11 April 2013

K is for Keyhole

Photo credit: afrigadget.com
Specifically, it's for keyhole garden beds (also known as African gardens). I've mentioned them before on this blog, after seeing the plans at the Texas Co-op site here. When I realized how much dry garden waste this arrangement used up, I knew it was for me. We have tons of brush and garden refuse to layer, and a plentiful supply of cardboard boxes from the local grocery store. The big dilemma was creative ways to build the structure because rock is at a premium around here, and so is decent soil for the top layers.We don't even have urbanite available after the county yard ground all their broken concrete into gravel.

So here is how we started:

First stakes were surrounded by chicken wire, that were then lined with cardboard including the ground. This was watered down well. Then a layer of coarse, dry brush was added and watered. That tube in the middle is for the "compost bucket" and where the arrangement is watered several times per week. I call it the "wormhole" because you know what's going to take up residence there soon, right?

Next, more layers of cardboard and garden waste, the coarser stuff toward the bottom, and watered between each layer.

Then some nice bags of leaves on top of the next layer of cardboard.

After watering, yet another layer and then newspapers. Getting bored yet? ;)

And finally, dirt, composted stable bedding from our neighbors, and bagged potting soil. It took a lot of that to get a 6-8 inch layer of planting surface.

I couldn't stand the sheer ugliness of this, so we bought some snow fence, cut it in half to the proper height, then covered the soil with straw. This is the second one, where we had the brilliant idea to use old shag carpet from the barn as another barrier around the stakes. We think this will hold moisture better than the cardboard alone. Remember the idea here is to conserve water while offering a bio-intensive growing area for healthy plants like you see in the first picture.

Five of these keyhole gardens are placed in what will become a permaculture suntrap facing south. You can already see the small peach trees that are the start of an orchard. In a few months, I'll show you updated photos when we get more of the foundation in place for some of the other elements in this suntrap.

If you want to give this method a go, be forewarned. These six-foot diameter beds take a lot of energy and materials to build. Each one took two of us a half day of constant effort. We'll see if it pays off for us. I love the idea of having a good place to empty my compost bucket, and even more, not having to bend so far to plant and harvest. If it really does conserve a lot of water, so much the better. Water is cheap where I live, but that won't last forever in this drought, and I'd rather be prepared for water rationing. This will help a great deal.

Here's a video about this technique should you care to learn more. It takes a slightly different approach. I wish I'd watched this first - very inspiring and intriguing! I loved the upbeat music.

Here's the website to http://keyhole-gardens.com/ for more ideas. I'm hoping my keyhole gardens look this lush in a few months.

Have any of you tried this type of gardening? What kind of vegetable gardening do you do? Please leave me a comment!


Patricia Stoltey said...

I have four raised 4x4 beds for veggies, and I use plastic bins with holes punched in the lid for worm composting. The project you show here sounds like a good way to combine my two activities into one.

Dani said...

Pat, we have eight raised beds as well as a goat pen turned vegetable garden, and have a greenhouse started there. This gardening project has gotten to be a big venture! LOL. I'm seriously considering worm composting, and keeping that set-up on the back kitchen/pantry this winter. Ooh, I've always wanted pet worms.

Sandy Campbell said...

This was fascinating!! I loved the video and yes, your right the music was wonderful. Such a hard working family and they made their keyhole garden beautiful!! I loved it! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post!! www.sandysanderellasmusings.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

What a lovely keyhole garden and the pictures of how one is made was so easy to follow. Excellent post.


Alternative Foodie said...

I've always wanted to have a raised bed, and often saw instruction using wood plank put together like a bed. I was think that would be a pity, but I see now we can use almost anything. Great tutorial, Dani.

susanalbert said...

That snow fence is really attractive, Dani--would work for a lot of projects. Too bad we don't have it around here (TX). Excellent photos and text~


Dani said...

Good point, Susan - snow fence wouldn't be easily available just anywhere, right? It also costs money, and we've talked about going a more third-world creative route (like in the African video) and weaving our own fences. This is where a nice stand of clumping bamboo would come in handy! So far, I haven't gotten that to grow.

BRIDGET said...

Fascinating _ I'm looking forward to your pictures of what the coming months will bring. Great experiment. (But I'm not entirely sure what a snow fence is - writing from the south coast of England and we do have snow.)

Dani said...

Bridget, snow fences are just picket fences placed in areas inclined to accumulate drifting snow. They are often placed in fields along roads to catch the snow before it blocks the road during snowstorms and windy times. Here's a video that explains them! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiQXNujxmUw "They start nowhere and go nowhere..."

Rebecka Vigus said...

I love this idea.

Jenny said...

I've not heard of this before, which kind of surprise me because we have dry ground/poor soil issues in Colorado and this looks like a good solution. I hope it works well for you!
Have fun with A to Z!

Jenny at Choice City Native

Damyanti said...

This needs patience, dedication and hard work-- you obviously have spadefuls of all the above ;)

Look forward to the rest of your challenge posts!
Damyanti @Daily(w)rite
Co-host, A to Z Challenge 2013

Twitter: @AprilA2Z
AZ blogs on Social Media

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