This Tiny Farm’s Culinary Herb Planting Setup

Today I want to talk to you about a wonderful type of planting arrangement for your culinary herbs.  If you are into permaculture but you have no idea where to start, this is the absolute best thing you can do to get started!  By the way, if you have no idea what permaculture is, you can find out by clicking here.

First, let me explain why I can say with such confidence that this is the best first project of any permaculture project.  Bill Mollison said, “If you want to change the world, start at your back doorstep”.  This system starts at the closest door to your kitchen for ease of access and follows the ethics and principles of permaculture.

So, without further delay, let’s get right to it!  Today we are talking about an herb spiral.  What is an herb spiral?  An herb spiral is a 6 foot wide and 3 foot tall circle that is built like a spiral, starting low at the bottom and ending up higher in the middle.

Why would I want to plant my herbs in a spiral and why would I want it just outside my door?  Why not put my herbs in the garden like everyone else?  Well, these are questions that will be addressed in this article.  After that, we’ll get into the actual building of the herb spiral.

So, why would you want your herbs in a spiral?  The answer to that is remarkably simple.  It takes 30 feet of planting space and wraps it up into a 6 foot circle!  That in itself is incredible, but there’s much more to it than that.  By raising the center you also create many microclimates allowing for plants of different climate requirements to all coexist in a single location, which is also extremely convenient.

Herb Spiral Drawing – Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison

So why should you build one of these when you could just put your herbs in your garden.  Well, I still recommend putting herbs in your garden, as they are very beneficial by bringing in predatory insects and pollinators, but the reason you want an herb spiral right outside the kitchen is for ease of access. Whenever you need fresh herbs, you can easily access the herb spiral without having to tread all the way out to the garden, another convenience factor.

There is so much room in a properly built herb spiral.  Let’s get into the actual build.  Ok, first you’ll need to choose a location.  We have already decided it should be as close to the kitchen as possible, but you will need a location that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day and has a level surface or can be easily leveled.   After you choose your location and make sure it’s level you’ll want to kill any grass if there is any remaining.  There are a couple of ways to do that (please no herbicides!) and I suggest cutting the grass out, turning it upside down and then leveling.  The other option is just to lay down a couple layers of cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper (no shiny paper).

Next, you need to choose your building material.  This is completely up to you but some kind of stone is best as this will create habitat for lizards and other predators to help with pest issues.  After choosing your material, layout your spiral.  Some people use spray paint but I suggest a garden hose as that is free and is easy to change if you decide you want it different.  When choosing the layout, make sure you have the start of the spiral at the bottom where you want it, either in the sunny or shady location.  If you’re in the northern hemisphere, that will be the southern exposure.  Vice versa in the southern hemisphere.  I just used the rock to do the layout, and this was labor intensive because I did want to change it before getting started.

                                                                                 My layout

There is also the option of adding a small pond at the base of the spiral which will serve to grow water loving plants, attract frogs and reflect light back up to the plants to encourage winter growth.  I have not yet added the pond to mine but that is planned for this fall once the temperatures cool down a bit.  The pond can be very small, about 1 square foot or so is fine!

After you have the layout, start stacking the rocks.  No mortar is needed and is actually discouraged because you want well-draining soil, especially on the top.  I also suggest just every so slightly leaning the layers to the interior of the spiral, that way when you fill with soil, it will exert outward pressure and straighten up the structure.

After the structure is built, starting filling.  Before adding soil, however, keep in mind we are building micro climates here and the raised portion is for well-draining soil requirements.  I added broken bricks and old limestone driveway fill in the inner half of the spiral.  Also keep in mind that some plants actually like soggy soil.  For the very outward and bottom spiral fingers, consider using a heavy clay based soil that will retain moisture well.

Notice the rocks at the bottom for extra drainage.

After that, fill it with soil.

The only thing left to do now is plant!  Remember the micro climates!  This is super important as you would not want to put rosemary at the bottom as it is a Mediterranean herb and hates wet roots!  I put rosemary at the very top center followed by lavendar, thyme, oregano, a different variety of thyme, chives and green onions, cilantro/coriander, basil and dill.  There is room for more and I’ll be planting more soon.

This was planted April 7, 2017.
And this was after only 2 months!

If you are into permaculture and want to start your first project, build an herb spiral.  If you already have some permaculture established on your site but have not yet put in an herb spiral I highly encourage you to build one as soon as possible!  The growth from this is amazing due to all the microclimates.  We hardly water it, we never have bugs due to the lizards and frogs and we enjoy the simple beauty of this object just outside our patio!

