The Ultimate Garden to Build and Why It’s Good for Texans
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When we had our first daughter, we knew we wanted to garden.
We were in between houses at the time so we did a lot of research on garden design.
As soon as we bought the next house, it was time to hit the ground running and get dirty.
We tried all sorts of different designs…some worked…some didn’t.
Our MOST favorite was the keyhole garden!
We actually built it out of wine bottles!!!
Our new neighbors were sure glad we moved in!!
Lots of wine AND food??!!
Who wouldn’t love us!
Turns out that the keyhole garden is the Ultimate Garden to Build especially in Texas…we still have them in play to this day!
Table of Contents
What is a keyhole garden?
A keyhole garden is a 3ft high, 6ft in diameter round structure (which can be made out of really about anything…cinderblocks, logs, boards, wine bottles, anything that can hold up the soil) that has a wedge cut out to make it look like a keyhole.
At the center of the keyhole, there is a 12 in diameter cylinder made of chicken wire. This area houses compost.
The keyhole garden was first put into action by the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (1) in the 1990s.
During that decade, Africa was seeing the highest rate of AIDS it had ever seen. People were terribly sick and needed good food.
The keyhole garden was designed to be higher up off the ground so the sick wouldn’t have to bend over, strong enough so they could lean on it, small enough that they could reach what they needed, and it could be built close to their house.
They incorporated a compost pile in the middle to get rid of their excess plant scraps and to recycle their greywater.
Little did they know, that this would be one of the most drought-resistant garden designs.
And perfect for Texans with little to no rain!
How Do Keyhole Gardens Work?
There are 3 main layers of the design.
- The first layer is a layer of cardboard that acts as a weed barrier, then topped with sticks and leaves which help with drainage. Having too much soil in a confined space could stop water from moving causing it to go stagnant and mold.
- The second layer is soil.
- The top layer is for plants.
As the compost in the middle decomposes, it leaches into the garden, feeding it all the composted nutrients and excess water…keeping it moist underneath.
You do have to water the top of the garden when needed but this compost adds a good amount of water to the garden below the surface.
Another cool thing about the compost pile is YOU DON’T HAVE TO TURN IT!
Most compost piles require some flipping and that can be messy and a lot of work. This just goes down into the garden! No need to mess with it at all!
We had some keyhole gardens built for our farm classes but with COVID our farm classes came to an immediate halt and the farm food production had to come to an immediate increase…
Meaning there was not much time to tend to the keyholes.
The keyholes completely survived and flourished with little attention AND the heat of the Texas summer. I was totally impressed and it was definitely a test of how drought resistant they really are!
You will want to add in some earthworms as well. Earthworms are super beneficial to your soil and aerate it to allow it to breathe. You can get them on Amazon. I have before…it’s fun to get worms in the mail!
Advantages of a Keyhole Garden
- Less water and maintenance
- They’re hip-high so you don’t have to be kneeling on the ground
- Beautiful to look at
- A compost pile is already included so you don’t need to worry about having a separate area for that and all that includes.
- The compost naturally feeds the garden…less work for you.
- Though relatively small and their intention is to be “small,” they are quite massive. We use cinderblocks for ours and we think they’re a beautiful, monolithic structure but they are HUGE so spacing may be difficult…especially if you need a lot of them.
- Depending on the materials you use, they can be quite a lot of physical work to establish. If you live in Leander, contact us and we can come put them in for you!
How and What to Plant.
You can plant a keyhole garden with any plants you want.
We have always planted the keyholes using a bio-intensive technique that we use on the farm. But you can plant them how you want.
I’ve seen people plant them in pie shapes…each variety of vegetable plant gets it’s own “piece of the pie.” This would be fun if you themed your garden.
To consistently feed your family throughout the year, you will need one garden per family member.
How to Build a Keyhole Garden
- Cardboard…save your Amazon boxes!
- Sticks and leaves…chances are you can find these around your house or nearby.
- Something for the outside structure…we love cinderblocks! They’re easy, inexpensive, and man…do they give you a workout!! If you use cinderblocks you will need 49 blocks.
- 1 to 1.5 yards of garden soil. If you’re near Leander, TX, we recommend Enchanted Rock and Landscape Supply
- You will need some chicken wire. If you have something similar, great!! Use that…but here it is on Amazon if you need it.
- Layer your area with cardboard.
- Next, measure out a 6ft diameter circle. You can put a stake in the middle and then measure 3 ft on either side. Use spray paint if you need to mark the circle.
- Layer the cinderblocks making sure to cut into the center to make the keyhole section. You’re going to want 3 layers of bricks. You want them with the holes facing up because if you have them facing out, your soil could fall out.
- Add your chicken wire cylinder to the compost pile and wrap it with cardboard. Toss in some sticks and leaves around the compost. No order to this…that’s always fun!
- Shovel in your dirt. Add your earthworms here. You want to level the dirt with the bricks.
- Now it’s ready to plant! You can pick up transplants from us at our Farm Stand. You know for sure they’ll be in season and ready to go!
The keyhole is my favorite home garden. I have them now EVEN with the farm and when we stop farming, we’ll have them then!
Though they’re big, they’re beautiful and do a lot!
I mean…the compost pile alone is enough for most people to give this a try!!
Not to mention the water…if that is your biggest issue with the gardening…forgetting to water…then the keyhole is a MUST for you!