First made popular in Africa, keyhole gardens are catching on in Texas and other hot, dry places. Keyhole gardens hold moisture and nutrients due to an active compost pile placed in the center of a round bed. Although most helpful in hot and dry locations a keyhole garden will improve growing conditions in just about any climate.
From a bird's eye view the garden is shaped as a keyhole. A notch is cut into a round garden bed, the notch makes for easy access to the center compost well. (Note the first diagram below; to see keyhole.)
Keyhole Garden in Central Texas, Deb Tolman uses keyhole gardens as the main source of her own food supply, and is working on ways to keep them producing throughout multiple seasons and conditions. Dr. Tolman incorporates a frame into most of her designs to support a shade cloth during the hottest months. The frame might also be covered in early spring with plastic sheeting to create a greenhouse. Dr. Tolman is available for workshops, consultation, and seminars. Photo: Dr. Deb Tolman. www.debtolman.com
Keyhole garden in Lesotho by Send a Cow, who first popularized keyhole gardens in Africa. Send a Cow has helped countless families and schools build keyhole gardens. www.sendacow.org.uk
Keyhole garden. This one looks easy enough to set up, but the bricks do not look like they will take another level if you desire the height to increase with time. The compost adds more and more soil year after year. www.sendacow.org.uk
Keyhole garden by Send a Cow. Line the center well with sticks or chicken wire lined with straw to initially separate the two areas.The center well is used to irrigate the whole garden bringing nutrients from the compost into the surrounding soil. www.sendacow.org.uk
A keyhole garden in Ethiopia. Keeping a lid on the center well will retain heat and reduce evaporation. dsnyderphotography.com
Keyhole garden in Uganda by Send a Cow.
This sustainable gardening method uses kitchen and garden waste and gray water (or wash water) as food for your garden. www.sendacow.org.uk
Keyhole garden scheme. Layering is proven to enhance soil health. Layering sugestions: wood on very bottom, next cardboard, next a bit of compost, next petroleum-free newspaper, manure, worms, wood ash, straw, topsoil. Repeat, compost, straw, topsoil or some such combination until you reach desired height. texascooppower.com
When it rains or when you water your compost, the nutrients will seep into the surrounding bed. During rainy spells you might wish to cover the compost so the nutrients in the compost do not leach out too rapidly.
Step by step photos of a keyhole garden build.
Sloping the soil away from the center well allows better transfer of water and nutrients and adds to surface area. www.sendacow.org.uk
Students building a keyhole garden.
Students Living a Mission = slamweb.org/SLAM
Keyhole garden in Rwanda by Send a Cow.
Keyhole garden in Lesotho by Send a Cow.
Keyhole garden in Uganda by Send a Cow.
Keyhole garden with a surround of sticks in Uganda by Send a Cow. www.sendacow.org.uk
Keyhole garden by Send a Cow.
Keyhole gardens with wood surround by Deb Tolman, Texas. In the winter the compost in the center of the keyhole garden generates heat and holds moisture. www.facebook.com/keyholegardens
Keyhole Vegetable Garden by Anne Hars lined with straw wattle.
Keyhole garden by sixth grade students in the UK who had been learning about sustainability and the soil conditions in Africa. The children used a combination of bricks and stones to create the garden. They surrounded the center compost with a piece of willow fencing. A garden sieve was then placed on top of the compost area to allow the rain water to seep through the compost and into the garden to help enrich the soil. Each day children throughout the school place their fruit scraps and more into the compost. The children decided to use the proceeds from selling their produce to help buy a goat for a third world country through OXFAM. rootsnshoots.org.uk
Keyhole garden in Florida by Melissa Contreras. This garden can grow in height, as the compost adds volume, more bricks can be stacked as in the image below. foodshed.greatereverglades.org
Keyhole garden by Freddy Hill of Oklahoma.
Keyhole garden in Texas by Deb Tolman. "If all the layering guidelines have been followed, watering is at a minimum, evaporation is at a minimum, all plants look nutrient fed, and productivity is high." Deb Tolman. www.facebook.com/keyholegardens
Keyhole garden by Morena Hockley.
Keyhole garden in Texas.
'Layered in the bed are bones of two cows, ash from one brush pile, aged dried poop from a dozen cows, five bags of clover, a pile of forest floor mulch, cardboard, rusty items, and 15 buckets of two year old compost.' www.tractorbynet.com
Wine bottle keyhole garden. The reuse ideas could be endless, cans, metal, old row boats...earthbags...logs. "800 wine bottles, one year from conception to completion, and a lot of faith that this crazy idea would work. The diameter of the circle is approximately 7 feet." By Mary Martine, Pheonix, Arizona. phoenixpermaculture.org
Beer bottles in cement. No keyhole. Love the bottle reuse, looks sturdy. Frame is for a shade cloth. www.facebook.com/keyholegardens
Keyhole garden by Jim.
Keyhole gardens have been made popular by Send a Cow, a humanitarian aid organization who builds keyhole gardens for families thoughout subsahara Africa. Three keyhole gardens can supply a large family with all their vegetables, year round. www.sendacow.org.uk
A keyhole garden built by students in the UK.
Flowers surround the vegetables.
Send a Cow pdf: sendacow.org.uk.pdf
Baker Institute pdf: bakerinstitute.org
Texas Coop: texascooppower.com