|Our herb spiral at the peak of the growing season.|
I Love Herbs!
One of the things that I was looking forward to most once I started gardening is growing herbs. I have been into natural health for a long time, and have used a lot of different herbs to support my own health. I have recently begun to learn a lot about herbs, including which herbs you can use for various health conditions, and I have started to learn about how to make my own herbal remedies at home. Just like my food, I want to take back the control of my own healthcare as much as possible. For me, a part of that means learning as much as I can about herbs and their uses for myself and my family. I also love to cook with fresh culinary herbs.
The Permaculture Herb Spiral
When I started learning about permaculture, one of the first books that I read was Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. While much of the permaculture literature prior to the publishing of the book focused on larger-scale land holdings, Gaia’s Garden focuses on permaculture projects that most people can do in their own backyards. The author includes a lot of information on doing small-scale projects in limited spaces. The permaculture herb spiral was one example that was particularly intriguing to me. To me, it looks really beautiful, and it's a great way to grow a lot of different herbs or other plants within a small space.
The permaculture herb spiral concept was first designed by one of the co-originators of permaculture, Bill Mollison. As with everything else in permaculture, the herb spiral design is based upon principles found in nature, and takes advantage of the “edge effect." In nature, when two or more different ecosystems come together (such as a prairie and a forest), you have an ecological “edge,” or an “ecotone.” The edge is where you will find the most biodiversity and ecological activity, since you have several different systems coming together in one place. The herb spiral uses edge to create different microclimates in which plants with varying ecological requirements can grow, and the spiral pattern makes premium use of the space with which to grow plants. You do not end up wasting valuable growing space with paths like you would in a typical herb garden. The plants at the very top of the spiral receive the most direct sunlight and the most water drainage, so the most sun-loving, arid plant species thrive well there, such as rosemary. At the bottom of the spiral, the wet- and shade-loving plants do the best, such as parsley.
Calendula blossoms are used medicinally for skin conditions,
such as wounds, rashes and burns.
Herb Spiral Construction
The construction of the spiral is fairly simple (for more detailed instructions on how to build an herb spiral, check out these two links.) Lay down some cardboard on the ground to block out weeds. Then, lay down bricks or football- to fist-sized rocks one by one in a spiral pattern, building up vertically as you go, with the highest point in the middle. You then fill the inside of the spiral with potting soil and some organic materials such as straw and leaves which will compost over time. I recommend that you also add and mix in compost and other nitrogen-rich materials such as grass clippings or composted chicken manure, which will provide nutrition to your plants. Spray down everything with water from your garden hose each time you add another layer of compostable material to kick-start the composting process with an increase in microbial activity.
You can add a higher percentage of potting soil for additional growing medium. Just a warning: If you fill your spiral with mostly compostable materials, your organic material will compost down over the course of the growing season, and your plants will start to physically “sink” down as the material composts down. This happened to me during my first growing season this year, and as the season progressed, I had to remove some of the top layers of bricks so that the plants got the proper access to sunlight as they physically sunk down. If I had it to do over, I would have added a much larger percentage of potting soil than I did (while still maintaining a large amount of mulch and other organic materials to build quality soil, block weeds, and retain moisture) to keep things from physically sinking down so much. We also put some wood mulch around the base of the herb spiral to help block weeds, and to make it look even more aesthetically pleasing.
The construction of an herb spiral can easily be done within an afternoon, and requires no adhesive to hold the stones or bricks together (although I believe that some people have done so). It only took my husband and I a single afternoon to build it, and our neighbors, never having seen one before, thought it was really cool-looking. You can plant using either seeds or starter plants. As is the case with a vegetable garden, be sure to double-check the growing and space requirements for your plants.
The herb spiral is especially useful for growing herbs, as the name suggests, but I have heard of people growing other plants in them as well, such as strawberries or even lettuce. I recommend drawing out a diagram and planning where your plants will go based upon their growing requirements prior to planting. I also recommend placing your herb spiral near the location of your kitchen, so that it is convenient to run outside and harvest your tasty herbs or potent herbal remedies right near where you will be using them.
We were able to grow quite a lot of different herbs, and were fairly successfully at that. My absolute favorite was our sweet basil plant, which I made some tasty basil lemonade and dairy-free pesto sauce with. After experiencing my own home-grown fresh basil, I have vowed to grow my own basil for the rest of my life. Fresh basil is so expensive at the store, and it is therefore more than worth it to grow your own from home.
We also grew sage, oregano, thyme, three other varieties of basil, calendula, parsley, German chamomile, catnip (It’s not just for cats, but people too!), caraway, cilantro, and lemongrass (also one of my favorites for both cooking and herbal medicine). I have transplanted a number of these herbs into pots and am hoping to overwinter them inside my house for replanting into our herb spiral next spring. At the end of the season, I added some straw, organic fertilizer, and compost that we had left over from our gardening activities this season. This will add some fresh organic matter to feed the soil in the spiral and prepare it for next year's growing season.
What are your favorite herbs to grow and use?