What are Keyhole Gardens? Pretty and practical

“…we should not confuse order with tidiness. Tidiness separates species and creates work (and may also invite pests), whereas order integrates, reducing work and discouraging insect attack.” (Bill Mollison: “Introduction to Permaculture”)

Every heard of, and wondered what are keyhole gardens? Keyhole designs are ideal for smaller food-gardens.

What are keyhole gardens good for except convenience?

These designs include a composting centre. This clever concept allows the surrounding plants to draw food from compost as it becomes available. Alternatively, the centre can be a tree, insect hotel or other feature.

Mandala is a sacred geometry pattern and in some cultures it represents the universe and the idea that life is never ending while also all-connecting. For some, this may be purely decorative but for others it illustrates a spiritual journey. Mandala gardens should ideally incorporate a keyhole design for easy movement, better usage of planting space due to less pathways and easy accessibility to all the plants.

-As with all our raised, no-dig designs, we start with marking the shape and size out with our frame-material. Recycled bricks, wood, stones or even hay bales can be used. These materials may produce wonderful habitats for insects – make sure to consider this as a good bulk of your pest control and pollination will come through insects.
-Once the shape is in place, we follow with our favorite no-dig, lasagna layering method. To create a sheet mulch bed, one must start with plastic-free cardboard. Water the area first, sprinkle some compost to attract worms, follow with cardboard. Lightly water again.
-Now layer with green mulch, then brown materials, compost and newspaper.
-Repeat this process until you have a 35cm high bed, ending with a 10cm layer of mulch such as straw, bark or wood shavings.
-Water moderately until moist but not sopping wet. Keep the area moist over the next 2 months.
***Do you know what plants are considered green or brown materials? Check out the composting materials for a comprehensive list of nitrogen and carbon examples: https://gardeningeden.net/2019/11/06/diy-compost-easily/

It may take about 2 – 3 months for the layers to decompose and turn into a planting heaven.
This is the perfect time to plan your planting list and layouts. Honor the decorative aspect of Mandala Design and the ecological logic of Permaculture by incorporating:
1)Diversity in your keyhole garden design
Secure a stable ecosystem by planting different species together and inviting a variety of beneficial insects to help with pollination and pest-control. Bio diverse polycultures are resilient due to the number of harmonious relationships between the different species as time passes.
2)Decorative keyhole gardens
While a healthy Eco system is our first and most important priority, we’re going to simultaneously aim for a visually pleasing planting scheme. The idea is to imitate the conversation between many different species.
3)Plant Guild Placement
-Make sure to understand the characteristics and needs of your plants. Consider needs and characteristics. Create for example micro-climates where needed by planting wind-hardy half moons around fragile plants that need protection. Group heavy and light feeders together to avoid soil depletion. Place together companion plants that help protect each other from pests or offer their extras in the form of mineral exchange. Peas and grains swap nitrogen and carbon and literally thrive when planted near each other.
-‘Three Sisters’ Guild is a Native American Indian guild that inter-plants corn, squash and beans together by planting corn in the centre of a mound of soil, surrounded by beans and squash on the outer edge. The corn provides a natural trellis for the beans to climb on. Beans will improve soil fertility by fixing nitrogen and releasing it through Rhizobium bacteria in the roots. Squash plants create a green cover crop that will prevent water loss and weed competition.

Permaculture-friendly plants to keep in mind:

-Regenerating food forests are best, and so perennials are preferred over annuals.
-Natural fertilization is key and legumes will fix nitrogen in your soil for other plants. Grow beans and peas up trellises with perennials around them on ground level.
-Deeper rooted plants will bring nutrients from deeper soil levels upwards while loosening the soil at the same time.
-Fast growing plants can be used for cover crops that can be chopped and dropped for ground covering. We do this to add to soil health, shade out weeds and help retain water.

Lastly…
Work out a symbiotic companion plants list and place them on your paper design to cover one quarter of the circle. Imagine a pizza slice. Sun needs, wind tolerance and feeding needs should guide you. When you are happy with your composition, repeat the same design on all 4 quarters. Incorporate insect-friendly hotels, for the insects are true gardening experts whom we need more than we give credit to.

