cooincidantally, right as bryce linked to his ebook, the other perma-curious group (who is reading gaia's garden) got to the creating guilds chapter. so, with the stars thusly aligned, i finally got down to doing an exercise i had meant to do for months-- examining our primary local native ecosystem in detail and trying to imagine how it might translate into a human supporting agriculture.
i sketched out a typical forest edge guild, and listed each element's inputs and outputs to get an idea of their role. this requires a pretty intimate knowledge of the local ecosystem, which i am lucky to have. in fact, the reason i hadn't done the exercise yet in a formal way was that it had felt kind of silly and redundant. like, i already know it, so why write it out. but like every other silly little exercise i've made myself do, it turned out to be so interesting and useful!
one thing that bugs me about guilds is that they do not include animals. i guess the idea is to focus on the plants' relationships, but since animals are so integral to the cycles, it seems weird to me to leave them out. so, i included animals in my wild guild sketch, which turned out to be more of an ecosystem really. i'm not going to show you the sketch itself, cause i am a terrible drawer, but here it is in list format. note that this is an extreme simplification of an extensive list of species. i'm looking more at groupings and roles than specific species.
the main element is an evergreen tree (or many, they don't grow solitary here, which is actually an essential thing-- with very shallow root systems and high winds, they MUST grow in groups. naturally this area has nearly continuous forest cover. but anyway, you get the idea)
underneath the evergreen (spruce or hemlock) are
-blueberry bushes and a couple of other bushes which produce small seeds
-lots of ferns
- a complete ground cover of thick moss
-lots of funguses and lichens
basic animals include
having listed the eagles and bear, i really couldn't leave out salmon-- which are so essential to our ecosystem. of course, the bear and salmon travel quite large ranges, so are part of ecosystems which are not necessarily anywhere near salmon streams.
then i listed out each elements inputs and outputs. most interesting about this was realizing how little i do know. like moss. what is that stuff for? what does it do? holds a hell of a lot of water, and builds soil. that's all i could come up with. nothing obvious eats it. ferns too. what do they do besides build dirt?
the berries obviously feed lots of animals who in turn distribute and sow their seeds. the evergreen trees have a fairly obvious relationship with the squirrels, who likewise distribute and sow the trees seeds (as well as mushroom spores). salmon feed bears and eagles, who leave lots of salmon carcasses scattered throughout the woods to build more soil. fungus underly everything and are almost exclusive decomposers in our very cold soils.
to help me think it through, i listed out the *roles* elements play before thinking of the specific things i might use in a permaculture to fill the role. the guild resulting from this is fairly straightforward. with evergreen trees at the center, lots of berries and mushrooms underneath. cleared areas for annual gardens and lawn providing an "edge" habitat. and chickens and ducks filling the role of small birds and animals. the most interesting part was when i got to the bear. what takes the place of bear? i thought. what eats the berries and salmon and throws the bones up around the trees? what large omnivorous predator can take the place of...... !! of course! humans! the whole reason for this-- the true central element of a home permaculture system.
when i started thinking about it, i realized how much humans and bears are alike. they eat mostly greens in the spring, then fatten up on berries and fish in the summer and fall. happily scavenge anything else edible in between. somehow it made me feel happy to think that we are the bears in our little made up ecosystem. made me feel more like i fit here.
i highly recommend this exercise. even if you feel like you don't know much about the native ecosystem in your area, start writing and you might be surprised.