If you have any questions or comments, please drop them in the form below. Happy growing!

Permaculture Design Certificate Project

The project has not actually been assigned as of yet for the course, but I had to get familiar with the software and I already had all observational information and the client questionnaire and interview out of the way as well as I have already walked the property with the clients. So, I thought I’d share my progress so far. This will be my project for the certification. It’s a suburban lot that is just under 6000 square feet or just over 550 square meters.

This site created some challenges, as the clients are in their late 60s and travel out of state about every 3 months for a couple weeks at a time. The lady required all her flower gardens stay in place and the man required little maintenance for the garden. Other challenges included solar aspect as the yard is so small and tall neighboring trees will block some light. Fortunately, since they are only at 30 degrees latitude, partial shade is not a problem and could actually be beneficial during summer time.

She also wanted a water feature but he was frustrated with their old pond (very small – maybe 50 gallons) that had leaked over the past few years and he was ready to remove it. I was able to save the pond (although it will have to be redone) by installing an herb spiral just to the north of the pond and using the pond as the base of the spiral. The pond will no longer feature a waterfall but we are negotiating a small creek like feature if he will go for it, otherwise it will just be a natural pond at the base of the spiral. She agreed to give up the waterfall feature if he was able to remove the center island flower bed and install a banana circle so that has been planned.

Just to the south of the driveway, which is all grass at the moment will be planted out with productive trees, herbs and pretty support species that draw in beneficial insects and provide nitrogen fixation as well as provide the system’s own mulch. This system will provide shade to the driveway as well, which is a definite benefit with the extreme heat here in Southeast Texas.

Moving along to the front yard, most will stay intact as is with her flower beds and grass. I have added a parking strip garden with a Persian Silk Tree to provide shade, beauty and nitrogen fixation to that area. Under the tree will be planted out with pretty chard and other ornamental edibles that are drought resistant. Behind that, in the center of the front yard, behind the grass and in front of part of the flower garden will be another fruit tree guild centered with avocado and surrounded by companions.

Moving along to the backyard, her flower gardens will line the fence to the right until they meet the very back side that is hidden from view from the patio and kitchen and bedroom window. To the left when you enter the gate will be a mushroom log production area that has a ground covering of alpine strawberries, both of which are shade-loving and are on the north side of the house, with a pine tree overhead.

Behind the shed is a sweet potato area that will be out of site but a good source of shade loving greens as well as the tasty tubers.

Along the back of the fence, which is on the northwest side so has the southern solar aspect will be planted with many varieties of espaliered fruit trees. These will be the backdrop to her flower gardens which will provide beauty and nutrient dense fruit.

Behind the house completely is 2 rows of keyhole gardens to maximize space and another small path to access ginger and other herbs grown along the side of the house since that is mostly shaded as well.

There is a 4-foot strip between the south side of the house and the wooden fence that is mostly shaded due to the house, fence and neighbor’s trees. This will be planted in shade loving medicinal trees inside the fence and a strip of comfrey for mulch and medicine outside the fence.

We also have 3-330 gallon IBC totes to catch rainwater for use during our normally dry summers. Solar has been installed on a southwestern facing rooftop but the client is unsure whether he wants grid tie or independent. I suggested grid tie since we have very hot, humid summers and AC is a must if the house is not built with passive cooling in mind.

The man is ok with chickens, but the lady is not quite ok with it yet. That may be implemented in the future.

So far, I think that’s it. Noise and fire sectors have not been used due to the neighborhood type lot of this site and since the land is flat the fire could come from any direction and so does noise. Fire is not a big threat in this area anyway.

So, what do y’all think so far? If anyone here is using inkscape, you can access the file here.

Design Update

For those of you who are designers, and for those of you who want a design, I have spent a long time searching for the best software to use to design and to present designs to clients.  It was a very long search because I had many parameters.

First was functionality.  I wanted something that could create great detail even when zooming in.  I wanted something that was repeatable, meaning I wouldn’t have to draw the same item over and over again and I wanted something that was 3D capable.

