Keyhole Gardening

A recent article in the Texas Co-op Magazine has gardeners all over the country talking.  After the article was published word of “keyhole gardens” hit the internet and took off.  I read the article and knew I had finally found a way to vegetable garden in my sloping, rocky, caliche filled yard and I, too, took off.

The idea of a keyhole garden comes from organizations working in Africa to build sustainable food sources.  The garden is a six foot in diameter circle raised three feet above the ground.  A small pie-shaped wedge is left on one side to give access to the middle of the circle.

Before filling with any organic materials (old phone books, cardboard, and cotton cloth) and soil, a tube of wire mesh is placed at the center point.  The organic materials will compost over time and provide filler.  The tube is used to compost kitchen scraps and to water the garden from the center.  The water flowing through the decomposing matter provides fertilizer and makes the most efficient use of the water.  Planting in this way allows for more plants to be grown in a smaller space much like “square foot” gardening.

Not wanting to invest in a six foot diameter rock wall, I found a company in Clifton Texas making keyhole garden kits.  We leveled a small area and set up the garden frame which consists of aluminum tubing lined with polycarbonate panels.  Into this we threw said phone books, cardboard and a few pieces of rebar for good measure.  The instructions from Africa mentioned tin cans, guess it adds minerals to the soil.  I had been composting oak leaf mold for about eight years so I had plenty of good soil for the top layer.

In order to prevent feeding our neighborhood deer herd we used several livestock panels left from building the deck.  These are heavy gauge wire panels with 4 inch spacing.  These were attached to the garden frame with zip ties.  Unfortunately deer seem to be able to get through a four inch opening to chomp the outer plants so plastic mech was wraped around the outer wall.  The "gate" to the center point is another piece of livestock panel.

Since we got a late (for Texas) start this year we used transplants so that we might get a harvest before the heat of summer.  Three tomato plants, three peppers, one squash, a row of bush beans, a row of Swiss chard (I’ll plant another row in a week or so for successive crops), and leeks constitute our first effort.  I've interplanted some herbs.  I grow these in pots now but I can always use more basil!

Right now the squash leaves are shading out the herbs but I'm getting ready to pick a couple of patty pan squash.Tomatoes are ripening and the peppers are coming along.  I have great plans for a fall garden, now if Mother Nature will just cooperate.


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