“Sticks in keyholes” and how that phrase is related to gardening

A traditional way of gardening is planting in rows or long rectangular raised beds, which requires a lot of space for planting and harvesting. And what would be a permaculture solution? A keyhole garden.

First made popular in Africa, a keyhole garden holds moisture and nutrients due to an active compost pile placed in the center of a round bed.  This is a view form above and from the side:

8 detail_keyhole

As you can see from above the garden reminds a keyhole. The side view cutout seems very interesting, you can see a lot of layers there (wood on very bottom,  cardboard,  a bit of compost, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, worms, wood ash, straw, topsoil). As a blog on gardening and planting suggests (https://www.niftyhomestead.com/blog/keyhole-garden/ ) this kind of layering enhance soil health. Actually if you put the layer of fresh branches (30-50 cm) on the bottom of a keyhole it guarantees soil moisture for 4-5 years. The good thing about a keyhole is that you can reach the growing plants standing inside the keyhole or being around it without stepping on the plants or the ground around them.

This is another great illustration:

keyhole garden 2

As you can see the bed is higher near the center, with time the ground will sit and it will become flat. Raising the bed this way creates bigger planting area.

Before we came to volunteer in this small Slovak garden, they already had 5 years of experience with making keyholes. This year we decided to expand the garden and create a new keyhole.

First we dug (instead of digging you can raise the bed, but don’t forget to create a frame of stones so that everything holds) and put branches:


The branches should be put close to each other creating a smooth layer like a carpet, so we cut them with scissors:

breaking branches

Then we put the layer of compost and hay on top:


And the layer of ground:

ground on top

We still have to make borders around the bed, raise it a little and create a path inside, but it’s close to finish.

I hope you will use this method to create your own garden. It does not require much space, so you can build it in the city 🙂



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