Finally we are in the new house at 860 Fulford-Ganges Rd. It has been a long couple weeks and now we are left with a big unpack in the midst of the beginning of our season. Both farms are calling for our time. Spinach is up at Rainbow Road, and there is all kinds of stuff coming up in the basement which will serve as our propagation centre until later in the spring.
My tomatoes are doing so well! They really seem to reaching for the sun, I’ve been turning them so they don’t lean to one side. I can’t wait for the summer and warm, organic tomatoes. B-rad loves himself some tomato sandwiches – toasted bread, salt and pepper, with some mayo; oh so delicious. Sometimes simple sandwiches are the best.
My cucumbers have started growing. I believe I planted five seeds, I’m hoping the fifth one will push through. It has been cold for us, I think that is why it is taking a bit longer to these guys to sprout. Maintaining the warmer soil temperature is a bit trickier than I thought. Fresh cucumber salads, on sandwiches, tsatziki for lamb burgers – I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
My watermelon seeds haven’t pushed through yet. I hope those aren’t a bust – I’m excited for mini watermelons (but not too excited in case they don’t grow).
I’ve also ordered some flower bulbs. I think flowers on our front landing and back porch will brighten everything up. Plus fresh flowers smell wonderful and are easy to decorate with. I’m also planning some air purifying house plants. Many green things for the future.
“Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.” Unknown
What is keyhole gardening?
The answer for us turned out to be a “keyhole garden.” A keyhole garden is basically an aboveground circle garden with a notch in it resembling a keyhole (hence the name) and a composter directly in the center to continuously feed the entire garden. The purpose of the notch is so you can reach the composter easily without having to step into the garden. A keyhole garden should be no larger than about six feet in diameter. Any bigger than that, and the water and nutrients will have a hard time reaching the edges of the garden.
The keyhole garden was invented and used by missionaries in areas of frequent drought or natural desert conditions, mainly places such as Africa, where this style of garden is still being used today. These gardens give people a way to feed their families healthy, sustainable food even in the middle of a drought or economic trouble. A keyhole garden has the ability to use very little water (only a gallon a day in slightly cooler weather), especially if you make a cover for your composter. This prevents the water from evaporating as quickly.
Keyhole gardens also provide a significant amount of food for such a small footprint. I experimented with my garden this year; half of it I planted with the “correct” amount of space between plants and on the other half I crowded them purposefully. The side that I crowded did significantly better due to the fact that the crowding allowed a natural shade and mulch environment which aided in water conservation for the plants.
To build a keyhole garden you will need:
- A relatively level piece of ground
- Something to build the sides of your garden (such as logs, stout sticks, cinderblock, bricks, hay bales, wine bottles held in place with mortar, rocks, or whatever you have on hand)
- A composter that will allow water and nutrients to pass through it to the garden (wattle slim sticks to make a basket, or use leftover chicken wire)
- Cardboard, newspapers, and phone books
- Small stones, ash, bark, small sticks, rusty nails, bones
- Leaves, or some other source of green manure
- A three-foot length of string (or a tape measure if you’d rather)
Preparing the ground
To start this project, you will need to ensure that the ground is relatively level and as free from weeds and baby scrub oaks as you can get it.
If you have someone giving you a helping hand, have them stand where you want the center of your garden to be, holding one end of your three-foot length of string. Take the other end and, holding the string taut, walk in a circle marking the ground as you go. If you are working alone, just stick a short stick in the ground with the string tied to it, then walk in a circle. This will be your keyhole garden’s main footprint. Now, decide where you want your garden’s “keyhole” and mark a space that is roughly 3x2x1 feet (see photographs). You can make it larger or smaller depending on your own comfort and needs.
Building the walls
Next, start building your garden’s walls. I used rocks from around my yard, putting the largest ones on the bottom and smallest rocks on top. You can make the walls as short as 10 inches and they will work just fine, but do keep in mind that the taller you go, the easier it is on your back. A taller garden bed means less bending. Another thing to consider when determining how tall you want to go is that because the composter is integrated into the garden itself, your soil level will rise a little every year until you have to either add more height to the walls or remove some of the soil.
Because I have only used rock as a building medium for a keyhole garden, it is the only method that I can speak with authority on. If you choose to use rock, please use gloves when moving them around — I didn’t and my hands looked like they had gone through a meat grinder. Don’t forget to always lift with the legs. Butt out, chest up — that’s the way to pick stuff up and may we never forget it.
