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Nothing beats fresh herbs from the garden. They are not a comparison to the commercially grown potted herbs that are available in the supermarket. The latter are produced inexpensively and quickly, due to over-fertilization and hasty growth they are usually only suitable for a single harvest. So what speaks against creating your own herb bed in the garden? With the help of a herb spiral - or herb snail - you can make optimal use of space for a wide variety of herbs, both horizontally and vertically. It fits perfectly in the natural garden. With only a few materials and a little preparation, the construction of the herb spiral is a simple undertaking even for inexperienced garden enthusiasts - we will go into more detail in the second part of the article. But first some information about the origin of these spirals.
A spiral, from the Latin spira, is a spiral-shaped body, i.e. a curved line that runs around a fixed point - an axis. The spiral can already be found in magical tunnels and old shamanic images as a central element. With the Hopi in Arizona as well as with shamans in Siberia. In nature, spirals can be found in plants, in snails and wind pants. Water vortices and the galaxies of space are mostly spiral - just like our DNA. Screws hold in the material due to their spiral shape, spiral stairs run in a spiral. The spiral is a symbol for the way from this world to the hereafter, from the visible to the invisible world.
In science, the spiral is a semi-beam that rotates in one plane around its end point. Archimedes says that a point on the half-beam moves at a uniform speed - a curve of turns around a fixed point.
The spiral is a symbol for creation, because the path into and out of the spiral represents the path to the world, the spirits, the gods, the universe, from life to death, from death to life. The spiral is the symbol of being wrong and finding again. Christian cathedrals depict spirals as well as Celtic ornaments, Greek columns and jewelry from the Bronze Age. Circle, single, double, multiple spirals characterize the oldest art, rock drawings and ceramics.
Navajos paint sand pictures in spiral form. Your Pueblo neighbors are dancing spiral dances at the beginning of the new year. The Mayans saw the fixed point of the spiral in the winter solstice. They helped the sun on their way with a ball game that represented the cosmos. In India the spiral is the symbol of rebirth, psychologically it stands for renewal by going back to the roots.
The cause of the symbolic meaning may lie in the observation of the spirals in elementary life processes: the turns of the brain are spiral, the intestines too. Introducing, digesting and excreting food, which gives rise to new life - this reflects the life process.
The herb spiral
As we have just learned, a spiral addresses our unconscious in a special way. This is another reason why it is an excellent shape for a herb bed. But such a spiral of herbs even has a practical use: it enables plants to be drawn from different climates in a confined space. Such a spiral winds around a pile of stones from bottom to top, the plants are placed in a spiral between the stones.
Origin of the herb spiral
The Australian spiral Bill Mollison invented the herb spiral in 1978 as a permaculture. His model was the sand pictures of the Aborigines. In 1988 he published "Permaculture: A designer´s manual" and outlined the universal meaning of the spiral in nature and as a symbol for so-called primitive peoples. His herb spiral caused a sensation worldwide and is now widely used by small, herb and professional gardeners. In addition to the common culinary herbs, wild herbs also find a place here.
Location of the herb snail
In the best case, the bed is placed near the kitchen so that the herbs are always easily accessible. Nobody wants to boot through the entire garden in bad weather, and the plants are easier to water in dry summers. The more sheltered the place, the better the pupils will thrive in autumn and in stormy rainy weather.
A pond on the south side of the spiral is ideal for this. The water not far from the floor area ensures a moist microclimate and additionally reflects light and heat. This "foot" of the spiral is intended for herbs that love moisture - such as mint or woodruff. The pond should be to the south of the herb spiral, so that the water plants still get enough sunlight even in low-light seasons.
The lower part of the spiral must meet the moist requirements of the aquatic plants, depending on the requirements, a real pond or a water barrel is appropriate. Watercress and mint like the moisture, and such a wetland can also attract gardeners.
The middle part of the spiral consists of humus, i.e. compost. The soil is more permeable than in the wet zone. It is mainly in partial shade. Coriander, tarragon, caraway, oregano, chives, pimpinelle or dill are suitable there. But also borage (be careful, it is overgrown), fennel, wormwood, chervil, sorrel, nasturtium and arugula grow well here.
