In the past, crop rotation and irrigation were some of the methods that gardeners and farmers have dealt with the issues of poor soil and drought in arid regions around the world. In many areas however, keyhole gardening is catching on as a more practical and less strenuous way of dealing with these issues. Keyhole gardens first became popular in Africa, but have caught on in many other areas, even places that don’t experience these conditions. Although they originated in those areas with hot, dry growing conditions, a keyhole garden is perfect for just about any climate.
If viewed from the top, it is easy to see where the garden got its name. It is generally a raised bed garden, circular in shape, with a wedge cut into one side to make the center compost well easily accessible. From an aerial view the garden resembles a keyhole. The true beauty of the garden’s design is that it incorporates ease of access with recycling and conserving water. Since the center of the garden is a compost basket and slightly higher than the edges, not only does the water run down to the lower areas of the garden, it takes along the nutrients from your compost.
Another aspect that makes it so wonderful is that they can be built from almost anything: old wood, sticks, cement blocks, or bricks will all work equally well. This means that you don’t need to spend a great deal of money in order to have a very productive garden. The center compost basket can be made out of anything from sticks that have been lashed together to old wire fencing; as long as it allows the water to flow through freely it will work.
Making a keyhole garden is almost as easy as growing things in it. For a basic garden design simply place a pole in the center of where you’d like the garden to be and attach a string to it. Measure out around 6 feet of string (or whatever size you want your garden) and walk it around to make a perfect circle. The center, where the pole is, will be where you place your compost holder. After deciding where you’d like the wedge opening to be, you can begin to build the walls with whatever materials you have.
Filling this type of garden is also much easier than your typical raised bed. There is no need for bag after bag of garden soil because you fill it with layers of biodegradable materials such as wood, compost, and shredded paper and place garden soil over the top of it all. This provides a good base for very fertile soil as these materials break down. Suggested ideas for layering are: wood (such as sticks or twigs) on the bottom, cardboard, compost, newspaper (only black ink), manure, straw, and topsoil. Repeat these layers until you have the desired height. Some people also add a few worms into the topsoil layer in order to speed up the composting process. After all is done, you are ready to introduce your plants to this innovative garden.
While a keyhole garden is quite utilitarian in nature, they can also be quite beautiful depending on what materials you use. What starts out to be a source of fresh herbs and vegetables can quickly become the centerpiece of your landscape design.