Seeing how others do it - part 2

A key to success, keyhole gardens are a particular type of raised bed garden built in the African mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Found on a plateau mostly 1800m above sea level, Lesotho has a short growing season and is sharply vulnerable to climate change. People gardening here are not wealthy and they have learnt to make the most of the resources they have at hand as this type of raised bed gardening shows, acting like an organic recycling tank with organic green and garden waste added for fuel!

The design is pretty simple – it looks a bit like a keyhole when viewed from above because of the small walkway built into it. Traditionally gardens have rows of plants interrupted by walkways which can take up to half the garden space. By making a raised bed into a circle or horseshoe shape, things get better.

Here are the nuts and bolts. To build a keyhole garden create a circle of whatever size fits your space creating the walls of the raised bed with unwanted bricks or old tyres (great recycling idea!). Make sure the planting area is wide enough to allow you to lean over and touch the far side of the growing bed, making it easier to sow, plant and harvest crops.

Traditionally the keyhole garden has a central compost basket which is easily made from canes wired together top and bottom (about 125cm long canes for a basket 40cm diameter). The canes are pushed into the ground to form a cyclinder in the centre of the space. This ‘basket’ is lined with straw (to keep the contents from falling out) and is then filled over time with a mixture of garden soil, compost ingredients and well-rotted manure if there is some available. Once established you can carry on composting by adding organic kitchen waste (peelings and such like) and garden waste. You can even water with waste washing up water! Pop a circle of carpet or similar to cover the top of the basket to retain heat and that will speed up the composting process.

Water from the rotting compost should permeate the raised bed garden bringing nutrients directly to the roots of the crops ensuring a mouth-watering supply of tasty crops.

For groups and gardeners with a bit of unused space and a little ambition, keyhole gardens could be the answer! Annie


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