halifaxearthtech: Photo by Joe Shneid of Louisville Kentucky, from Wikimedia Commons (Pattern)

The herb spiral is one of those mainstays of permaculture, as iconic as comfrey or nonlinear beds. Like other permaculture techniques they can be misused, and I've only seen one out of the dozen or so herb spirals I have seen to perform well.

In theory, the spiral conserves space, while the mound mimics the heterogeneous forest floor with its pits and mounds, increasing the surface area of the land into the third dimension. the mound creates microclimates as the top and southwest growing surfaces are drier and hotter than the bottom and east south growing surfaces, accommodating different sorts of herbs with different niches.
Most of the time when I see herb spirals I see a mostly bare garden, with herbs doing poorly. The walls of the spiral are in decay, the bare soil is slipping and unhealthy, and the spiral is not incorporated into the rest of the garden design.


Part of the problem seems to be that the spiral is often in urban environments with small lots, and the mound is not large enough to generate true microclimates. I often see the space gained by verticality finally lost in the greater wall space taken up by the vertical element. That is, the walls holding up the spiral take up so much space that it might as well be flat. In permaculture we make thoughtful use of edge. In this case I see edge between the soil growing medium and the wall reducing production.
Pit and mound
Often the rest of the design doesn't incorporate pit-and-mound dimensionality elsewhere in the garden or in a continuous landscape as in the forest floor. In nature, pits and mounds are formed when life colonizes a fallen tree stump or boulder, or the berm of debris left by flooding rivers. In the garden, the spiral is alone.

Usually in western culture we are not taught how to manage planting slopes until very late in life. This contributes immensely to our risk of civilization crisis through soil loss. I have recently seen fields and pastures on as steep as 50 degree slopes. The gardener must shore up the slopes, further terracing the spiral in a perpendicular manner, and always keep the soil planted and covered with mulch.
I wonder how suitable this technology is to the temperate climate where so many of our herbs die down to the root much of the year (parsley) or are annual (cilantro). The tropical clamate is surely more suited to having perennial living solutions for holding soil like Lemongrass and veviter (Carbon Farming Handbook, p77). I can see a spiral working where the herbs are all perennial and consistently alive and growing.

How to do herb spirals well
First of all, decide if an herb spiral is suited to your unique growing conditions. What about an herb keyholl bed, an herb square, an herb terrace or an herb wall? Second, make the spiral large to produce true microclimates. Start at 4' wide and at least 2.5 feet tall. Finally make the spiral out of durable material like stone so that soil doesn't slip, and be sure to mulch well during the winter. 

Should herb spirals be used in the temperate zone at all? Have you had or seen herb spirals that work well? If so, please tell me what you've noticed that make this function.
halifaxearthtech: (magic is nature)

Food forests are undeniably sexy right now in Permaculture circles. A great compliment to a regular raised garden of annual vegetables, food forests pack a lot of food sources into a small space, using different height-plants that help each other out, while benefiting soil and wild life.

But what do you do when you just don't have the funds for the latest cultivars of fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs? Behold the free food forest planting guide!

To design a food forest on the cheap, we make use of plants that either come up from plentiful (= easily available) seeds, or clones.
A plan for expanding your food forest by cloning

You may have heard of the practice of cloning while learning about more illegal plants. But many herbs and trees can also be cloned; in nature, it's a major plant-reproducing strategy.

Some times twigs (or even sometimes leaves) broken or cut from trees and shrubs will grow roots and become a whole new tree or shrub. Other times, we can stab a shovel down the middle of the plant and cut the root-ball into two or more pieces, a process known as "dividing". 

You can probably find friends willing to divide edible ornamental like Solomon seal, daylilly or hosta, and you can almost certainly find an owner of grape, hops and hardy kiwi willing to part with some prunings to clone. Thinnings of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and thimbleberries are easy to come by as people cultivating these fruit often need to thin them. Nursery season-end sales are also good to check in July and August.

Even volunteer white oak and mountain ash can be found sprouting beneath their parent trees if these tickle your fancy for an emergency food supply. Some perennial vegetables can be started from roots and leaves available at specialty grocery stores, like watercress, sunchokes and oyster root. 

Finally, Perennial vegetables can be got from further afield from progressive nurseries and seed suppliers. It is my hope to make an initial investment to bring these varieties to Nova Scotia for further propagation to jump start local food forests. Plants like salad burnet, ice cream bean, cinnamon yam, tuber pea, perennial parsley, perennial sea kale, bush cherry, hardy passionfruit, hardy kiwi, wooly lambs ear tuber, rapunzel, potato bunching onion, skirret and hardy pecan. 

Some locations I hope to plant this year with guilds and/or food forests include:

Transition Bay St Margarets

Annapolis seeds in Nictaux


The Open Mic House on Agricola street

There will be shout-outs and volunteer opportunities as spring advances so keep your eye out for those.

Some perennial vegetable purveyors 

Eric Toensmeier





as well as more traditional nurseries if you know what you are looking for.


Gardeners around North America this year were thrilled to learn about The paw paw project. Kentucky State University are distributing 30 thousand paw paw seeds in the hopes of more widely distributing paw paw trees throughout their range and foster their diversity and strength. You can contact them here

To get your own free pawpaw seeds. Of course if you help support the project you will get on the seed distribution priority shortlist!
hawthorn, mulberry and red and black currant prepared for cloning

A by-no-means exhaustive list of easy-to-obtain plants to clone for your own

Trees and shrubs that can be cloned

Beech, dogwood, willow, alder

Hawthorn, Elder, Mulberry, Currant, Gooseberry

Autumn olive, Sea buckthorn

Hazel, Sweet fern

Food-providing Herbs that can be divided or that spread

Anything mint: lemonbalm, cat nip, bee balm, chocolate mint, apple mint, horse mint, thymes, oregano, anise hyssop

Alliums: chives, garlic chives, society garlic, golden garlic, Egyptian Walking Onions

Miscellaneous perennials: ostrich fern, hostas, may apple, Solomon seal, wintergreen, rhubarb, echinacea, sweet cicely, Comfrey, yarrow, horseradish, daylilly, good king Henry, all raspberries and blackberries, many roses, strawberries, and more.


Easily started from seed and self seeding

Nasturtiums, violets, calendula

globe thistle, rudbeckia

artemisia, columbine

musk mallow




Not edible but useful for pollinators and/or fixing nitrogen

lupine, daffodil, scilla


This is a great website for all things food forest



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May 2017

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