The drying zone forms the upper part towards the south side of the spiral. The humus is mixed with sand here; the soil is so permeable and lean. Rainwater drains away quickly, the herbs are directly exposed to the sun. Herbs from the Mediterranean thrive here: sage, hyssop, savory, thyme, lavender, oregano, rosemary and curry herb.
There may already be a pond in the garden, on the north side of which there is enough space for such a stone spiral. Depending on the space, we can also simply create a “real” pond, with pond liner and stone bank attachment. The diameter of the spiral should be at least 2.3 meters, larger versions are also possible. The soil inside the spiral should only sink before plants are planted. The wall must therefore be erected in autumn and immediately filled with the substrate.
Pond construction and pond dwellers
A "balcony pond" is simpler and more practical than a real pond. First you need an old bin. A wooden barrel is even nicer, but a cement tub serves the same purpose. We are digging a hole in the depth and size of this barrel. We can surround the edge with an earth wall about 20 cm high and fasten it with stones on the outside. To firmly root the earth wall, chives are suitable for the lower open spaces between the stones and around this earth wall. Then you mix sand with clay, and fill up to half. Pour water under the rim and put the swamp plants in it. Floating plants such as frog bite or pondweed are suitable for this. Irises in particular are eye catchers here. It is best to leave them in the pot for more hold. Various variants of a balcony swamp bed are also possible.
As a true herb gardener, you are ecologically oriented and also take care of the well-being of the animal world: there are water fleas in the aquarium trade, as well as water snails. The sandpipers, frogs, lacewings and various dragonflies come on their own if they like the biotope. A root, a stone and some bark in the water can serve as an entry. Newts or toads, which could find shelter in the natural stones of the spiral, then ideally spawn on site.
The pond gives moisture to the lower plants, the rising stone wall provides shade. At the top, the earth is quite dry. In the smallest area, the spiral therefore fulfills requirements from moist-shady - to semi-moist-semi-shady - to sunny-dry.
Construction of the bed
For a herb spiral, the gardener first looks for a sunny spot at least 2.30 meters in diameter. This is either on the north side (if necessary also northeast / northwest) of an existing pond - or we can create a mini pool according to the description above. We then peg the outline of the spiral with pegs - don't forget the winding. A cord connects the stakes for an overview. Then we lift the earth 30 cm in the lower area.
The best way to build the wall is as a dry wall. The stones are stacked on top of each other without mortar. As a result, many beneficial organisms can find shelter in the garden - lizards, wild bumblebees and slow worms love dry walls. Which stones we use is up to the taste. Field stones and slate look natural, but brick, clinker and brick serve the same purpose. There may be a remaining stock of stones, these can be combined as desired. It is only important to have a certain size so that the wall stands. If the stones are too small, you must help with mortar. We stack the stones on top of each other; the wall should be about 60 centimeters high at the bottom and wind up to one meter high in the middle. The offset stones not only keep the spiral stable, they also provide living space for insects, woodlice, spiders and newts.
For the spiral, we pull the stones upwards like a staircase, which means that we start at the wet zone and skip one stone at each outer row. This creates an incline. At the bottom the spiral remains flat, at the top it becomes steeper.
We fill the resulting spiral with gravel or gravel as the base, just a thin layer below; we half fill the middle part with small stones. Pumice, coarse sand and lava are ideal. This layer is used for drainage: the Mediterranean herbs are used to dry summers, their roots die off in waterlogging. The drainage is created from top to bottom: water flows to the plants on the ground that love moisture.
We fill the earth with gravel. Below we take normal garden soil and enrich it with compost. In the middle we use garden soil without compost, and we fill the "Mediterranean part" with a mixture of gravel, limestone, sand and earth.
The herb spiral offers space for both annual and perennial plants. The spicy-tasting watercress grows directly at the "pond", and the delicious water nut in the pond. Perennial are mint, woodruff, lemon balm and lovage. You feel comfortable in the damp, lower area of the spiral towards the pond area. Peppermint reproduces underground and quickly becomes a curse - as tasty as it tastes and as important as a medicinal herb. To propagate the mint, we can simply move parts of the plant to other shady spots in the garden. The same applies to lemon balm, which also spreads quickly. With mint and lemon balm, it is therefore worth considering placing them in a bottomless pot so that they do not take the space from the other herbs.