I began using SketchUp because I had somewhat familiarized myself with it when I was going to build an insulated shed with the addition of the CoolBot and also had taught my daughter to use it so she could design her own gymnastics equipment and chicken tractors so we could make cut lists and check any errors before actually building.  The thing is, to make a full permaculture design using SketchUp would be a huge file and take a long time to complete, costing the client lots of extra money that could be used to buy trees or get earthworks completed.  I decided against using SketchUp.\

The next thing I heard from many people in the field was to use CAD.  While I’m sure this might be a great option for some, the startup costs are prohibitive and I have never learned CAD so I’m not sure that is the best option for me.

I also heard people talking about Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator but found that Inkscape was similar but an open source model of Illustrator and think that open source is the permaculture solution to software as it is a return of surplus to the community.

I decided to give Inkscape a try and googled a few terms like Inkscape for landscaping and other things but ended up running across Daniel Tyrkiel’s web page called CAD for Permaculture where he has a 10  video playlist on Youtube where he actually teaches a beginner how to use Inkscape and how to design using it.  This was a fantastic learning experience and I have begun my own design on my own property.  I have somewhat modified Daniel’s file for imperial measurements and also added a few different plants as well.  I will keep adding to this file to eventually make it my master template.

So, far ease of use and a video tutorial, as well as great functionality, open source software and templates already designed and shared freely, I highly recommend Inkscape.  The nice thing about this is the use of layers.  I start with just the Google Earth (or any other overhead) image and then add perimeter; water flow; sun, wind, fire and noise  sectors; structures and finally the plant layer which can actually be subcategorized into existing, overstory, understory, support species, shrub, vine, herbaceous, ground cover and rhizome layers!

I am putting together a design for my own property and will share the final design once done but here is the progress so far and photos of the progressing layers in the file.

 

Garden in Full Swing – Not even summer yet!

Howdy again!  This Tiny Farm has been so busy with harvesting, using and storing our bounty!  We are harvesting over a pound of tomatoes daily, lots of peppers and okra, carrots, cabbage and many pretty flowers for our table.  We have finally found a perfect recipe to ferment our jalapenos and it is so simple.

We have finally found a perfect recipe to ferment our jalapenos and it is so simple.  You will find that below.  We are experimenting with fermented cucumbers and a whey ferment with banana peppers.  Obviously, we love fermented foods.

We have also been making our own tomato sauces for things like spaghetti, lasagna and pizza, which we made on our new (to us) Weber kettle grill with a pizza stone and that turned out absolutely fantastic.  We have been trying to eat and use all our tomatoes but we are having to freeze some, which is a trick I heard of doing until there is enough to batch can.

In other news, I had to fix a broken PEX pipe running under our house and to my bathroom sink yesterday.  There’s always something to do around a homestead and sometimes it’s not what you’d like to be doing.  But, for $20 in parts and an hour’s worth of time I was able to make the repair without having to hire, pay and wait for a plumber who may have never even shown up anyway!

I’d also like to announce the launch of our brand new YouTube channel which can be found here. We’ll be posting our first video there this week.  Please go and subscribe!

Thanks, and until next time…

“If you build it, they will come”

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME:

The closed in holes are occupied.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here so today I thought I would share one of my latest favorite things. My Mason Bee house. There’s only one requirement to stay at the Crape Myrtle Inn, you must visit all of the flowers in my garden😃 Mason bees aren’t the only ones welcome here, mason wasps  are here too! You can bee neighbors, but just make sure you stay in your own room!

All you can eat buffet!

When I first made this I was worried that they wouldn’t be able to find it, but in only a weeks time I had my first tenants at the Crape Myrtle Inn😃

On this one I used rope from a bale of straw.

This house is super simple to make and you can fancy it up or do it plainjane like I did. The bees aren’t picky, as long as there’s beautiful flowers for them to visit and somewhere to nest. I just used stuff I already had laying around the homestead, but I’ve seen some really cute ones made of wood that look like little houses! Maybe when I learn to use a skill saw I’ll try and make one a little fancier.
To make one like this all you need is

You may have better tools to work with but this is what I had and felt comfortable using. Use any tools you like and are comfortable with.

Big pvc pipe
Hand saw or jig saw to cut the pvc
Bamboo sticks
Hand shears or pipe cutter for the bamboo
Wire or rope
Cut the pipe(with a hand saw or jig saw) to about 5 or 6 inches. Smooth it any rough edges.
Cut the bamboo the same length as the pipe. I like to use a pipe cutter it’s easier, but shears work too.
Stuff the bamboo in the pipe so that they are really snug and won’t fall out.

Bamboo of all sizes work well. The smaller pieces especially help at the end when making sure they are tight so none will fall out.

