What is an herb spiral?
The principle of an herb spiral is to create a small space where one can access all the kitchen herbs they like to use for cooking, while providing each plant with the adequate micro-climate they need to grow. From rosemary to sage to parsley, basil, coriander, mint and so much more, the possibilities are endless.
- Rosemary and thyme typically tolerate hot and dry weather and therefore can sit atop the spiral.
- Basil enjoys sunlight but would burn in the hot Australian summer and also needs moisture so would better be placed on a lower east or south-west side of the spiral to benefit from the morning or late afternoon sun.
- Mint on the contrary tolerates shade and loves water-logged areas so better sits at the very bottom of your spiral where moisture concentrates the most.
You get the idea.
Here below is a gorgeous example of a herb spiral.
This article explains the steps I took to build an herb spiral for a friend.
We chose a fairly flat spot, not far from the kitchen, and where no trees were growing so we wouldn’t have to cut any but a few branches to obtain a decent amount of sunlight suitable for both summer and winter climates.
The soil was somewhat difficult: clay, fairly dry and compacted, of relatively light colour indicating a lack of organic matter, and with no worms or other visible life. We therefore decided to raise a hügelkultur in order to build-up some quality soil.
What is a hügelkultur?
Hügelkultur, pronounced “Hoo-gul-culture”, is a German word meaning “mound culture” or “hill culture”. They are no-dig raised beds where a mound is constructed from decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The mound is then planted after some time when the layers have had time to break-down and transform into productive soil. Hügelkultur beds hold moisture, build fertility, maximise surface volume and are great spaces for growing fruits, vegetables and herbs [1,2].
So how do I build a hügelkultur herb spiral?
But back to our herb spiral; the first step consists in ensuring you have enough space both for your spiral and to walk around it. You also need to level the ground so the structure won’t fall over after a few seasons.
Then we lay-out the first brick layer trying to remain fairly concentric, and bring the first elements of our hügelkultur. It here includes a large log in the centre, and broken branches and twigs all around the spiral.
Photos by Permaculture Journeys (Gippsland, VIC)
I found it easier to add the different biological layers gradually with each new level of bricks. Although I suppose you could also build the spiral first and add your biological matter afterwards.
The next steps follow the ”lasagna gardening” technique where, just like a lasagna, we add layer upon layer; except we’re not using pasta but organic materials. Here I tossed-down some compost, then cardboard for carbon matter, grass clippings and cow manure for nitrogen, then mudstone for extra minerals. The cow manure can be omitted; we just happened to have a full bin of it from the neighbour farm. Last, add more compost and more mulch on top. I finally generously watered-down, providing moisture and bringing all the conditions required to kick-off the decomposing process.
The photo hereabove is the final result before planting. For the reference, it took me a day and I counted between 200 and 250 bricks to build my spiral, which is about 3 or 4m in diameter.
We did it at the end of April so the layers would have time to shrink-down over winter and be ready for planting in September when spring kicks-in.
The final touch
After much effort pushing wheelbarrows of bricks and biological materials, I decided to complete my work with an entertaining and creative task. And so I made an identification sign with some recycled bits of pallets and paint we had in the workshop. We place signs at every spot and structure to help new guests get around.
Only 6 weeks later, my friend sent me these 2 photos where we can see that the mulch already noticeably lowered-down. So he added a little bit of soil and planted some seedlings and various plants he had in his nursery.
Photos taken for Permaculture Journeys
Now 5 months down the track, in October, only the Mexican chili didn’t make it through the cold temperate winter; all the other plants are thriving ! It even looks like a mini jungle as edible, ornemental and medicinal species grow abundantly and share the space without much order. We have some silverbeet, giant spinach, strawberries, dandelion, oregano, mint, basil, parsely, carrot weed, etc. My friend pulls-out new weeds every week to avoid too much competition between plants. Planting was a bit random and relative location could probably be optimised, however we can see how the hügelkultur layers have shrinked-down and provided a very favourable space for plants to grow in. Strawberries are growing like crazy and will be ready in summer.
Photos taken for Permaculture Journeys
A herb spiral is a first great project to get started in permaculture. It is easy, fun, aesthetic, shows results in a short amount of time and provides you with a great bunch of fresh herbs to spice-up your cooking. So go for it and share your results with us !
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