Keyhole Gardens: Growing Food in Arid Regions

Keyhole gardens introduce a new method of compost creation to allow gardeners in arid regions to grow their own fresh fruits and veggies.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Dr. Deb Tolman, www.debtolman.com

A Drought Tolerant Garden

Keyhole gardens are the stars of a new grass roots agrarian movement that allows gardeners to grow food successfully by creating a raised garden with the no-dig, layering concept of a lasagna garden and recycled materials instead of soil. The pictured garden has a center compost basket that distributes nutrients and water to the surrounding garden bed and is accessible by a keyhole notch opening in the circular design.

Brown Matter

The raised bed is created by layering cardboard, paper, dead plants and other brown material on top of each other. All of this will break down over a 30 day or more period and become the "soil" for the garden.

The All-Important Center Basket

All of these recycled materials (straw, cardboard, paper, cloth layered with green matter) will form the base and height of the raised bed and be fed through the center basket whose primary purpose is to distribute water and food (which is 90 to 95 percent water). That water, through capillary action, osmosis and gravity feed, travels out into the garden, accelerates micro-organism activity and "cooks" the layers of recycled matter.

Halfway to Greener Pastures

Here is a keyhole garden in mid-construction with an outer wall constructed from recycled concrete and the beginning of a center basket for nutrient distribution. The surrounding interior will be filled with recycled, biodegradable material like cardboard, sawdust and phone books which, when combined with green matter, will serve as food for the micro-organisms, which in turn will produce nutrients for the plants.

Green Goodness

This recently completed keyhole garden displays the first signs of young vegetable plants sprouting up from the compost. Notice the keyhole opening that allows the gardener easy access to the center when green material can be placed at regular intervals along with occasional watering when needed.

Squash Explosion

The compost created by keyhole gardens is so rich and fertile that the gardener may end up being able to produce more than half his or her food supply from it, thus greatly reducing grocery bills.

Rock Steady

Foundations for keyhole gardens can be constructed out of many types of recycled materials so the gardener has free reign to be creative. This circular design is composed of rocks from Marble Falls, Texas.

Cedar Solution

Here is a soon to be completed keyhole garden where the outer wall is made of cedar stays.

The Timber Cone

This completed keyhole garden features a circular wall made up of repurposed landscape timber which gives it a unique look. More importantly, the cone is perfectly constructed, rising one foot higher than the height of the outer wall, allowing for effective water distribution.

Plastic Fantastic

Another design approach for your keyhole garden is to construct the outside wall out of corrugated plastic with metal bracing like these colorful creations.

Anti-Critter Protection

In case you are wondering why scrap pieces of metal line the rim of this Texas keyhole garden, the reason isn't for decorative purposes. The metal collar is actually an effective barrier against armadillos which like to dig in the garden for worms and other insects to eat.

Idolize Your Garden

Who says your keyhole garden has to look like everyone else's? Be creative. Decorate it. Make it a folk art project that also works as a steady food supplier.

Attack of the Killer Tomato Plants

If you are an avid gardener and like to grow your own food, you might want to build more than one keyhole garden so you can devote an entire garden plot to a favorite vegetable like this healthy jungle of tomato plants.