Is your backyard too hot and dry to cultivate the vegetables you have only dreamed of? Keyhole gardens were developed for the sole purpose of maximum crop output in the hottest and driest of conditions. Their low cost, low maintenance, and versatility make them a desirable gardening option for your yard and for gardening across the globe.
Humanitarian foundations spearheaded the development of keyhole gardening to help improve lives around the world. Keyhole gardening is simple enough to be taught to school-age children in third-world countries where the children then use the concept in their homes and villages. A single keyhole garden affords enough abundance to provide a large family with a year round supply of vegetables.
Keyhole gardens are circular raised bed gardens. The larger outer circles are where crops are planted. The center portion of these gardens are active composting baskets. Small aisles are built to access the compost baskets. Keyhole gardens get their name from the bird’s eye view of these features.
The composting basket is center to the success of keyhole gardens. Kitchen scraps and grey water are added to the compost basket daily for continuous replenishment of the soil. The soil for keyhole gardens is specially layered to boost its ability to maintain moisture and nourishment.
Keyhole gardens are currently making their way into backyards everywhere. You can create one in your own space with the following steps:
To begin, clear and level a sunny, circular area about 6 feet in diameter. Centered within that circle will be your composting basket. Create your composting basket using sticks, positioned vertically, and twine or chicken wire. Think in terms of creating a basket. Place rocks on the ground at the bottom of the basket for drainage. Place a layer of topsoil over the rocks, and feed the compost with kitchen and garden scraps.
Construct a protective shade to cover the compost basket during times of intense heat to prevent over drying. The protective cover can be used for rainy periods, too. You don’t want too much moisture to wash the nutrients from the compost into the soil too quickly.
Build the perimeter walls of the garden using what you have on hand. Rocks, bricks, or blocks are preferable, but sticks driven into the ground or even old tires will hold back the soil. The wall can be built as high as you choose depending on the materials you have and what is a comfortable gardening level for you. The compost will increase soil volume, so you may want to continue to build the garden walls up over time.
Next, take special care while layering the soil as you add it to your garden. The lowest layer should consist of broken plant pots, tin cans, and twigs. These allow for drainage. Layer cardboard, straw, topsoil, ashes, compost, and aged manure. Save the best soil for your top layer. Ideally, your soil will slope slightly away from the composting basket so nutrients will reach the outer borders of the garden.
Let the soil set for a week before planting seeds or seedlings. Plant at least four different types of vegetables in your garden to maintain fertility and to promote resistance to pests and disease. Onion and garlic, specifically, provide pest protection. Plant leafy greens next to root vegetables. Tomatoes can be planted near the center of the garden to allow the basket to provide support for the plant. Preferred root plants for keyhole gardens include carrots, beets, and radishes. Spinach, lettuce and herbs are all good choices for leafy vegetables.
Directly water seeds and young plants with clean water until roots are established. Use kitchen and other discard water in the compost basket after plants are beginning to mature. The water from the compost basket is sufficient to sustain the garden.
To see images of keyhole gardens, and for specific instructions for creating your own, visit these links:
See how to build a keyhole garden with regular bricks on YouTube.
Central Texas Gardener TV show covers keyhole gardening in great depth on YouTube.
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of yarnmaven