Keyhole Gardening Beginnings at the Farm

We entered into using a new method of gardening on C & J Farms last fall. Having attended a tour and seminar on this method last year (www.debtolman.com) I was fascinated and had to try it. Keyhole Gardening.
We purchased some cider blocks (but you can use anything from broken up concrete, limbs, landscape timbers, glass jars, etc.) to begin our first keyhole garden. I am encouraged but not yet proficient. We began in September thinking we were ready to put one together. We knew we had to have a lot of cardboard but we really didn’t realize what a “lot” of cardboard was. We had to ask our local neighbors for help. We were able to get cardboard boxes from a local Country Store. They were happy to be able to save the space in their dumpsters.
The keyhole garden takes a few, but required, elements – it must be 6 feet in diameter and approximately 4 feet high. A wire center cone is also required. So required, walls, cardboard (brown matter) and green matter (green grass, leaves, scrapes of green foods from your kitchen, etc.) in a 6 to 3 ratio for composting properly. Note: this does change if you start a garden in the heat of the summer then the ratio should be 6 to 1.
Determine what the outer wall will be made out of. We chose cider blocks. We then worked with our neighbor, Aggie General Convenience store, about a mile from us to save their cardboard boxes for us. They were happy to help as this relieves storage space for them in their dumpsters. Collecting and storing all of this cardboard is the part of this process I like the least. I don’t like clutter. We break down the boxes and store them outside next to where the keyhole garden will be created. You need a full commercial dumpster load to begin.

We chose cider blocks.

We chose cider blocks.

The wall structure is built using a six foot long board on the ground to determine the diameter. We use cinder blocks and begin to stack the blocks in a circle but creating a notch in the wall, thus the “keyhole”. This is necessary to be able to access the center cone.
Look for the center wire cone.

Look for the center wire cone.

Once the wall was completed we made a center cone out of small holed wire. The cone is approx. 10 to 12 inches in diameter and 5 feet tall. This is put into the center of the keyhole structure. This is where you put the green scrapes from your kitchen or garden to feed the garden. NOTE: we learned the hard way to use a small holed wire. We used a 4” holed wire in one of the gardens and we have had the composted earth in that garden collapse into the center hole. That prohibits the green matter from being able to go all the way to the bottom of the garden.
Now begin layering wet, soaking wet, cardboard in the interior of the garden. Layer the sides and up the center cone. Step on the wet cardboard to pack it down as you go. Layer in the green matter between layers of cardboard and do this until full. Once you have reached the top of the wall, continue to layer the cardboard, and keep level with the wall but tilt the layering up towards the top of the cone going about half way.
Now, add soil, manure and plant full. Watering in well, feed the center cone and watch things grow.

kh filling 5

Here the earth has receding during composting. So we add waded up paper to fill in around all the plants. Then add mulch or rabbit manure on top.

kh filling 3

This is a keyhole once filled up with the newspaper.

kh full

A successful garden.

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