Keyhole Garden Key to Fighting Drought, Malnutrition

I’ve been keeping up with City Farmer in Vancouver ever since I took an organic gardening workshop there almost four years ago. City Farmer is a demonstration urban garden in the gorgeous Kitsilano neighborhood of Vancouver (trivia for the day: Kitsilano is where Greanpeace started), where they….well, demonstrate stuff . Like an organic food garden, composting (including a composting toilet), and a cob building with a green roof. While browsing their blog yesterday I came across another ingenious idea they’re incorporating, the keyhole garden.

Photo courtesy Send A Car

Photo courtesy Send A Cow

City Farmer’s keyhole garden comes to them by way of the UK organization Send A Cow, which among other things, fights malnutrition in Africa with gardens. The basic concept of their keyhole garden is a round, raised bed (about 3 1/2 feet high) garden with one section left out to allow gardeners easy access to the entire space. The central shaft of the garden is essentially a compost pile, where gardeners can throw any kitchen scraps and other compost, as well as gray water. This design helps both water and nutrients leach into vegetable roots as the water seeps down through the compost. Layers of straw in the soil plus a final layer of mulch on top also conserve water.

Check out the video to see how it’s done:

It’s a brilliant idea obviously well-suited to drought-stricken areas of Africa, but I think it would translate pretty well to South Dakota. Although we usually have enough water for our gardens, we have our share of dry spells with watering restrictions. After all, South Dakota is a “semi-arid state with somewhat light rainfall in the range of 10-20 inches per year,” according to the state’s Conservation Districts, and water conservation is becoming more important to us here, especially West River and in the fast-growing Sioux Falls/Lincoln County area. The keyhole garden is also perfect for people who live in town and don’t have room for large gardens.

It might seem like jumping the gun just a little to be talking gardens in December with the blizzardy, subzero weather we’ve been having, but thinking ahead to my next garden is one thing that gets me through South Dakota winters. Plus, a couple seed catalogs (Fedco and Seed Savers Exchange) have already arrived, and the beginning of seed-starting (onions and leeks) is only a couple months away…thank goodness!

Click here for more about building your own keyhole garden.


About EMH

Forty-something. South Dakotan. Mother to 11-year-old K.L. Wife to Cory. Lutheran pastor. Novice organic gardener. Sustainable living aspirer.
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7 Responses to Keyhole Garden Key to Fighting Drought, Malnutrition

  1. flyingtomato says:

    I’m all about talking gardens in mid-winter!

    A couple of my friends who were staying on Harry’s property built a number of these keyhole gardens–not only for food, but also for beneficial attractants, perennials, etc. They even grew peanuts in one!


  2. Erin says:

    Wow! Are the gardens still there? How well did they work? Do you have any photos?

  3. Pingback: Keyhole Gardens « You Are A Big Fool Too

  4. Pingback: Keyhole Gardens « You Are A Big Fool Too

  5. angengland says:

    That’s a really good idea – I like the idea of adding the nutrients right into the center, as well as arranging the raised bed to allow access to all portions of the garden. Brilliant! Would love to see an herb garden this way – similar to the old herb wheel gardens but using the best of the raised bed ideas and making it accessible.

    Good idea – thank you.

    Angela <

    Founder of the Untrained Housewife

  6. titus2woman says:

    Thanks for sharing this~WAY COOL! Might look into it…. (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  7. Lisa says:

    I’m definitely going to build one in my front yard. I’ve been looking up all I can about keyhole gardens and thanks to my local recycling/compost center, I have access to plenty of free soil and compost to build one. It’s just going to take some time and money to collect the stones or rocks I need to build the walls. I can’t wait to try this. I think it can even look really good in the winter with some mulch on top. It’ll make an interesting structure in the front yard landscape!!

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