The concept is incredibly simple, and the keyhole raised bed in the video looked very easy to construct with hardly any tools and only very inexpensive materials. Take a look for yourselves:
|Keyhole gardens are now popping up all over the world. They reportedly can be made with bricks, stone, rocks - just about anything that will hold the soil in place. Organic material from the garden (lawn clippings, leaves, etc.) and kitchen scraps that one would ordinarily compost are tossed directly into the central core to eventually feed the surrounding soil.|
Of course Valhalla must have one - and if this first prototype actually works, there's plenty of room where several more could be built. The following step-by-step pictorial guide shows to how we approached our first keyhole garden project. An important disclaimer: this is a step-by-step guide on how we did things here at Valhalla during our first attempt; it is not a list of instructions on how to build the perfect keyhole garden bed by any stretch of the imagination. For all we know, our approach might be a recipe for failure! Yet it's important to document every step so we can all learn about what works and what doesn't.
|We first marked two circles on the ground with|
an entry space between them, then dig a shallow
trench following the outer circle (click on any of
these photos to enlarge).
|We placed the first row of bricks at a 45 degree|
angle so they're resting on each other. We packed
dirt on both sides for stability while angling each
brick inward towards the center.
|We built a round cage in the center using|
4' tall woven wire, a few pieces of old pipe,
and wire ties.
|We lined the bottom of the bed with|
paper and cardboard
|Gordon used the tractor that Ed Harkreader loaned|
to Valhalla to fetch several bucket-loads of topsoil
from the waiting mini-mountains of dirt. Thank you
so much Ed, we're taking very good care of it!
|The second row of bricks clearly tilt in towards|
the compost basket in the center.
|Paper, cardboard, and sun-bleached deer bones|
went into the very bottom of the compost cage.
Nutrients from the compost cage will eventually travel through the cage to nourish the soil in the main gardening bed. Think for a moment about this important point: compost piles are normally placed in or near a garden, yet then one has to take the time and energy to physically move the composted soil over to the actual growing beds. The keyhole garden approach is based on composting organic materials right inside of their ultimate destination, thus eliminating a very time consuming and labor intensive step in traditional gardening approaches.
Then we raided the Guinea Fowl Palace that Specialist Jen Manning built for some of their precious bedding, which is a combination of straw, leaves, and (naturally) bird droppings. We didn't want to take too much since that's how the Guineas stay warm during cold winter nights: the bottom layers are many months old and already rotting - that is, composting - which generates heat. When it's really cold they drop down from their roosts and burrow down into the thick carpet of leaves to stay warm. The Guineas watched with a great deal of interest as we took a few cubic feet of their composted bedding away, yet they still have yards of the stuff left in there.
|We used ash from the fireplace to ensure|
purity, then poured hand-carried jugs of
well water over the first layers of
organic materials inside the keyhole
garden bed's composting cage.
Then we added some large jugs of water. This is sort of a sore point here at Valhalla for the moment, since there's not a single water facet on the front side of the house to run hoses from. This will be resolved in the coming months after an appropriate rain water collection system can be designed and built to capture water running off the roof. A large cistern will have to be purchased and buried up the hill just outside the house, then hoses and gravity will be used to deliver water to the garden and all the vegetable beds by spring.
|We added more topsoil than we thought we'd need,|
but it turned out to be the perfect amount.
biochar we'd previously blogged about. We took some of it and spread it all around the keyhole garden bed outside the cage along with several bags of store-bought compost (by next year Valhalla will be generating enough compost from scratch so it won't be necessary to buy it again).
|Valhalla's first completed keyhole garden, all ready|
for worms, more compost, and finally planting
during this coming spring.
An amusing sidebar to this story: our favorite UPS delivery man arrived to deliver a package but suddenly caught sight of Valhalla's unusual new addition in the garden. "What the heck is that?" he asked while pointing. "It's a keyhole garden from Africa!" I answered, and then explained how it works. He stared at it some more while rubbing his chin. "Well," he finally said, "Have you ever heard that people are starving in Africa?" Funny!
Cats Vixen and Joker as they listened in on our discussion about Valhalla's Master Gardening Plan. Vixen is clearly skeptical and Joker doesn't know what to think of it all. They don't like vegetables anyway so their opinions don't count.
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