Put a wire or rope through it and secure it to a fence post or tree(don’t let it swing, secure in place) somewhere near your garden and enjoy your visitors!

The need for permaculture design and education in southeast TX!

ATTENTION!  ALL FREE DESIGNS HAVE ALREADY BEEN CLAIMED.  If you found this page via my facebook post, I will offer you a design at half price since you were not able to get the free design.  Please send me an email to Josh@thistinyfarm.com.

I have found the need for a professional permaculture designer in my region.  I have only been able to find a single designer in the Houston area through all my searching and ironically I didn’t even find him from searching, he was a name mentioned in Toby Hemmingway’s book Gaia’s Garden.  This is not good for the nation’s 3rd largest city!

An opportunity always exists where there’s a void and I plan to fill that void.  I am graduating from the world renowned Permaculture Research Institute in Australia under the leadership of designer and teacher Geoff Lawton.  This has been a dream of mine for quite some time and I waited 2 years for this course to become available.

Now, as the time to design approaches I have reached out to my community for help creating my portfolio.  I needed a few designs and didn’t know where to start so I posted on Facebook looking for a few people who would want a free permaculture design for their property and I was blown away by the response.  I got lots of people who were interested and 10 people who actually took the time to fill out the lengthy survey.  I looked at their property and interviewed each of them and decided to provide a design for 4 of them, plus my parents and I will give me 5 designs and my own showcase property.

I am looking forward to serving my community by helping build local awareness of permaculture and by holding classes, garden tours and workshops throughout the city.  It will be a lot of work, but it needs to happen as there is much work to be done in this region.

For now, I must focus on completing the course, and then I can focus on the community.

Discussion of Permaculture Ethics and Principles

When studying permaculture, but before taking my actual design course, I thought that permaculture was mainly about food forests and chicken tractors. If you don’t know what those are, I encourage you to take a look into them.  However, now I am beginning to understand a much bigger system.

Permaculture literally means “Permanent Culture”, not permanent agriculture, as I had originally thought.  In order to have a permanent culture, we must think about the bigger picture and not just the food aspect.  We must live in harmony with the earth, with those around us and with the systems we interact with.

Many have changed the last ethic to “Fair Share” and have included a piece of a pie as an icon to represent everyone getting their fair share of the pie.  In nature, it is not guaranteed to get a fair share.  When I walk in the forest, I see some trees that get plenty of sun and water but other trees that are struggling due to poor site conditions and are lacking in sun, water and nutrients.  It would be silly of us to expect a tree that is doing well to give some of it’s surplus to the tree that was struggling.  All life must take care of it’s own needs and this is reflected even in the Prime Directive, as stated above.

Return of Surplus, means just that.  When there is an abundance in a system, much life is supported.  Where does life come from?  It starts in the soil.  The soil life provides a network of bacteria and fungi that in concert with other micro-organisms provide the needed nutrients to plants above ground through symbiotic relationships.  When healthy soil produces a healthy abundance of biomass, animals will come and partake in the abundance.  A squirrel will get a nut, peel it, eat the nut and discard the shell right where he harvested the nut.  When a deer eats some foliage or fruit from a tree, he drops manure in the same system that provided him with food.  This is return of surplus and this is care of the earth.

As a species in the animal kingdom, we humans must also return surplus in order to care for the earth.  In order for us to practice permaculture, we must think not just of getting a yield, but creating no waste, both of which are in principles above.  We must think of retaining a closed loop system, where abundance is created but surplus is returned so that a self sustaining system remains strong and healthy for generations to come.

What are your thoughts on the Prime Directive, Ethics and Principles?  Please comment below.

 

Thanks for reading my first blog post!

Welcome to This Tiny Farm

Welcome to This Tiny Farm and thanks for reading my first blog post!  This Tiny Farm, a division of J & A's Whole Foods, is dedicated to the production of the highest quality, most nutrient dense and delicious homegrown produce without the use of any chemical fertilizers or biocides.  We believe in building a system that not only takes care of its self but also regenerates the soil underneath because we now know that our health and the health of the planet depends on the health of the soil.  We have been gardening and studying permaculture for 3 years now and have lots to learn but also lots to share.  

We have been gardening and studying permaculture for 3 years now and have lots to learn but also lots to share.  We hope this blog and future YouTube channel along with our portfolio of services will help you along your journey as toward health and independence as well.  

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.