum; and a Chicago Hardy Fig. Fruit trees sometimes don’t make it—so plant something else. I chose these trees for their relative size, their resistance to drought, and their fruit.
Tips on how to care for these trees.
- Any fruit-bearing tree producing fruit with a pit (peaches, cherries, plums, apricots) should be planted in soil that has been free of raspberries, potatoes, and strawberries for at least 3 years. These plants are known to cause a root infection in fruit trees, weakening and making them susceptible to infestations. Trees will continue to produce fruit, but the fruit will gradually lose its flavor and overall quality. Strawberries are good ground coverage for apple and pear trees.
- Grafts have to be 2-3 in. above ground and the base free of mulch as this will rot your tree.
- Plant fragrant flowers and herbs--chives, ramps (wild leeks), garlic, mint, tansey, dill, nasturtiums--near and around your tree. These plants deter pest and insects (deer do not like mint). Marigolds, borage, and nasturtiums are necessities in every garden. They deter aphids and help crops develop nicely.
- Rue is good for Fig Trees; doesn’t play well with other herbs.
- Hyssop is good near grapes or fruit trees; keep away from radishes.
- Geraniums are good near roses and grapes.
- Tansey and Nasturtiums are great in general for the garden but particularly for fruit trees.
By year two plant perennial vegetables, fruiting shrubs, and vines. In the next segment I will talk more about companion planting.