What is a herb spiral?

Herb Spiral Northey St

I have been lucky to come across two herb spirals in the last month. Herbs that need good drainage are planted at the top of the raised garden bed. Plants which need good sunlight are planted on the side that receives the most sunlight and shade loving plants are planted on the other side.

herb-spiral-northey

Northey Street City Farm herb spiral

The first herb spiral was at Northey Street City Farm. It is approximately 1 metre high by 3 metres wide with three different levels for herbs. The top level is well drained and drier, while the bottom level is moister and cool. Different plants are planted on different levels depending on their needs.

Raised spiral gardens offer a range of micro-climates to meet the habitat needs of different plants. Raised spiral gardens are also very space efficient, and conserve water. A herb spiral can add detail to an otherwise flat or boring landscape.

Herb Spiral Qld Plant Expo

Queensland Plant Expo herb spiral

The herb spiral at the Queensland Plant Expo was smaller and probably a better size for most suburban backyards. It had only two levels and the spiral was made with stones to define the different areas. You can see they have used straw mulching to keep the weeds away.

Herbs for a herb spiral

Herbs that prefer moist conditions (plant these near the bottom of the spiral facing the morning sun):

  • Bergamot
  • Borage
  • Coriander
  • Cress
  • French tarragon
  • Ginger
  • Lebanese Cress (in a pot)
  • Lemon balm
  • Mint (in a pot)
  • Mushroom plant
  • Parsley
  • Rocket
  • Vietnamese mint (in a pot)
  • Watercress

Herbs that prefer or handle drier conditions (plant facing the summer sun and on top of the spiral):

  • Garlic chives
  • Lavender
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Society garlic
  • Thyme
  • Yarrow

Moving to a new garden – The vegetable plot

Guest post by Dee Young

After 24 years of struggling to grow a variety of plants in an area of impoverished sandy soil, thinly covering bedrock of sandstone, I looked forward to enjoying a better relationship with my new garden. This is situated on an ancient flood plain that has a rich, thick layer of dark, alluvial soil over a heavier clay base.

But, should you think this an easy task, I must disappoint you as, even though the soil is potentially rich, it has been neglected for years and allowed to fall into disrepair structurally and nutritionally and in places the clay sub-soil is evident.

Unlike the sandy soil, however, this can be remedied with good, deep digging to break up and aerate the soil, whilst removing unwanted plants and their root systems.
I began with the abandoned vegetable plot behind the shed.

dee-abandoned-plot

After digging and weeding and before re-planting, I forked in plenty of well decayed cow manure, which helps break up any clay deposits and makes the soil friable.

The presence of many, large, healthy earthworms as I dug indicated an ideal growing pH of 6 – 7.5, therefore, after planting I was sparing with the gypsum (calcium and sulphur). A light application on the surface of the soil adds minerals for the plants and penetrates the clay particles to loosen the soil structure in compacted soils.

Finally, I added a good handful of pelletised complete fertilizer all over the planted area, which will break down over time to release nutrients into the soil.

dee-newly-planted

The lettuce, capsicum, tomato and yellow button squash plants have now been in the ground for 3 weeks and I am delighted with their progress. I picked lettuce leaves for a salad today.

dee-growing-well

So far, so good, I have rediscovered the joy of gardening, which is, essentially, seeing one’s plants thrive.

Written by Dee Young

Gardening charts for Australia

To get motivated and organised in the vegetable patch it helps to have gardening charts. Start your new year off with good intentions and hopefully you will be blessed with an abundance of yummy fresh organic produce.

 

The Diggers Club Sow What When poster – This full colour poster displays over 60 commonly grown vegetables and herbs, including instructions for whether to sow into trays or direct in the ground, which months to sow, spacing between plants and in the row, growing days to harvest. Cool, warm and hot climate zones are covered with additional heat and cold zone maps helping you determine your exact growing area. In addition perhaps the most useful and unique cross reference information relates to the distinction of soil temperature. 59cm x 43cm. $15 for the public, $12 for members from The Diggers Club. Also available as $20 rolled or $9.50 folded from Green Harvest.

 

Sow When poster – This chart will help you with sowing times, sowing method and seed depth for flowers, vegetables and herbs for cold, temperate, subtropical and tropical categories. 450 x 610 mm; $15 rolled in poster tube from Green Harvest.

 

Companion Planting poster – Cross reference chart to 75 of the most common herbs, vegetables and flowers, showing beneficial and antagonistic companions and also a list of insect-repellent herbs. 450 x 610 mm; $15 rolled in poster tube from Green Harvest. Also available from The Diggers Club.