“…we should not confuse order with tidiness. Tidiness separates species and creates work (and may also invite pests), whereas order integrates, reducing work and discouraging insect attack. European gardens, often extraordinarily tidy, result in functional disorder and low yield. Creativity is seldom tidy. Perhaps we could say that tidiness is something that happens when compulsive activity replaces thoughtful creativity.” (Bill Mollison: “Introduction to Permaculture”)

D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide – all you need to know

What is it?
A keyhole garden is a 2m-in-diameter circular garden bed with a compost tube in the middle – an absolutely brilliant method. See further down where we provide your D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide.

This concept was developed in Lesotho by the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE), originally and specifically, for individuals that find it challenging to garden traditionally. A solution to food security. The garden has a opening in the front, so that the composting pile can be turned easily. It includes a drainage layer, a growing-soil layer, and the planting area which, together, combines in a perfect all-in-one growing space. (Taller permaculture keyhole gardens are known as banana circles.)

Why do I want one?
This raised garden is constructed for an easier gardening method due to its easy plants access. The constant compost run-off and nutrient-availability makes for thriving plants and because they hold water it is also an obvious solution for drought-stricken areas.

Want to build one? Follow these 7 steps on you D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide:
1) Build a 2m in diameter and 1m high round wall with materials such as stones, wood or bricks. In the case of using wood (and thus incorporating a bit of Hugulkultur), please keep in mind, it is less permanent than stone or brick for example.
2) Create the composting bin in the centre (30cm in diameter and 30cm taller than the outer circle) with chicken wire which can be bought at a builder’s warehouse.
3) Open the outer wall by removing a length of about 45cm materials. Build a connecting wall on each side, to tie together the open points and the central composting bin. (Tip: The shape to aim for is a round pizza with one slice removed).
4) Using plastic and chemical-free cardboard or newspaper, line out the walls and ground inside the outer walls. Follow with a layer of green (nitrogen) materials, such as leaves and soft stemmed twigs, grass clippings or chicken manure. Sprinkle a little soil over this layer. Next, add wood chips or straw, also with a little soil and moisten. Repeat the layering (including the paper layer) and end off with good potting soil and compost (deep enough for planting).
5) Build these layers to form a hill with the highest points at the compost tube so that it slopes down to the outer walls. In time, this surface will have to be topped up with a soil/compost combination as you can expect the level to drop.
6) Fill the compost bin with green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) materials. (For the easiest composting-how-to, see https://gardeningeden.net/2019/11/06/diy-compost-easily/)
7) Place your fruits and vegetables according to their sun requirements and height differences (highest at the back, medium heights in the middle and low-growing plants in front of the sun angle.

Keyhole kitchen gardens provide an ideal growing space because of its constant (compost) nutrient supply and producing nutrient-dense food. Crops can be planted in succession for all year food production and spaced intensively (when plants are planted together closely to maximize production) – but avoid tomatoes and other plants with bigger/wider root systems. Lastly and importantly, don’t restrict yourself to just one. And of course, share this D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide with friends- it’s a step in the right direction for many reasons! Happy gardening.

What are Hugelkultur beds and why are they popular?

The short answer to what are hugelkultur beds: Hügelkultur is a technique where a mound is created by placing wood in the shape and size of your desired growing bed. Eventually decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials is planted as a raised bed and this is an environment fit for plants to thrive in for years..

Due to our very sandy soil situation here next to the coast and not always having wood available, I pondered the question of what are hugelkultur beds on single plant scale and also started incorporating hugelkultur on a smaller scale for when I want to plant individual shrubs or trees.

– Water the space where you intend to plant.
– Find woody weeds, pruned sticks and branches plus kitchen waste. Position these to form a bowl by first laying down your base cover. Build a “dam” wall with the rest. Keep going to above the height of your plant’s root ball.
– Fill the bottom of your “bowl” with a mix of compost and potting soil plus a small amount of bone, or blood meal.
– Test your plant’s height and when you are happy proceed with planting as you would into a container.
– Finally, add a sheet or 2 of newspaper over the top and around, followed by 5 cm (2 – 3 inches) layer of mulch.
– Water well.
(- I add a handful of organic fertilizer to these planting pockets so that my plant can get all the nitrogen it needs, regardless of the wood chips I use)

The benefits have been obvious and plentiful. My trees are never dry, or water-logged, and mostly only gets their water from rain. Due to the mound, it also never gets waterlogged as the shape runs extra water down to the ground level where it can penetrate the soil further down and still be accessible for uptake.