We have to plant or sow basil, dill and tulsi every year, as are coriander, marjoram and cress. These can simply be sown a little later so that they can also be harvested fresh in late autumn. Lavender, sage and rosemary, on the other hand, sprout and grow again every year. Thyme, mountain savory, tarragon and wild garlic are also perennials. Chives and parsley are shrinking in heavy frost, as are rosemary and thyme. The sage can grow in height and width. We just plant it in a corner like the lovage so that it does not get out of hand.
Placement of the plants
Plants are planted in spring or early summer, the hotter it is, the better the herbs have to be watered on. Cress, chervil and parsley can be sown directly on the spot early in the year, they grow well even in cool temperatures. Plants can still be brought into the soil in autumn if this happens in good time before the frost.
If the herbs are to thrive, the same applies as usual in the garden: The tall and robust take away the earth, water and sun from the sensitive. Chives and garlic herbs go well together. Oregano, mint and thyme also like each other, and thanks to the essential oils they contain, they also offer a good defense against pests in their secondary plants.
Basil, marjoram and dill harmonize; Borage and parsley are a heart and a soul. Chives and parsley - this is the death sentence for the latter. Dill and sage don't like each other, caraway and fennel hate each other, chervil and coriander are like fire and water. It is therefore advisable to consider whether there are unsuitable neighbors before planting. A spiral plan on paper can help to identify incompatibilities between plant neighbors. If necessary, delimiting intermediate stones can also be placed in the spiral to better separate the plants.
Cutting & harvesting the herbs
The most important care for herbs is pruning or regular harvesting. This is the only way for the plants to form numerous new shoots and remain beautifully bushy. So we cut back at the latest at the end of February (before the new shoot), if necessary also in early summer and autumn. Depending on how well the herbs sprout, a larger amount can be harvested to dry at this point. Wood lavender, thyme, rosemary and sage - in these subshrubs the flower stalks are cut off with a little foliage at the latest after flowering (until September).
The more of the wood we cut away, the better the green will sprout. We can cut away a maximum of two thirds of the green mass, otherwise the plants will take a long time to recover. The pruning in spring can be stronger than the autumn pruning because the plants sprout more. Herbs, which belong to the small perennials (perennials), are cut off a maximum of five centimeters above the ground before the new shoots in spring. If a large part has already been harvested in late summer, the cut should only be light in spring. The harvested herbs can be eaten fresh, hung up to dry or frozen to fit.
Watering and fertilizing
The herb spiral is a permaculture, the drainage of which uses the rain as a watering can; initially we have to water carefully, once a week. We start from the top and pour more and more downwards. In the second year, we water as needed, i.e. when herbs become flabby and discolored, or when the rain stops longer. But once the "system" herb spiral is up and running, we only occasionally water the lower area - the water pulls itself up.
We have to keep an eye on the drainage. If the soil hardens, not enough water will penetrate to the roots. Raking once a month is enough to prevent this.
Chemical fertilizer is a no-go in the natural garden and also changes the taste of some herbs. We fertilize once in spring and once in autumn with compost, a one-time light nitrogen fertilization with self-stirring liquid manure is also possible at the beginning of the growing season. Warning, after fertilizing the weeds sprout all the better, this should be weeded regularly.
Broths to strengthen the plants
The plants planted have on average no high demands on fertilization, but they still need a balanced supply of minerals in the soil. If there is a shortage of these substances, a broth made from comfrey, nettles or horsetail can work wonders.
Slurries quickly provide plants with the substances they need in spring to grow and put on the fruit. Nitrogen and potassium are particularly abundant. In contrast to compost, the liquid mixture can be absorbed by the plants much faster. The nutrients are available in a form that is available to plants and do not have to be converted by soil organisms.
If the liquid manure is used professionally, it does not smell intensely, but smells just slightly. To make a liquid manure, simply pick the nettles or horsetail and chop it a little. This can be done by tearing or with pruning shears, it is better to put gloves on with nettles. Half a kilo of fresh herbs and five liters of water are required for every five liters of liquid manure. It is best to use rainwater for this, the bacteria it contains help the rotting processes of the liquid manure, and it is also lime-free.
