Guide to Keyhole Gardening

Keyhole gardens were originally used in the arid regions of Africa to help families produce their own crops. Now they are catching on in dry climates throughout the United States because of their easy setup.

They are called 'keyhole' gardens because of their specific shape. These raised-bed gardens look like their namesake from a bird's vantage point. The gap in the garden wall layout is important because it gives you easy access to the compost pile where you will be putting your collected scraps.

Here are the steps to building your first keyhole garden:

  • Choose the right spot to start your garden based on what you wish to grow. Will your plants need full sun exposure or a shady spot for best results?
  • Build your keyhole garden to be 6 feet in diameter with a 12-inch compost pile at its center for an abundant vegetable yield.
  • Create the compost collector for the center of the keyhole garden out of chicken wire. To properly feed a 6-foot diameter vegetable-based keyhole garden, fasten a 40-inch length of chicken wire into a compost basket with a 12-inch diameter.
  • Construct a wall of stone or cinder block as a wall around the garden with a gap big enough for you to walk through to the compost. Once the wall is in place, line the inside with cardboard.
  • Fill your garden and basket with compost, then plant your seeds.

Remember that the compost pile is the main ingredient of the keyhole garden. As you collect compost throughout the week from leftover food scraps, yard debris and recycled paper products like cardboard, place these items into the center basket to keep the compost pile fed. These food scraps and other matter will decompose from the center of the garden to constantly create new nutrient- and moisture-rich soil.

You can grow fresh, organic vegetables easily within this system. Even people who live in dry climates can build keyhole gardens to produce organic, edible crops like kale, chard, tomatoes and peppers.