Thursday, May 27, 2010

Peasant Gardens versus Convenience

One of the big trends in gardening these days is planting a multilayered garden with edible plants as ground cover, shrubs, & fruit trees, with a few herbs and/or ornamentals thrown into the mix. I was intrigued by this concept in the mid-70s. I learned my lesson well—the hard way.

Mixing layered plants with & under fruit trees is a royal pain in the @#s. You’re forever looking for a place to step without squishing the other, lower plants. It must increase the picking & pruning time by a factor of three to ten times. Another problem is finding any fallen fruit so as to not leave any pests or diseases around to infect the tree the next year.

The mixture of layers of bearing crops is really based on peasant culture, especially in the tropics. If you read the books carefully, you’ll find a lot of the “models” are actually based on non-temperate plantings. The tropics has a completely different soil ecosystem. The tropics stores most of its nutrients above ground for rapid availability of nutrients. In temperate zones, it’s the other way around. Soil not in the tropics, such as most of America, stores much of the nutrients in the soil. To take a tropical model & transfer it to a temperate climate is fraught with the possibility of failure.

Furthermore, the tropical models usually stem from a highly knowledgeable peasant demographic. The people are trained via many generations of cultivators where tried-and-trusted cultivation techniques are common. The tropical ecosystem combined with skilled knowledge of the ecosystem often makes for lush, multi-layered plantings. In America, most families have two working people. What to do in the “spare time” is critical. A layered planting takes so much extra time that I don’t recommend it. Rather than the two photos of peach trees with roses, irises, and dozens of other plants beneath & beyond the dripline of the tree, I prefer clustering fruit trees in a zone with continuous mulch as seen in David Ulmer’s front yard. The time saved for other recreational activities is greatly increased. The planting of beneficial insect attracting plant well beyond the current & future diameter of the fruit tree works fine as must beneficial insects can easily fly into fruit tree zone to pray upon pests.

It’s a matter of choosing between an aesthetic bias, a preference an intellectual concept, or the convenience of zoning the trees together. This doesn’t mean linear rows like a commercial orchard. Instead I plant fruit trees on an irregular spacing to look more like a grove of trees. Another excellent approach is to plant two, three, four or more trees in the same planting spot—as David does. The photo without plants & a continuous mulch beneath is a planting for David’s wise use of fruit trees. This gives the opportunity to increase the variety of fruit while looking less like a typical orchard.


Let me know what you think. Visit my web site, www., to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books. Thanks, Robert


Anonymous said...

When using irregular spacing are the emitters laid out in straight rows? After reading the blog post I'm starting to think the space between my rows of blueberries is under utilized so why not eliminate the empty space between rows and fill with more blueberries.

Robert Kourik said...

Please see my book "Roots Demystified, Change your Gardening Habits to Help Roots Thrive". You'll see that most plants, or at least trees & shrubs, have roots .5 to 3 Xs as wide as the foliage. So, I bet you're water all the roots.

Anonymous said...

Robert thanks for reply. I was hoping that you would say to see your "Drip Irrigation For Every Landscape And All Climates" book which I recently ordered and should receive sometime next week. Currently my blueberries are in rows but now you have got me to thinking that spacing each plant 3ft apart in a circle is the way to go as opposed to 3ft apart in rows 6ft apart. Then I can put a maypole in the center and drape bird netting from center to perimeter to keep the robins out.

outdoor products said...

Interesting post! I didn't know the difference between tropical and temperate soil composition before I read this. And then tying it in with whether or not to layer your plantings made a lot of sense, thanks!

Kitzkamp said...

What you refer to as Peasant Gardens seems to resemble the Permaculture Forest Garden concept. What you've shared about the soils issue, not to mention the simple logistics of picking tree fruits and pruning with stepping all over underplantings makes total sense. As a landscape architect/permaculture designer, it's these details that make or break a garden. When homeowners get too overwhelmed, they just stop getting out and doing what needs to be done, especially when it comes to fruit trees!