Elizabeth considers keyhole gardens vs row gardens:
Keyhole Gardens vs Row Gardens
Keyhole gardens are cool. I’ve mentioned them before, but never built one.
That’s because at heart I am really lazy about digging and building things. I also like to plant large spaces when I can.
This is a pretty typical keyhole garden:
I mean, it’s really cool and all that – but the labor involved! Holy moly. You could plant a quarter acre of row gardens with that amount of labor in the same amount of time. To me, keyhole gardens are what happens when engineers get overly clever.
It would take me a day to build one. I cleared, dug and planted a half-acre in about six hours with the help of a local farmer earlier this year. Row gardens are easy to weed with a hoe, can be built rapidly and don’t need all the digging, piling up and materials. I’m also not sure that a plot of land covered with keyhole gardens would have less path space than one with row gardens, as you lose the space between the circles. Perhaps someone has done the math on that already – let me know in the comments if you have an idea.
Beyond that, don’t get me wrong: there may be a good place for keyhole gardens. Beds close to the house for herbs and salad greens where you can dump your daily kitchen scraps – great! Build ’em!
But your row gardens are already doing well – so why change? Ah! That’s right. We need to face –
The Real Problem
Your husband and your friends are terrible people.
No, I’m just kidding.
The lack of obvious paths in some of my garden beds have led visitors astray. Just because I know how I laid something out it doesn’t mean that my wife, children, neighbors or the police detectives searching for bodies in my compost pile do.
Why not stick some sticks in the ground to mark paths? Or just mulch some paths with straw? Or put down a few stepping stones? You could string strings between sticks to mark areas off in just a few minutes. Sure, it’s less convenient for you – but it would be a lot easier than building keyhole beds.
Even if you made dirt-mound style keyholes without bricks and sticks, it’s still a lot of digging – plus you lose growing space in between those circles.
If you’re really keen on some keyholes, I would go ahead and build a few on part of your land and see how they compare with what you’re doing. You’ll probably be tired after that – but, if you find you love them and they work great, great! Convert the rest. I’ll bet you stick with rows, though. When you look at the keyhole gardens vs row gardens fight in terms of labor, row gardens will win. And labor is big when you’re farming.
Just my two cents. Thanks for writing and good luck. If you do build those keyhole gardens and have luck, drop me a line and send pictures. I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
You are right. I can have both rows and keyhole gardens. I do not know why I thought it was an either/or thing. Thank you for the input.
Generally I just read, absorb and contemplate when I visit this space. This time I have to say something.
Just because it’s a “Keyhole” garden doesn’t mean you have to make it round. I mean, Why not take that theory and put it to use in rows, raised beds, and anywhere or any way else that you garden? The theory is that you are constantly feeding and creating new soil and that can be done anywhere! Have extra buckets laying around? Use a hole saw to drill holes all through it and bury 2/3’s in your garden. Put your kitchen scraps in there. Guess what? Still works the same way. As an added bonus, if you have a lid on that bucket you won’t get nearly as many pests (rats, mice and more?) raiding the scraps and leaving behind unsanitary conditions. Place these randomly or well spaced. Put them in the middle, on the ends whatever you want. Don’t get stuck on the idea that it has to be something you go out of your way to make. Find a simpler way to make the idea work for you…them…ah- you know what I mean.
Three things, keyhole gardens have in favour of them. 1) They put organic refuse to use, instead of being thrown away. It’s my understanding, keyhole gardens are supposed to have newspaper or cardboard, as the base layer – to add extra carbon and suppress weeds. 2) If you have problems with drainage, they will raise roots out of the water. 3) They confuse the pests.
That last point, is really key. I’ve experimented with planting my vegetables sporadically, around my ornamental garden. They are always pest free. Where as my straight row, vegetable patch, is constantly invaded. It’s really frustrating to grow something, only to have the local pest population, dine exclusively on all my labours.
I like the idea of mixing both systems up though. So you’re not breaking your back, converting everything over, but you’re also adding a new dimension, to confuse wandering pedestrians and hungry insects.
Yes, they are a lot of work. But once done, they’re not. The main advantage is that they reduce the need for watering – which even those of us who merely have to carry watering cans can appreciate – and they are self-fertilizing. They were *designed* for people in drought conditions, who don’t have enough land or water for a multibed system. So there will be trouble transcribing to more affluent areas. I’m about to make a few, shaped like either a square U or an E on its back. If you have a water source nearby, plenty of land, or no trouble bending over then go for the rows by all means.
Thanks for all the input friends. We moved out of the city to paradise and all your information are gratefully appreciated.