I believe you are writing to us from Japan. Thanks for your interest. The photo of the (single) banana tree provided on the guild site you gave explains a lot. Under just one tree, it is easy to see that "beans, beetroots, and poppies" would do well. My banana trees were monsters compared to this one, with huge leaves which, like storm-clouds, darkened much of my yard. Even so, mint, perilla, chives, and mitsuba lived a carefree life under the banana-tree cloud. But hard-headed and persistent, I wanted adzuki, mung, carrots, and grains to grow in the banana shade, and they refused, so out went the banana trees for the sake of my sun-loving veggies and grains.
My favorite introduction to the never-ending subject of "guilds" is "Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" by Toby Hemenway. (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, Vermont, 2001). Hemenway introduces guilds with the famous Native American one, "The Three Sisters": corn, beans, and squash. The nitrogen-fixing beans climb up the corn stalk; the corn roots deliver sugars that nourish the nitrogen-fixing bacteria; and the squash leaves provide cover, suppress weeds, and keep the ground moist. In the American Southwest, Hemenway finds a "fourth sister," the Rocky Mountain bee plant that attracts bees to pollinate beans and squash and accumulates iron (pages 148-9).
He expands the idea of a guild by showing how an apple-centered one, with "grass suppressing bulds (daffodils, camas, garlic chives)," "insectary plants (dill, fennell, bee balm)," "nutrient accumulators (yarrow, chicory, plantain)" and "mulch plants (comfrey, artichoke)"
on pages 150-1.
He goes on to illustrate how a walnut/hackberry guild might work, and an "orchard super-guild" with nitrogen-fixing trees, mulberries, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables growing in the "alleys" between the trees.
But Hemenway does not think guilds are a good place for most vegetables: "Some plants aren't appropriate for guilds, particulary vegetables that are insistent on full sun" (page 166).
In Chapter 10, "On Growing a Food Forest," Hemenway deplores the loss of forest land in the US: "Even in the arid Southwest, dryland forests or ironwood, mesquite, and saguaro cactus blanketed what is now desert, until the sheep-grazers' depredations and the lumberman's axes destroyed them" (page167). Mesquite, by the way, is a nitrogen-fixer suitable for drylands that would boost nitrogen intake in many gardens beyond the nitrogen provided by clovers, peas, and other legumes.
Hemenway outlines the steps necessary to start a forest garden: plant a tall-tree layer, a low-tree layer, a shrub layer, an herb layer, a ground cover layer, a vine layer, and a root layer, and he lists many suitable plants for each layer (pages 176-178). He then shows how to start little guilds inside of this blend of canopies, middle plants, roots and ground cover.
Whether you want to digilently follow Hemenway's maps and directions or more intuitively cook up your own receipe for guilds and a forest garden, I think Hemenway's book is a good place to begin.
Bob Monie--southeast Louisiana
Hi Bob and all,
What a fascinating story about your banana tree experience.
Being a very avid banana-eater, I remember reading somewhere about the
potency of banana fruit and peel for different medicinal uses and figure
that perhaps there may be some very powerful strength in their roots and
body as well that may have ('selfishly') kept the conditions of the soil
just right for themselves....in addition to it's the shady condition. (And
don't most varieties concentrically shoot out 8 or so 'baby' trees - there
must be very hungry roots down there for that...!)
As a complete novice to gardening or any knowledge about cultivation of any
kind, (I believe a key point in making me a perfect candidate for accepting
the ideas of natural farming according to Fukuoka), I am so eager to learn
more and have been enjoying learning from you all. Concerning the
appropriate combination of plants, please bear with me as I share with you
something interesting I found on a website on permaculture, (again, of which
I know nothing), on the concept of something they call 'guilds'.
'Guilds are combinations of leaf crops, legumes, fruits and root crops in a
stacked arrangement that use the vertical space to the maximum, and maximise
productive use of available sunlight. Combinations of various plants such as
a fruit tree with a leaf crop at its base and a vine on its trunk can ensure
that several food producers, located within the same geographical space, can
make use of the different levels of solar energy. In this garden one such
guild consists of a Banana tree, beans, beetroots and poppies. In another
guild celery, beans and a tamarillo plant (tree tomatoes) grow together. '
Therefore, I assume there must be some plants that do have compatibility
with the banana tree..afterall and it would make sense that it would work in
this vertical arrangement to make efficient use of the solar energy. My
neighbors cut off the leaves of their banana trees every winter and they
always grow back healthily, so I imagine there must be a way to plant some
winter-friendly plants using the leaves as mulch.....but maybe this is not
so nice for the banana trees to be so naked each winter....
(grateful for this chance to spout out some random thoughts to come out of
my lurking state!)
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