My Last Attempt. . .

at gardening. Over the past ten years I have spent considerable time researching gardening techniques best suited for my location. One of the methods I discovered was a “keyhole garden” which is used in drought stricken countries with poor soil conditions. A few years ago I bought the necessary cinder block to build one but never was able to find the time to build one in time for spring planting. Finally, this year I was able to do so. Of course I had misplaced the book I had purchased on the subject (Deb Tolman’s Soiled Rotten) so was working off what I remembered from reading the book — as usual, a huge mistake. I marked the center of the garden.

I then marked off a circle six feet in diameter using the center as my guide.

The next step was to lay down hardware cloth (I have a serious gopher/mole problem). Even though I didn’t have enough on hand, I wanted to get an idea of whether or not I had enough cinder blocks (over the years the cinder blocks had migrated to other projects and while I had collected up as much as I could find I wasn’t sure if it was sufficient). So I laid down what I had of hardware cloth and then started building the base of the garden. Here is where I made my first mistake. Without the actual instructions I built the base layer trying to abut the cinder blocks flat against each other. First, that makes trying to create a circle very difficult and second, it uses more cinder block than what I had initially purchased. After counting the number of  blocks used in the first layer I decided I was going to be woefully short and needed another 30 blocks. So a trip to town (in my new used truck) took me to the building supply business for 30 more cinder blocks, to the hardware store for hardware cloth and then to another store for a cheap and lightweight garden cart for moving manure, etc.

After unloading the cinder block from the bed of the truck, I realized that the new cinder block was much wider than the old block which meant that I couldn’t stack it on top and that I would have to dismantle what I had done and move all the old block out of the way. After moving way too many blocks, I finally got smart and started looking on-line for pictures of key hole gardens using cinder block and found a decent enough photo to show how to actually set the blocks. Once I set the new blocks correctly, it transpired that I didn’t really need the additional blocks and that my original amount would have been sufficient. Oh well, cinder block is always useful and if this is successful I may build another garden next spring.

So after putting the hardware cloth down and building the garden three blocks high I then pulled some tin cans from recycling and put some cans on the bottom. While the compost tube in the middle is usually made of wire, I was concerned about it collapsing when I filled in the garden so since I had an old trashcan around that I had cut holes into to make it into a goat hay feeder, I decided that the trashcan would work if I drilled more holes in the bottom and all around the side. (This is why those on farms rarely throw anything away – almost everything can be repurposed at some point in time.)


I then lined the inside walls of the garden with cardboard, set the compost tube (trash can) in place and covered the bottom of the garden with old hay raked up from the floor of the barn.


Now I was ready to start filling in the garden. One layer was old cardboard and then I layered in compost (manure from the sheep and goats mixed with old hay), followed by another layer of cardboard and then compost again.

Starting with the base layer of just hay, I heavily watered every layer before adding more. The compost tube had old hay put in first and watered well and then I added some food scraps. I am going to let the garden settle for about a week before either adding another couple of layers or just finishing it with top soil and then planting it.  I need to cut some rebar so when I pound it in, it is just a few inches above the top of the garden. I will then bend some pvc pipe over the rebar to create a frame where I can put shade cloth or later in the season create a cold frame. I still need to clean up the hardware cloth around the edges as well, but if the garden works as advertised, I have a “keyhole” or cut out that allows easy access to the compost tube, the garden is designed to be drought resistant – initially it is watered on top but as it matures, the water will go into compost tube and percolate into the garden as needed, and everything planted can be easily reached. With luck I’ll have some great photos – and more importantly, great produce – from this garden over the summer.