Week 5: Herb Spiral

This week was a historic one: we officially began planting! We planted our inaugural seedlings in a classic permaculture element called the Herb Spiral.


Planting the very first plant in the herb spiral!

This is essentially a raised garden bed made out of bricks or stones constructed in the shape of a spiral. It combines two important concepts: Pattern and Microclimates.

Patterns are at the base of permaculture design. By observing and finding universal patterns in nature and society we can then integrate them into designs to reproduce their effects. This is expressed in the permaculture principle, “Design from patterns to details”.

Spiral patterns are ubiquitous in nature: from snail shells to petal and leaf arrangement to hurricanes. Generally, they represent a concentration or dissipation of energy or material. In herb spiral design, it maximizes space, and is used to guide the flow of water from the top to the bottom of the structure.


Finished Herb Spiral

The differences in height and orientation create a variety of microclimates. These are environmental conditions, such as the amount of sun, wind, water, and heat at one site, and can vary greatly within general climactic zones. Within a herb spiral, the southern and higher parts will receive greater sunlight, and water will flow downwards and accumulate at the bottom. This means that not only can there be many plants in a single structure, but there can be a variety of plants that each require different growing conditions.

We built our herb spiral out of found bricks for the base, and supplemented with rocks found on site. We orientated it so that most of the spiral was facing South, where it would get the most sunlight, besides at the very bottom which would be cool and moist. We filled the spiral with soil as we built it upwards to support the rocks at the higher levels.


Volunteer Alice balancing stones to form the wall. 

Once the structure was finished, it was time to plant! After a week of hardening off outside, the seedlings we had started at the very beginning of the project were ready to be planted, and we selected a variety of herbs to go in the spiral.


Seedling trays now fully sprouted!

From top (where it is hottest and driest) to bottom (cool and wet) we planted: Thyme, Oregano, Cilantro, Dill, Chives, Parsley, Sage, Lemon Balm, Basil, Mint, and Watercress. Now to see how they (and the spiral) fare after a rainy weekend!


Evan and Alice with the spiral in our cardboard field. 



“Principle 7: Design from patterns to details”. permacultureprinciples.com, https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/_7/. Accessed June 16, 2017.

Roberts, Tobias. “Pattern in the Natural World and Nature as Measure”. Permaculture Research Institute, June 9, 2017, https://permaculturenews.org/2017/06/09/patterns-natural-world-nature-measure/. Accessed June 16, 2017.


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