Companion Planting chart (IDEP) is based on permaculture principles and produced by IDEP Foundation, a non-profit non-government organisation in Indonesia. It includes some natural insect repellant tips. Free A3 poster on companion planting [PDF 350KB]
Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion Planting Chart – provides month-by-month suggestions for growing an extensive range of seasonal vegetables across hot, temperate and cooler climates. This A1 poster is beautifully illustrated in the style of the Kitchen Garden Companion book. $20
Moon Planting Cycle Calender – A perpetual guide to vegetable gardening by the Moon cycles. At the start of each month, align the new moon symbol on the moving disc with the date of the new moon for that month (just find this date in the newspaper or a website or diary). Then simply check the recommended activities for each day of the month – soil preparation times, ideal sowing or transplanting times, and fertilising times. Also includes companion planting tips. A4-size laminated cardboard. $12.50 direct from Moon Calendar. Also available from The Diggers Club.

Have I missed any garden charts for Australia?

Gardening and food forums

tawny

The internet has been invaluable for finding information about growing edibles. Many times a simple google search will provide the answers needed. There are a number of forums you can join to discuss your gardening successes and issues:

I tend not to talk about food online – just print off recipes and ogle the illustrations. I have way too many recipes in my “to cook one day” folder. I do like these food communities:

Do you know of any others?

No dig gardening

When we first started gardening my heart sank after I discovered the soil was full of weeds, and all sorts of different odds and ends. We decided the best solution would be to have a raised bed, filled with no dig ingredients and organic soil.

After researching all the options, we were pleased to discover Birdies Ezy Veggie Beds. We ruled out wood because we have had termites. Treated wood can leach and is not considered organic. Birdies Veggie Beds are made from colour bond corrugated steel and have a rubber edge. We ordered 4 of the 400mm x 3m x 1.5m. (I’d recommend something a little less wide as it’s a little hard to reach the centre of the bed.)

In Australia, we like to claim that Esther Dean came up with the no-dig method (aka lasagna method) in the 1970s. It’s kind of like the way we have claimed inventing Pavlovas (actually it was the New Zealanders). Mind you, she liked to experiment with different gardening techniques and then monitor the effects (like a true scientist). Low and behold, she’s still alive and turned 97 in October last year!

I would shake my head at anyone who claims that no dig is a minimum effort. Setting it up was such a big job that it took us over a month to get all four vegetable beds prepared. The hardest bit was digging up the pawpaw tree, and then moving the organic soil from the grass where it was delivered to the beds. It was humid hot and sweaty physical hard work.

Actually, our beds are less lasagna method and more spaghetti bolognese. Let me explain:

The bottom half of each vegetable bed was made up of the following layers spread evenly:

  • 1 bag of sugar cane
  • 2 handfuls per square metre of blood and bone, and rock minerals
  • 1 bag of sugar cane
  • 2 bags of cow manure
  • ½ bag Lucerne
  • 2 handfuls per square metre of blood and bone, and rock minerals
  • 1 bag of sugar cane
  • 2 handfuls per square metre of blood and bone, and rock minerals
  • ½ bag Lucerne
  • 2 bags of cow manure
  • 1 bag of sugar cane

The top half of the beds were then covered in organic soil that we purchased from a landscaping centre. We also added organic soil between some of the layers above.

The spag bolg method has all the advantages of the no dig method, but using organic soil to bulk it up helped reduce costs.

A few other tips:

  • When planning where to place the beds don’t forget to add enough space around them for an approximately one metre wide footpath. Consider mulching this area to discourage grass and weeds.
  • If placing the beds on the lawn, place ten pages plus of wet newspaper down first to suppress the grass and weeds. Sprinkle on a few handfuls of blood and bone.
  • Most vegetables have a small root system, so you only need 40cm deep of decent soil. If you are using higher beds you can fill the remaining bottom layer with clean sand, hay bales or general garden waste (minus grass seeds).
  • Alternate layers of wet (manure) and dry (sugar cane, hay, straw).
  • Blood and bone help to activate the composting process.
  • Water each layer thoroughly.
  • You can wait several weeks for the material to start composting before planting. Alternatively, plant seeds in handfuls of compost to start planting straight away.
  • You’ll need to top up the beds each growing season with lucerne, compost and/or manure.

Now the beds have been set up, we haven’t done any digging and fingers crossed that’s most of the hard work done.