When I first learned about keyhole gardens, I was hooked. The idea is so simple: build a small garden and design the beds to maximize productivity with as few resources as possible. I had to give the keyhole garden a try!
Usually when I start a garden it’s a big undertaking. It requires a fair amount of money. More if I need to improve the soil. And more still if I am going to build raised beds. But the keyhole garden was a revelation – it wasn’t expensive to build or maintain. It worked really well in small spaces because of its compact design. And it was productive!
Keyhole gardening started in Lesotho, Africa. The need came from soil that was not productive and farmers and families that did not have large plots of land. Small farmers could not afford to amend all the soil on their farms, nor could they spare all the water necessary to grow crops in traditional rows. The cost of food forced families to supplement their food purchases with home grown vegetables. Thus the keyhole garden was born. And as it turns out, the keyhole garden design solved problems not only in southern Africa, but also in a wide range of different climates and environments.
The basic keyhole design is to garden a small square or circle of land. You leave a narrow path and small circle or square inside of the larger garden. This allows you to access the entire garden from both the outside perimeter, as well as from inside the “keyhole” path. The rest of the space becomes your garden. The keyhole garden should be small enough for you to reach every available bit of planting space. On average people can reach about two feet. So if you are building a square keyhole garden, it will usually be a maximum of ten by ten feet. The path that runs down the center of the garden will be about two feet wide and four feet long. The inside square should be about three feet by three feet.
You can either leave the inside square or circle empty, or use that space for composting. Fill it in with weeds that have not gone to seed , kitchen scraps (not meat), grass clippings and fallen leaves. The following year just add the composted material into the garden.
It doesn’t sound like much. And in a way it isn’t much. A ten by ten foot garden is a hundred square feet. Subtract the paths and you are down to about eighty three square feet. A garden that size can be hand dug, without a rototiller. You can build a small wooden or brick frame around it without breaking the bank. You can amend the soil without getting a delivery truck full of compost. So in a way it really isn’t much.
But it can produce enough veggies for you and your family for a few months. Here’s what you can grow in a ten by ten keyhole garden…
6- basil plants
6- tomato plants
8- snap bean plants
6- pepper plants
3- summer squash plants
18- spinach plants
24- spring onions
22- loose leaf lettuce plants
Not too shabby for a ten by ten foot garden. Not too shabby for a garden that fits in the corner of your backyard. Not too shabby for a garden that only costs about a hundred dollars for lumber or bricks, compost, seeds and a few basic garden tools.