(interested in more information?  https://gardeningeden.net/category/hugelkultur/ ?)

Please send us your pictures, challenges and success stories so that we can all learn together!

To understand what are hugelkultur beds one must understand the properties and nature of wood. Decayed wood turns into nutrient-rich, moisture retaining soill. Building beds to incorporate wood is a brilliant abd long-lasting soil improver.
For small gardens or single plants, copy the shape and principles of a bird’s nest. Photo by Sarath C M on Unsplash

Plants for Regenerative Gardens and growing

Plants for Regenerative Gardens is all about Plant regeneration – definition: Plant regeneration refers to the physiological renewal, repair, or replacement of tissue in plants.

On the list of gardeners and plants for regenerative gardens are examples of magic, and believers in magic. To see a small dice-size sweet potato sprout turn into a crop that never runs out… that is magic!  “Eventually, my eyes were opened, and I really understood nature. I learned to love at the same time.” – Claude Monet 


How magic are these TOP 10 plants for regenerative gardens. They literally re-grow themselves. Two for the price and effort of one!

  • Romain lettuce and Bok Choy will regrow when you add the stump to a glass and fill with water to the shallow depth of about 1cm. Refresh with new water daily and watch how it’s growing on. It’s that easy.
  • A sweet potato can be kept in a plastic back at the back of a cupboard to allow for side shoots to form. Cut a little chunk off the tuber, around from where the vine grows from. Plant these slips in the soil and watch it all unfold. You will wonder why you have ever bought sweet potatoes.
  • Spring onions are at the top of the easiest list. Pack the little bulb ends in a glass together, so that they fit snug enough not to fall over. Fill the glass with 1cm of water and make sure you replace this water with fresh water every day. Expect new plants within a week.
  • Sprouting garlic bulbs will provide you with greens for your salads and sandwiches that are packed with flavor. They have furthermore amazing anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. Additionally, one cup of chopped greens can give you a whopping third of your daily Vitamin C needs. So we can see that immune systems will be boosted and so will your dish. Place the cloves in a class, packed (like spring onions) together firmly. Fill the bottom centimeter with water and refresh daily.
  • Ever considered growing carrots for their greens? Place discarded carrot tops in a dish with you their stumps just covered with water. Replace and refresh water as needed. Carrot leaves are not only edible but will give you at least 5 times more vitamin C than the root, while also rich in other vitamins, minerals and protein, calcium and potassium.
  • Celery and lemon grass can both plants for regenerative gardens and can easily
    be grown from their bottom stumps by the same method of standing in shallow water.
  • Love onions and like the idea of never having to buy them again? The bottoms that are usually thrown away can be planted in well-draining good soil and covered with a 2cm layer of soil. Make sure to first dry this piece for a day or 2. Within a week or 2, leaves will poke above the soil. Remove from the soil at this time together with shriveled skins. Take a sharp knife and cut the bottom into sizable pieces, each with their own roots. Replant in good soil and cut back the top two thirds of the leaves as this will help bulb formation.
  • Pineapples are fantastic plants for regenerative gardens and heads should be re-planted! Remove the bottom leaves so that a slender crown is left. Plant the bottom in soil, firm down around the crown and forget about it. The new pineapple plant needs patience and will only grow a new fruit in about 2 years. Pineapple plants are great for those areas in the garden that little else works for.

Please send us your pictures, challenges and success stories so that we can all learn together!

Closed loop system garden is pure logic

Nature recycles organic matter and nutrients back into the same soil and thus boosts sustainable and regenerative environments.

Keep it all in the family with a closed loop system garden. Providing food and habitat for insects create a barter system in which they offer pollination and pest control part of the deal.

When you look at an untouched environment, you will see closed loop system garden, or environment systems, in action. Nature recycles organic matter and nutrients back into the same soil and thus boosts sustainable and regenerative environments. When farming or gardening, this method is gold as you preserve nutrients and carbon levels within the soil.


