Perennial Permaculture Orchard Design
This is a project within the portfolio of work that my husband, Glen and I plan to undertake over the next couple of years in order to realise our vision for a sustainable, income generating homestead and education centre on our land in Brittany, France.
The design will focus on creating a perennial permaculture orchard within the setting of an existing old apple orchard. Many people would refer to this as a edible forest garden, but I would like to focus on the perennial vegetable side being incorporated into an existing orchard, thus increasing benefits and use.
I will demonstrate how I use a permaculture design methodology along with tools and the permaculture principles and ethics, and how these have been interwoven throughout.
When I returned to France in June 2017, I started to survey our property with a view to turning it into a Permaculture demonstration site, education centre and thriving polyincome landscape.
It's a project that we have been considering for awhile. We have slowly improved the orchard area by planting different varieties of fruit trees and creating more airflow into the area, but we have not had an integrated design in place.
This design will focus on creating a perennial permaculture orchard within the setting of an existing apple orchard that was first laid out in the 1970’s. My focus is on adding perennial vegetables as the understory layer, thus increasing benefits and use.
The design framework used for the Project is SADIM = SURVEY, ANALYSIS, DESIGN, IMPLEMENT, MAINTAIN. Working consciously through all of these steps helps having an integrated approach to a design.
I firstly create a mind map for the survey stage and within that I identified that I wanted to use a tool called PASTE. I find this tool helpful to focus on key site related elements within a landbased survey.
PASTE = PLANTS, ANIMALS, SITE/SOIL, TOOLS, EVENTS
Of these I have highlighted the following below:
The following have been identified within the area to be designed
Existing Trees we have planted Other
Apple – varieties unknown. At least 6 different variety of apples Stone fruit – Merryweather Damson, Peach, Apricot Tomcot, Aprium Cot and Candy, 2 x Morello Cherry, 1 x Sunburst Cherry Lawn – grass – mixed species including dandelion, oxeye daisy, ribwort plantain, white clover, red clover, selfheal (prunella vulgaris) Creeping buttercup, yarrow, Doves-Foot Cranesbill
Windbreak: Lawson Cypress Succession species: Nettle, bramble, braken along the windbreak bank
Hedge: Box Pomes (Rosaceae) – Falstaff desert apple, 2 x Conference pear, 2 x Meechers Quince
Nuts: 2 x Red Filbert Cobnut, 1 x Gaint Cobnut, 3 x Nottingham Cobnut
The exact variety of existing Apple trees is unknown. We will engage a local expert to help identify varieties when the trees bear fruit later in the year.
Wildlife species we have identified on the property include:
Birds Mammals Reptiles
Robin, feral pigeon, wood pigeon wren, sparrow, chaffinch, song thrush Field mice Toads
Owl (unsure of type) Moles Slow worms
Kestrel Hedgehog Newts
Heron Fox Frogs
Blackbird, Jay Hare, rabbits
Key points for design consideration
• Established canopy layer for a “forest garden”
• Environmental factors are conducive to achieving a viable temperate climate food forest
• Strategic placement of key elements to create a energy efficient design
• Visualise succession
• Resources that degrade or disappear and intervention strategies necessary
• External factors and threats
• Limiting factors may mean prolonged implementation period
• Match the design to our needs
• Create a balanced system
When embarking on this project I drew inspiration from many influences; namely that of forest gardens I had encountered through the work of Martin Crawford, Graham Bell and Robert Hart in the UK, of Stefan Sobkowiak in Canada, and Micheal Phillips in the USA.
All of these influences shared the following Permaculture principles:
• “Work with nature rather than against” is the main principle. When we emulate natural woodland we are also creating a self-fertilising system with a diversity of species.
• “Each important function is supported by many elements” Every plant serves at least one niche function. Some offer food (human and insect), others have medicinal purpose. In all cases edible food can be found in a diversity of species (fruit/nuts/berries etc.) Together all these elements produce a self sustaining healthy ecosystem function.
• “Each important element performs many functions” plants selected in the polyculture could perform more than one function i.e. food source, nutrient cycling, ground cover, shade, pesticide.
• “Everything gardens” finding out who eats what, and who does what, means you can create an effective integration pest management strategy
I was not planning on creating a “forest garden” just for the sake of demonstrating a polyculture system, or experimenting with what some could call a “permaculture dogma”. I wanted to extract the wisdom of domestic forest gardens and combine these with finding of commercial holistic orchards. Combining and reinterpreting this wisdom in order to turn our small orchard into a workable regeneration project.
Desirable Design characteristics
• Edible and medicinal plants
• Perennial plants
• Insect repelling and attracting plants
• Self-fertilising eco-system
• High diversity to obtain resilience
• Companion planting
• Increase production/harvest area
Creating the design
Using the base map as the template I was able to draw a number of iterations of the design to discuss with my partner. We then selected the design that most appealed to us. I was then able to work on the details such as creating a desired species list.
Key factors of Design Explained:
1. Using the forest garden principle by taking advantage of every planting opportunity. Creating as many layers of vegetation as possible. We could have up to six tiers containing low trees (fruiting trees), shrubs, herbs, ground covers, vines, and root crops. Thus fulfilling the principle of “The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited”
2. Linking up existing orchard trees with understory of vegetation to “increase edge and value diversity”
3. Ensure sufficient access to harvest and maintain produce
4. The structure of the ecosystem brings stability and resilience
5. “Flows” with the annual vegetable garden area
6. Edge material for delineating the vegetation and keeping the grassy paths in check - we have an abundance of wood therefore wood logs cut to the right size would not cost money and aid in mycelium spread and look good. This fulfils the principle of “use and value renewable resource”
7. We are starting small and building experience.
8. Creating a replicable model for temperate zone perennial orchards
9. Falls within budget limitation and phased implementation is possible.
Reflections and Outcomes
As a personal project that has been pending for a few years, I was excited by the prospect of finally sitting down to draft a design. Little did I suspect that the research and journey to get to this point was even more interesting.
There is a staggering amount still to learn and I am only just getting a glimpse into the fact that a diverse perennial orchard not only can increase our food yield, but it also offers a deeper connection to the natural world. I can see the strength and resilience that lies within diversity, and that if I allow nature to garden and try to control the process, we will have more abundance and bigger returns.
It is too soon after the 1st phase of implementation to effectively evaluate the outcomes. But the main questions I will be asking within the next 12 months are:
1. Does the Perennial Orchard meet our goals (yield, diversity of food, management, health)?
2. Is each species adapted to its niche?
3. How will conditions change when the polyculture is mature and what changes will this produce?
These questions are adapted from Eric Toensmeier Edible Forest Garden Guide.
Performance indicators could be used to evaluate the project.
Has there been a noticeable increase in biodiversity?
Which species are new?
Has there an imbalance
2. % of needs met from the land
How much of fruit and vegetables is being harvested meets our needs
3. Orchard health
Has yields improved, is the fruit healthier, are there any pests and diseases on the trees
4. Soil health
Extend the perennial beds between the mature trees.
Identify old apple varieties.
Introduce more perennial vegetable species in the understory
Plant shrub layer of soft fruit and tagaste for nitrogen fixer
Create a soil fertility plan
Introduce variety by grafting on existing mature trees.