Do you live in a hot and dry climate? Have you struggled with knowing how and when to fertilize your garden or properly compost? Keyhole gardening is a method of raised bed gardening that was created to solve those very problems. Read on to learn about the benefits of keyhole gardens and how to start your own.
What are keyhole gardens?
Keyhole gardens are a relatively new gardening method. They were first introduced in the 1990’s to the people of Lesotho, Africa. The residents there had been dealing with frequent droughts and soil erosion and poor soil conditions.
Keyhole gardens, so named for their shape that resembles an old-fashioned skeleton key lock, were successful in solving the gardening problems for the people in Lesotho and that success has since spread.
Keyhole gardens are simply a raised bed garden built around a compost cage that sits in the middle. The watering happens in the compost cage, sending out water filled with nutrients from the decomposing material to the surrounding garden bed. Keyhole gardens are small in size making them work in almost any backyard and are a smarter, more efficient way to garden.
Keyhole gardens might just be the most simple means of compositing and fertilizing your plants. Traditional methods involve a lot of shoveling or extra land, fancy bins and calendars and timetables to follow.
With a keyhole garden you simply layer the center cage with alternating layers of organic material from the yard (such as dead leaves) with a layer of kitchen scraps. That’s it. Watering that center cage helps the decomposition process and sends the nutrients directly to the plants on every side.
Keyhole gardens are both sustainable and regenerative. No added commercial fertilizers are needed to feed and grow your plants. Because you are creating highly nutritious soil you can grow larger plants and higher yields of produce using the keyhole method. Because keyhole gardens are built of raised garden beds you reap the same benefits: adequate drainage that allows the soil to remain moist but not soggy. People who deal with back pain or struggle to kneel in the garden also benefit from keyhole gardens because it takes the backbreaking work out of gardening by utilizing a simple no-till, no shoveling growing method at a taller height off the ground.
Care of a keyhole garden
Taking care of a keyhole garden is simple and involves only a few simple steps. First, add three to five inches of rocks or large gravel at the bottom of the compost cage, this allows fir air circulation, a necessary step in decomposition. Next, keep an eye on the compost cage. Add kitchen scraps when you notice the level of the compost has dropped. It will not take a lot of scraps, but keep the top of the compost level with the soil or slightly above.
Like in any garden you will want to rotate the crops annually. Some plants have shallow roots, others go deeper and take in more nutrients. When you rotate the plants you’ll help maintain a healthy soil balance. The compost cage only needs to be cleaned out every three to four years and you can start fresh. Putting mulch around your plants, such as wood chips or dead leaves, will help to retain the moisture in your garden and overtime they will decompose as well, feeding and enriching your soil.
How to build a keyhole garden
Traditionally keyhole gardens are circular in shape, but today you’ll find them circular, oval, square and rectangle. The shape isn’t as important as the size, keyhole gardens tend to be smaller, no more than 6 ft in diameter, so you can easily reach the garden on all sides, as well as the compost cage in the center. The raised beds are usually two to three feet in height and oftentimes the compost cage in the center is a foot or two taller than that. Keyhole gardens can be made of any material you would use to construct raised garden beds, but the cage in the middle needs to allow water to pass through so chicken wire or a grid made of wood is often used for the center.
Whether you decide to build a keyhole garden from scratch or purchase a pre-made kit, make sure to choose a location for the garden that is level and not in danger of flooding. If the holes on your compost cage are on the larger size, consider lining your garden beds with cardboard to allow the water to pass through without the soil eroding into the compost bin.
Purchasing a keyhole garden
If you choose to purchase a keyhole garden, Home Grown Food HQ offers several different models that will add beauty and interest to your backyard while you benefit from the superior and simple method of keyhole gardening. These kits come in different materials but are all easy to assemble and small enough to fit in any size backyard, but can be combined together to create a one-of-a-kind garden layout that you design. The cages on our models are all made of the same material as the garden box making them sturdy and long-lasting.
This is our largest keyhole garden bed we offer at 3×5′ and a classic rectangle shape. Made of 100% FSC certified cedar lumber and treated with an environmentally safe water-based stain, the Mezza 3×5 adds natural beauty to the garden. The raised bed can hold 23.3 cubic feet of soil, is almost 2 feet tall and requires no special tools for assembly.
The Mezza 4×4 shares all the same characteristics of the larger model but is instead a square 4×4′ shape. The cedar wood design is both timeless and modern and will complement any backyard space.
The Urbana 4×4 is a square raised garden bed and almost two feet in height. The dual-aesthetic boards allow you to choose between a wood grain or a brushed finished in either slate gray or espresso brown. This box is made of vinyl that is BPA and phthalate free making it food safe and long-lasting.