In closed loop system gardens, the following will be included:

  • Chop and drop de-weeding practices return the nutrients to your soil that the weeds took. By leaving the weeds on the soil surface, you are also adding a protective mulch layer and thus protecting the soil from UV rays plus improving water retention.
  • Always keep and use pruned materials such as twigs and branches for other uses. Bigger material like branches can be stacked to create raised beds in a Hugelkultur method. Twigs can be placed in a basket-shape around seedlings to provide much needed wind and sun protection.
  • Fallen leaves can be raked up and used as a wonderful mulch in vegetable gardens, flower beds and around bigger plants as they (when brown) are high in carbon. Or instead of raking, use a lawn mower with a bagging attachment to shred and collect leaves fast. A 6cm layer of shredded leaves is perfect to discourage future weed-growth but make sure the soil that is already weeded though!
  • Grass clippings can occasionally be used as mulch too, as they are nitrogen-rich, an especially great choice for vegetable gardens.
  • Look at your space and how water acts when it rains and consider planting alongside swales as they are wonderful water-directing and retaining solutions. Swayles are a fantastic and important step intothe world of closedloop systems garden. Material from your garden can be used to fill the swales, such as rocks removed from your soil, prune clippings and rotten wood.
  • Build habitats from unwanted garden material by leaving heaps of twigs, for example, against a tree trunk. This will provide much-needed protection for certain wildlife while also helping the soil retain water. Stacking rocks and twigs together to form a beneficial insect hotel is another great idea.
  • If your garden is also your own food source, all kitchen waste can be buried in shallow trenches. Incorporate paper and some. compost or comfrey leaves to activate decomposition. This method ensures constant soil food, free of charge.
  • Chickens are often in the closed loop system garden as they will turn your unwanted green matter into manure which will in turn be the best addition for your compost heap. They are also excellent pest-control and will reward you with the best eggs
  • Aquaponics = fish and plants. This method is incredibly successful and edibles grown this way are typically nutrient dense.
In a closed loopsystem garden, a you smile, I smile attitude wins – where everyone wins. Insect hotels provide habitats to creatures whose greatest challenges include where to stay. On our side, they offer free labor. A win-win situation.

In short, a closed loop system garden are also called “zero-waste farming. Look at everything and the space around you and ask yourself what you can do if you were not going to spend a penny. You will be surprised at all the solutions waiting to be used around you.

Swales are easy methods to harvest and retain water. Gardens that include this water-savvy method, just about need no additional irrigation.

Please send us your pictures, challenges and success stories so that we can all learn together!

How to make a Hugelkultur bed in these simple steps

Again, we are trying to copy nature.

How to make a Hugelkultur bed is extremely easy. It involves wood, organic material like leaves and top soil. The benefits last years. Hugelkultur means growing or cultivating on a hill or mound. These no-dig raised beds hold moisture very effectively and builds fertility.

What is Hugelkultur (Hoo-gul-culture) and why consider this method? In a nutshell, think of gardening on a “hill or mound”. This method is basically the creation of raised garden beds build on decomposing wood so that your bed is full of organic rich material and nutrients, air and moisture. This is a great growing method for fruit, vegetables and herbs. Make a Hugelkultur bed, small scale and test it out. Feeding and watering efforts and expenses literally come to an end for years.

Benefits:

  • Due to decomposition, you will find the soil will be warmer and thus your growing seasons will be longer. The wood content will hold on to nutrients and moisture and it is a win-win situation that is ideal for growers dealing with extreme temperatures and drought.
  • Although it is quite a bit of work to set it, you will find it much less work in successive years. Irrigation and fertilization will not be needed from year 2 onward.

How to make a Hugelkultur bed:
Again, we are trying to copy nature. When a tree falls in a forest, it will in time get buried with foliage, animal manure and other. Soon you will see the right kind of Fungi move into the log to begin the process of breaking it down, followed by bugs tunneling through the wood. Plants will have plenty of moisture, nutrients, warmth and protection from the wrong kind of fungi and microbes. That is because of the presence of beneficial fungi and microbes and how a safe growing space is created. By building a hugelkultur bed, you mimic this process and if you cover the wood with soil, compost and mulch, you will speed it up and creating an ideal growing place.

Step-by-step:

  • Place the largest pieces of wood on the ground where you want your bed to be.
  • Add soil, manure or compost on top so that all the openings are filled. This is an important point. These open areas cause drying out and by filling all the cracks between the wood, you are ensured a wonderful environment for your plants.
  • Add more wood and continue the layering pattern.
  • Make sure you end the bed off with a nice 10 – 15cm (about 5 inches) thick layer of soil to plant into.
  • Finally add a 5cm (2 inches) thick layer of mulch such as leaves or wood chips.

Please send us your pictures, challenges and success stories so that we can all learn together!