Permaculture Guilds Units- What They are and How They Work

by: EJ on 06/27/2017

Zach Loeks is the author of The Permaculture Market Garden: A Visual Guide to a Profitable Whole-systems Farm Business  and a market gardener, farm consultant and educator who runs Kula Permaculture Farm with his wife Kylah Dobson and their two daughters, Dayvah and Rainah.  Today's excerpt covers how permaculture guilds work.  Be sure to download the free chapter excerpt on Guild Crop Rotation to see all of Zach's beautiful and educational illustrations. 


Nature is a wild place where the fittest survive. This leads to an ecosystem with many species in their own niche, specialists and generalists. My local forest has shadetolerant and sun-loving trees, water lovers by the streams and dry survivors in uplands. Some flower and fruit in spring and others in fall. And this is just the trees. Add in other diverse perennial layers, fungi, bacteria, arthropods, mammals, birds and amphibians, etc. We have a functional community with many interactions between organisms. This involves competition, but also organisms are supporting and balancing each other.

A guild unit is the organizational unit for designing guilds. The most useful organizational unit for market gardeners is the guild unit triad. The most basic guild unit, however, is the permabed: with bed crop, cover-cropped path and the soil life beneath partitioning resources and mutually supporting productivity.


Guild companionship is the selection and routine assembly for production of specific species with the goal of umbrella management and symbiotic possibility. In the permabed system we design crop guild triads where species occupy beds within a triad to form relationships between key crops, neighbor crops, the soil life and other chosen organisms. There are many different ways that crops can form companionships and this can be helpful in designing crop guilds. David Jacke, in his seminal work the Edible Forest Garden, makes good discussion of three broad types of guilds. Note: crop guilds may belong to more than one category.

Mutual support occurs when one or more species’ natural character, habit and products meet the needs of another species. The most important example is the beneficial relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and your crops. These exchange sugars, nutrients and other elemental flows with each other. Another example would be the use of oats as a trellis for peas. The peas can climb, and the oats get nitrogen.


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