First, I want to tell you that there are so many ways to do anything! There are often ways that work better for one reason or another. With gardening, it could be that what works for me doesn’t work so well for you because of climate, soil conditions, water conditions, bugs and pests in one area versus another, etc. I hope that no one ever feels like I’m telling you what I do is EXACTLY what you have to do. The one thing I do hope we all do is think for ourselves, experiment a little and learn what’s best for YOU!
When teaching quilting, I would tell people, especially those struggling with color choices . . This isn’t brain surgery! If you make a wrong choice, no one is going to die or become disabled! We learn so much from experience and experiments. What I want us all to know are these two things:
- Make decisions on your own! Whether it’s the news of the day, or something you’re doing or learning . . try new things, try several ways to do the same thing. Don’t be afraid to make your own path. You do not have to do exactly as you’re told, nor do you need to believe 100% of what you’re told, nor do you have to follow exactly as someone else has done before you!
- If you’re the one teaching, do not insist that people do things ONLY your way! Encourage people to try things on their own. If there are things they definitely should avoid doing, it’s good to share those things but don’t lock folks in to one way of doing things.
Back to the keyhole garden . . the “rules” according to some around here who have learned from the same person say that you have to fill the garden and plant it all on the same day. I understand that with the compost, the “dirt” can get hot but folks, is a week going to make THAT much difference? If you plant something and it doesn’t make it (which often happens with a plant or two), are you not able to replant because it isn’t the same day you filled the circle with compost/dirt? I think not but I’m in the experiment stage so don’t listen to me .. yet! In fact, here is a website that advises waiting at least a week before planting. There’s almost always more than one way to do things and any time someone tells me “You HAVE to do it this way!”, I’m thinking . . watch me! 🙂
I’ve been told to plant at least 100 plants in the keyhole. I understand that planting compact and planting with some shade by other plants is a good idea. Planting 100 carrot plants in 28 square feet is not a big deal. Planting 100 tomato plants or 100 artichoke plants in 28 square feet is probably not a good idea. You do want the entire top covered. We’ll see how many plants grow well in mine. I definitely agree that 100 of some plants would be perfect ut I don’t think 100 of all plants is a great idea.
Another issue is that around here, again I think it’s because everyone is following one person’s advice, they say the keyhole HAS to be 6′ in diameter. I think our 6′ keyhole is kinda small. This site says you can make them 8′ to 12′ in diameter. To me, an 8′ to 12′ circle seems much more productive and makes more sense but I think there’s truly no right or wrong way to do it.
I suppose the 6′ figure is because everything is feeding off the compost in the center and you don’t want the outer plants to be too far from the feeding tube but there’s so much compost that the roots are reaching just going towards the bottom of the dirt. We’ve already marked off another 6′ circle but I think if we make a third one, we’ll make it bigger. But, you know how we do things . . we really bought into that theory that everything is bigger in Texas! 🙂
Vince worked almost all day Sunday getting the key hole garden filled. Here he is with one of many loads of chicken manure. That’s the “hottest” part of our fill material so he put that near the bottom. It’s not actually fresh so it probably isn’t really that “hot”.
At first he put in sticks and twigs, then soaking wet cardboard, then chicken poop, then more cardboard, then leaves, then more cardboard, then rabbit poop, then more cardboard. It’s a heck of a lot of work getting it filled.
At the end of the day, he threw in bags of garden soil just to weight things down and keep cardboard from blowing out. It has been so windy here this spring. Last time we looked, there was a chance it could rain tomorrow so he’s hoping to let it rain on everything, then add more leaves and more rabbit poop, then add about 6″ of dirt on top of all of that.
I’ve read that three keyhole gardens can feed a family of 10 for one year. I’m thinking that must mean that three keyhole gardens can feed a family of 2 for five years. Not sure how I feel about that but we’ll see. I’d be real happy if one keyhole took care of our vegetable needs for one year but again, we’ll see.
What I do believe about the keyhole garden concept is this:
- It’s going to take less water. Here, I will have to provide supplemental water. In places that get sufficient rain, no additional water is necessary but that’s true whether it’s a traditional garden or a keyhole. Gardeners in Louisiana often go months without having to water. Here, we go months without rain. But, with everything planted compactly, I believe it will require less water but nonetheless, it’s probably going to need to be watered daily.
- It will be easier on my back. Planting and harvesting will be easier. I’ve read that people plant okra in keyholes. I’m not sure that having to climb a ladder to harvest okra is any better than bending over to pull weeds but we’ll see. No, we won’t see because I’m not planting okra in the keyhole.
- There should be less weeds. Hopefully grass burs won’t find their way into the keyhole.
All in all, I see that it’s a good concept for older folks (once it’s built) who don’t want to do the bending and stooping. I think I will be able to grow more per square foot in the keyhole, but not as much as I’ve read people saying you can grow. It is fairly expensive by the time you add 6″ (more or less) of good dirt. We were lucky to have free pallets. If you were buying rock or bricks or cinder blocks, building it could get expensive. Building it is labor intensive. I suppose over time, it’s not so bad considering you aren’t tilling the garden and pulling weeds.
I’m not 100% convinced that the keyhole is a good alternative for us. I think it’s probably better for people who want a few plants and a few herbs.
I’m withholding judgment til we get them planted and see how they do. Vince has had fun doing it and we’re anxious to see how it turns out. I’ll keep you posted!