An old bucket or a disused large bowl is suitable as a container for production. It is recommended to cover it airily after mixing so that no animals fall into it or snails rise over the edge. Put the leaves and water together in the container, stir. Pour a small handful of stone flour on top of that, to curb the unpleasant smell. Now stir vigorously every day, add a little stone powder if necessary. The liquid manure takes at least two weeks before it can be used. It can easily stand in the garden for several weeks until the leaves have badly decomposed. Dilute with water at least 1:10 for watering; the broth alone is too strong for the plants.
Many herbs from the Mediterranean are not hardy. Rosemary and lavender in particular are quite sensitive, they can only withstand a few degrees Celsius below zero. We can let them hibernate in pots, in the garden shed or in the winter garden. Styrofoam buckets, a garden fleece, brushwood or leaves can also provide adequate protection. Plants also need water in winter, and many supposedly frozen herbs are just thirsty. On frost-free days, we water especially in the wet zone. This is best done directly in the morning because the roots work better at higher temperatures than during the cold at night.
Dry stone walls and field stone bed
If you cannot find a suitable place for a herb spiral, you can bring up the same success with a dry stone wall and a raised bed. Such a raised raised bed requires significantly less space than a complete spiral of herbs, three square meters of space can usually still be found on the edge of the property, so a lot can be planted on such a bed. A herb spiral is nothing more than a spiral dry wall - and if such a wall is used to separate the garden from neighbors, it hardly takes up any space. In a raised bed we can grow herbs that need a lot of sun. Chili and paprika also like this root heat, there are many varieties on the market that are also suitable for outdoor cultivation. Such a bed is also suitable for planting a small fragrance garden. The flowers attract wild bees and bumblebees.
On the other hand, if you have a lot of space, you can also create a field stone bed instead of a herb spiral. Large natural stones provide the same interplay of sun and shadow, cold and warmth as the layers of the spiral on the ground. If the spiral is too complex, you can also pile up a pile of reading stones. To do this, we only tip the field stones picked up and enrich them with the same earth mixtures as the spiral. However, some large stones should be used for this, otherwise the holes in the ground are not suitable as a planting hole.
Conservation and pharmacy
The same applies to the spiral as to other dry stone walls: they are important habitats for endangered animal species. Snake snakes, lizards, slow crawls, toads, wild bees and ground beetles love them. So we can do something against insect death and insect protection. If we make sure that there are also some crevices, cracks and cavities between the stones, then we can observe hedge brown, robin and wren looking for insects.
In addition, dry stone walls protect the floor because their drainage slows down the water and thus stops the erosion of the subsoil. The water seeps away more slowly and the roots take it up just as slowly. The gaps between the stones ensure that the water does not press on the wall.
Dry stone walls were previously widespread in small-scale agriculture, but today they have unfortunately often fallen victim to land consolidation. Whoever creates a herb snail with natural stones also serves to protect nature and species. We also help by supplementing our culinary herbs with useful natural plants: on the sun layer, for example, stone purse, hunger flowers, Pentecost and scree carnation, on the shady side wall rhombus, yellow lark spur and ferns. Typical types are white stonecrop, common snake head, cinquefoil, cinnamon herb and cypress spurge.
Some wall plants are almost forgotten medicinal plants: The brown-stalked strip fern can be boiled up to "tea"; the gold lacquer contains the glycoside chiranthin and the roof houseleek helps against skin wounds, stings and sunburn. In addition to kitchen herbs, we can also use our herb spiral as a home pharmacy.
In such dry stone walls not only toads or amphibians find a retreat - in a sunny location, sand lizards also love the loopholes between the roots. Every gardener can count himself lucky to house these conspecifics in the garden, since they destroy tons of snails, larvae and beetles. The use of pesticides or chemical insect repellants becomes unnecessary, especially in the ecologically planned garden.
(Dr. Utz Anhalt, dp)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- Bill Mollison, Reny Mia Slay: "Handbook of Permaculture Design", Permaculture Academy in Alpenrau, 2012
- Irmela Erckenbrecht: "The Herbal Spiral: Building Instructions - Herbal Portraits - Recipes", pala verlag gmbh, 2012
- Ben-Erik van Wyk, Coralie Wink, Michael Wink: "Handbook of Medicinal Plants: An Illustrated Guide", Scientific Publishing Company, 2003