How to Build an Herb Spiral

If you have herbs in your garden -- or want to -- the idea of keeping them in a tidy bed all to themselves, and close to your kitchen, probably has big appeal.  Easy access means you're more likely to remember to snip a few chives the next time you serve baked potatoes. That's not the only draw. Let's face it; some herbs can look shabby when mixed with showstopper bloomers like the ones you probably keep in your landscape beds. What they lack in visual appeal, they make up for in utility, though.  One way to make them shine, and keep them together, is to incorporate them into a garden spiral, in this case an herb spiral.

An herb spiral is a coiled garden bed that gradually rises in elevation as it curls in on itself. It has a number of advantages. Its construction makes it visually arresting, especially when viewed from above. This somewhat minimizes the reliance on showy plant specimens to make a statement. Because it builds upward instead of just outward, an herb spiral can contain many plants in a small space. It also conceals some of the plants behind the curve of the spiral, so a few wispy herbs in the mix are less likely to look "weedy" because they aren't all visible at the same time.

One of the biggest advantages of an herb spiral, though, is that the varying elevations in the bed, and its gradual changes in orientation, provide a variety of microclimates that benefit specific herbs. With some planning, this clever construction lets you keep very different herbs together while still offering each the environment it needs (dry, moist, bright, shady, etc.).

While you're planning your spring gardening projects, consider adding an herb spiral to the list. I've written a primer on the subject. You can find it in this month's issue of Maximum Yield magazine. This link will take you to its online location. Just click the numbers at the bottom of the screen and enter 117 (the page number): Spiraling Out

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jeanne: 

Easy Chive Butter Recipe - A Two Ingredient Wonder

Chive butter is one of the most versatile savory butters you can make at home. It has a mild oniony, garlicky flavor that's somewhat sweet and never bitter. It improves the taste of most vegetables, and is the default flavored butter topper for a baked potato. For a rich finish, add a pat to your grilled or broiled steaks, too. That little dab of garden kissed dairy makes all the difference.

Chive butter is another two ingredient butter, like honey butter, that's be easy to prepare. You can even complete a batch during a commercial break in your favorite holiday movie -- I speak from experience.

You can source fresh chives in the produce department of most major grocery store chains if it isn't a resident in your garden. (And if not, why not? Chives are reliably frost tolerant, and I've even braved the herb patch after a significant snow to harvest some when my windowsill plant starts to look a little short and stumpy.)

Chive Butter Recipe

2 sticks (one cup) salted butter, softened
1/4 cup fresh chives

Rinse chives and pat them dry with a paper towel. Let them sit on your countertop for a half hour or so to get rid of any residual moisture. Dryer is better.

Chop chives as fine as you can, and set them aside.

Add softened butter to a mixing bowl and cream using a whisk or fork.

Add the chives a little at a time until fully incorporated.

Spoon mixture onto waxed paper, and form it into a log about one and a half inches in diameter.  You can also place the mixture in a tub or ramekin, or add it to a decorative mold.

Refrigerate until firm.

The recipe can be halved or doubled.  To eyeball a quick prep session, use about two tablespoons of chives for each half cup (stick) of butter.  The mixture will last about a week in your refrigerator. It can also be made ahead and frozen.

Photo courtesy of Flicker user: Edsel Little