South Walton family builds compost garden with a twist
Walton County residents Susan and Peter Horn are at ease with being green. The forward thinking couple has transformed their entire yard into a multi-faceted ongoing permaculture project.
Creative planting of herbs in a spiral-shaped compost garden had proven successful for the couple, hence the decision to expand on their existing spiral.
With a little help from their friends on June 21, bricks were towered and a wide variety of ingredients were poured in to create a composting work of art.
Using materials salvaged from construction projects, composted leaves, minerals, chicken manure and fermented cabbage were just a few ingredients that created the perfect mix.
“We don’t have dirt, we have sand, and this method builds dirt. Building dirt is any organic gardener’s top priority, but takes on special importance here on this barrier island composed of quartz sand. It is a lovely way to have an attractive compost pile that is also producing fresh organic herbs while making dirt/compost,” Susan explains.
Susan also explained the advantages of growing a spiral garden include hearty growing conditions in a small space, and it suits the needs of a wide variety of plants – from those that like it high, hot and dry (rosemary, salvias, oregano, aloe, scented geraniums) to those that prefer or tolerate more moisture or perhaps a bit of shelter/shade (most of the mints, the beautiful and adaptable yarrow).
The herbs also provide food, shelter, nectar for beneficial insects including pest predators (green lacewings, ladybugs, praying mantis, beneficial wasps) and pollinators (bees, hummingbirds); bronze fennel in particular feeds caterpillars of the beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.
The Horns’ first herb spiral also invited earthworms, nature’s best soil improvers, to a section of their yard that had been hot, dry and full of weeds.
Some of the materials placed into the spiral:
• Used cardboard
• Shredded paper nesting material from their chicken coop
• Sphagnum moss
• Abandoned bird nesting
• Fermented vegetable matter
• Partly composted leaves
• Chicken manure
• Dirt (sand)
Additional nutrients included:
• Rock phosphate
• Essential minor elements
• Green sand (potassium)
• Epsom Plus (magnesium)
• Lactobacillus and other beneficial microorganisms
I asked Susan a few questions about their permaculture approach and garden concept.
What inspired you to get into spiral herb garden construction?
I’ve loved gardening for decades, especially herbs and things I can eat. Grass and ornamentals just never worked for us and I’d been casting about for an approach to residential landscaping that made sense to us. When I found out about permaculture, I knew I was onto something, and first read about herb spirals in Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway (THE book to read for homescale permaculture). When Chandra Hartman and Kat Provencher gave an Introduction to Permaculture course, I jumped at the chance, and was knocked out with their combined knowledge and expertise; we soon convinced them to create a permaculture plan for our home, making sure to include an herb spiral. The herb spiral was one of the first parts of the plan that we built, one afternoon last summer, using salvaged bricks of random sizes. We’ve enjoyed that one so much, we wanted another one.
Are there specific types of plants (herbs, veggies, flowers) that work best with a spiral garden?
One of the great things about an herb spiral is that it provides so many “microclimates” in such a small footprint. You can keep a lot of different kinds of plants happy, whether they like full sun high and dry, wet feet and afternoon shade, or anything in between. I’ve had good luck with the Mediterranean herbs, as well as some Asian ones like Thai basil. I’m sad to say, I cannot seem to keep lemon thyme alive for more than a few months. The only veggies I’ve tried in the spiral were small peppers; nasturtiums and marigolds have both done well, and we’re trying violas in the new herb spiral. I would stay away from lemongrass, because it gets so big! Put plants like that in a spot where they have plenty of room to spread out without bothering neighbors.
Where did the spiral garden concept originate?
I can’t say for sure, but quite possibly with David Holgren and Bill Mollison, who first formulated the principles of permaculture in the late 1970s – based on their observations of nature and their knowledge of centuries-old homesteads in Southeast Asia where great varieties of useful plants and animals were cultivated in amazingly small spaces, while impriving rather than degrading the land.
The Horns have completed several green projects over the years. Peter has designed and built an entire house out of building materials he kept out of the landfill (either surplus materials from new construction or salvaged from demolition/remodeling projects), and have created play houses for Cottages for Kids which were built almost entirely from salvaged materials.
Peter is a LEED-for-Homes Certifiying Agent, as well as a Florida Green Building Coalition Certifying Agent, and he proctors tests for other people who are in the process of becoming FGBC certified.
For more information about Peter and Susan’s company, Artisan, go to www.artisan-builds.com
Lori Ceier is the publisher of waltonoutdoors.com, and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org