Wednesday, April 24, 2013

DIY herb spiral

It's a proverbial glorious spring day, mild weather about 70 degrees and sunny skies. In my tireless quest to make the garden beautiful and useful, there is a new addition to the yard: the herb spiral.

What's an herb spiral? Research on these herb sprials is varied and all fascinating to me, the garden geek that I am. This invention came about in the 70's as a new take on "permaculture". The concept is that the plants at the top of the spiral-shaped raised bed will get the most sun and have the driest soil. Plants on one side will be partly shaded with slightly more moist soil. The plants at the bottom will have the most moisture since water will drain down and around the spiral. Therefore, you can grow a large number of plants that have many different soil and light conditions all in one space. Other advantages include the raised soil bed which provides easy access to everything and keeps plants away from nibbling critters. (Between the groundhogs and rabbits in our yard, I'll keep my fingers crossed.)

What should you plant? Typically herbs spirals are, well, for herbs that you cook with. They are placed in easy access of a kitchen or outdoor cooking area so that they will get lots of use. But you could grow all sorts of things on the spiral. Trailing fruits and veggies would work - squash, cucumber, watermelon - any would be fun to try. Flowers would be charming here, too, though many herbs will flower. My plant list includes:

-rosemary, two varieties
-French marigold (edible)
-thyme, two varieties
-chammomile, two varieties

Making it: First, mark off your circle somewhere around 5-6 feet in diameter (your call). Lay cardboard and/or landscape fabric down to kill weeds. (Avoid cardboard that may have lots of inks that could leach into edible plants.) Laying cardboard or landscape fabric is helpful especially if you're making the spiral right on top of a lawn. I used both, along with metal stakes to pin down landscape fabric.

Next you need to create the spiral. Some sources suggest that your spiral go clockwise (or counter) depending on what hemisphere you live in. Mine is clockwise starting from the center.

You can use rocks from the yard, bricks, even poured concrete if you really want to. I stacked local stone to form mine, but I also had random leftover pavers that I used at the bottom of the center spiral. Since they are hidden, I figured why not.

The goal is to make the center of the spiral about 3 feet tall. Remember, the idea is for the soil to be raised in the center, then spiral down to the lowest point at the end. This will make harvesting and weeding easy. Mine is just shy of three feet but if you're a perfectionist, grab your tape measure.

Now you're ready to add a thick layer of mulch. Again, this will help prevent weeds and also add nutrients that will break down over time. There are many different substrates you can use from this point, depending on how technical you want to be. In the truest sense, you would want to amend the soil with peat, use straw, and compost from your yard. This will create nutrient-rich soil and establish those distinctly different growing zones for permaculture described here. I used the layer of mulch, then a soil/compost mixture.

Finally, water down the soil to make sure you've filled in all the pockets. Now you are ready to plant!

Here is our new herb spiral, right by the kitchen door:

I'll repost once the plants fill in later this summer. I can't wait to start cooking!

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Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!
Our little guy at 15 months, February 2011.