This past Thursday, we went to an all-day presentation by David Jacke who co-authored with Eric Toensmeier, the two volume set, Edible Forest Gardens. In was a very rich and full day and Jacke is an dynamic and organized speaker. Apparently, the group of +150 people was larger than his normal size group but you’d never know from the way he presented. But this post is not about the presentation which would be impossible to recount without a recording to help. This post is about one word that David mentioned a number of times: patches. I’m not going to talk about how he used the word but rather what it sparked us to think about in our orchard.
We have been planting as many types of cold hardy herbaceous perennials as we can to attract as many insects – pollinators and predators – as we can. The pests will come because we planted fruit trees to invite them. We’re looking to create an environment where there’s enough balance that the insects are the caretakers. We started out by just keeping a log of what we were planting but weren’t focusing on design other that to have something flowering from last frost to first frost. We basically took the approach of loading as much in as we could. That works and doesn’t work. We got an incredible range of plants going and we could see & hear lots of activity. But as we grew with the orchard, we realized that we needed more than what we were doing. We knew that we were planting a lot of diverse perennials and the results were clear but it seemed to me that I wasn’t seeing as many plants as we had planted. I began to suspect that some were not making it through the winter. But I didn’t know which or where.
We needed to do some design where we were the beneficiaries.
And that’s where David’s use of the word patch sparked me and I came up with the idea of planting-grid maps where the rectangle’s corner is a tree in the orchard. We can start by inventorying what’s in each patch. Then we can fill the holes by design that is connected to the four trees that form the corners of the rectangle. This simple tool will allow us to design guilds that are fitted to the trees near them. It will give us information about what plants thrive, what plants survive, and what plants die in different areas of the orchard. It will allow us to better observe the impact of our plantings on the fruit trees.
Below is a planting-grid map of one section of the orchard. The trees are real but the herbaceous perennials are representative.
Thank you, David and Michael.