With the walls of your garden up, you now get to turn your attention to all that cardboard and newspaper that you have had stashed in the garage. Layer the cardboard all along the bottom and up the sides of your garden, this is when your building techniques will begin to resemble “Lasagna Gardening” at its finest! You will need a lot of newspapers/phone books, so don’t skimp. Wet down your papers in a large trash can filled with water, get them good and soaked, layer them on top of the cardboard, and then layer some more. Reserve about ? of your paper for a future step.
Making the composter
This composter is a nifty little device that will really set this garden apart from all the other gardens that you’ve ever had. Your composter needs to be about two feet in diameter and be able to stand one to two feet above the top of your garden wall. Since chicken wire is what I had, I simply made a cylinder out of the wire with the “finished” edges facing up or down and wired the rough edges together. The openings were larger than I wanted, so I took some all-cotton yarn, cut into lengths that were five strands thick and wove it through the wire — that way I didn’t end up with a composter full of dirt. If you have a large supply of long straight sticks that are slightly flexible, then a wattle composter would be a great alternative. To make a wattle composter, you basically weave sticks (over under, next stick alternate, under over) together until you have a cylinder. Your composter doesn’t have to be round as long as it’s not too big or too small; I personally wouldn’t go smaller in diameter than 18 inches or larger in diameter than three feet.
Place your composter in the center of your garden and put some already-done compost into the bottom. You don’t need a ton of it, as this compost is there to give the composter a boost once you start putting your kitchen scraps into it (which you can start doing immediately). This is what will feed and eventually water your garden.
Filling the garden
Your next layer will be the “debris,” the small stones, ash, etc., followed by the rest of your wet paper around the composter. As your garden matures over time, the “debris” will add a slow release of vital minerals not readily available from compost. Add your first layer of green manure, then a layer of compost. You can use compost exclusively and not add any topsoil, but I didn’t have enough compost to do that. Follow this with a second layer of green manure and then finish it all off with compost/soil. With your last layer of compost/soil, you want to make sure that you slope the dirt, the ground level should be higher up against the composter and slope gradually downwards to meet the wall.
Give your new garden a good soak and start planting when you’re ready. When your seeds are just starting out, make sure to keep the soil well-moistened. However, once they start to grow big enough, water exclusively through the composter as much as possible (if things are excessively dry and your plants look a bit “wilty” then by all means give the actual earth a good soak now and then). The goal is to train the roots to grow deep in order to get their water, which in turn makes them less vulnerable to heat and wind.
I have been so blessed and pleased with this garden. For the first time since living on the rock, I actually pulled in a harvest from my garden — plus it survived my necessary two-week trip to Oregon this summer. If you are looking for a drought-resistant garden, then the keyhole garden is definitely something to look into.
Cinnamon is a delicious herb that makes a wonderful addition to teas, cookies and more! Cinnamon doesn’t just have a permanent home in the spice cabinet. It also has amazing uses to keep your garden healthy and beautiful. Here are 4 uses for cinnamon to get the most out of it in your garden.
4 Reasons to Use Cinnamon in Your Garden
Have you ever had an indoor or outdoor plant that begins to grow mold, sprout fungus or even mushrooms? Sprinkling cinnamon can stop all of these things! The spice has powerful antifungal properties and can help your plants stay fungus-free.
Cinnamon keeps pesky ants at bay! When I lived in Oregon last year the ants were crazy in my old house and we had tons of indoor plants. Lining your sliding glass door and walkways with cinnamon not only adds a nice fragrance to your home, but it repels ants and keeps them outdoors where they belong!
Unlike synthetic rooting hormones which may be harmful and certainly aren’t natural, cinnamon can be used as a great way to root plants and graft them. Wet the root or stem of the grafted plant you want to root and roll it in cinnamon powder before planting.
Just like cinnamon repels ants in your home due to indoor plants, it also repels pests in the soil and on the plant itself. Dust the dirt with cinnamon and you’ll see a reduction in house flies and small bugs that normally live in the soil.
Cinnamon has a great ability to keep insects and bugs away from your home. It can also be added to sand and mixed into children’s playgrounds for the same benefits. Enjoy cinnamon inside and outside of your home for delicious smelling results!