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Starting a key hole garden

                                    


Joined: Dec 28, 2010
Posts: 27
I've picked a spot where I think I'll get lots of sun, it's level, and right now it's just lawn. It's smallish, but I think will be a great start for my first year while I sit back and observe most of the land and decide what I want to do long term over the coming years. This is the spot I'm talking about: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilsonfamilypictures/5327768571/
I was thinking of piling up some of the brush and leaves and logs that abound in the area, and creating raised hugulkultur beds to start out with. I want to make keyhole beds. I have a few questions though. Do I need walls for the gardens or can I just kind of pile everything? My understanding is in permaculture not to plant rows of vegetables all separate from each other, but how do I decide what and where to place things? I don't necessarily even mean companion planting, but would you put one swiss chard here, one there, a lettuce over there, or do you still plant them in clusters too? I hope that makes sense. I guess the biggest question is just, how do I start? Should I just start piling things up for now and not worry too much about placement since it's too early to plant anyway?

Also, I'm going to need to put a deer fence up, but eventually I'd love some sort of living fence that won't shade the gardens. We also want to put a few fruit trees in as well.

Thanks!
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit


Joined: Aug 08, 2010
Posts: 201
Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
Well, I would start with building the key hole garden. There is time enough to worry about the planting!

Here is a description from the baker institute. http://bakerinstitute.org/programs/energy-forum/publications/lesotho/khg%20card%20final%20ENGLISH.pdf/view?searchterm=keyhole%20gardens

It is a pdf-file and there is a planting suggestion on page 2. Much fun!


Life that has a meaning wouldn't ask for its meaning. - Theodor W. Adorno
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Personally I just scatter small seeds of various kinds and push in larger seeds such as beans or squash.  So each bed, or in my case the entire surface of the garden, is a mass of different plants.

Beware about planting too thickly, this is my weak spot - it's just so fun to sprinkle seeds around, I always over plant and things are too crowded! 


Idle dreamer

Gary Park


Joined: Jan 09, 2011
Posts: 146
Location: St. Louis, MO
    
    2
From the looks of it, you could plant a dozen key hole gardens in that area!  I wonder if the soil may be slightly acidic with the rows of pines directly to the west?  I had a similar North-South garden except my rows of trees were on the east.  It did ok, but once I cut a path of trees out to give full sun it did exceptionally better.  I had tomatoes, peppers, watermellon, honeydew and cantaloupe.
Paula Edwards


Joined: Oct 06, 2010
Posts: 411
I think the form of your garden has very little to do with permaculture. Rows beds keyholes are all OK IMO. I once saw a great permaculture garden, bed system along the contour lines.
I would just start our and garden. I would not buy any surroundings, they only cost money and I never saw this in a commercial operation, hence they are not viable. the timber frames around beds look nice though.
I would dig up the lawn while it is cold it might die but lawn grass is tough and anyway you will have a more or less big battle against it. Do not make what I did once only to dig up the beds but not the paths! The lawn invades the beds in no time.
I would make all beds the same size and shape then you can build a chicken tractor. Even if most of your chickens are somewhere else it is always nice to have one, for smaller birds.
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit


Joined: Aug 08, 2010
Posts: 201
Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
Direct seeding without preperation of the seeds never worked for me well. At least with vegetables it never worked. This year I prepare every seed with a seedling bath. Carrots for example have a long germination period of 14 days in which they shouldn't dry out. When they germinate I seed them out. This will minimize the loss of seeds and I hopefully get a good harvest this time.

I would work with timber and stones to build a wall for the raised beds or keyhole garden. This way you get some thermal mass which is quite a benefit in temperate climates. Stones looking out of the mulch in raised beds are actually great to get some warmth to the plants above. Biggest problem of mulch in temperate climate is that they reduce the temperature of the soil that's why direct seeding doesn't work well.
solomon martin


Joined: Jan 17, 2011
Posts: 102
    
    1
catchthewind wrote:


Also, I'm going to need to put a deer fence up, but eventually I'd love some sort of living fence that won't shade the gardens.




I read in a forest gardening book about using sunflowers as a deer fence.  The idea is to get several years of successive growth of sunflowers in a fence line, using the old dry stalks as the fence itself.  I could see how you might improve on this idea by planting pole beans, or sweet pea or some other climby thing to knit the stocks together.  It might not be the sturdiest fence or totally deer-proof, but if I was a deer I would be content to hang out outside the garden munching sunflower seeds.
                                    


Joined: Dec 28, 2010
Posts: 27
Sorry I didn't get back to this right away. I check in every evening on my iPod, but I don't always get a lot of chance to type much! Thank you all so much for the ideas and tips. I love the idea of a living fence with sunflowers. They are one of my favourite flowers. I'm also very interested in the seedling bath. I had so many problems with carrots last year. Went through about 4 different packages before some finally sprouted! I blamed it on slugs but wonder if there was more to it than that.

We have a ton of felled trees lying around. Some are stacked against our house already, or the shed; there are some in the forest. I know some of them provide habitats, but we are trying to be aware of fire issues too and strike some sort of medium. I was thinking of using at least the ones lying near the house already and cutting them into 2-3 foot long chunks, and then standing those up next to each other and burying them in the ground a little ways to use as borders for the beds. Does that sound plausible? (Does my description even make sense?) I think it would look great and it would be free to boot (other than the chainsaw, which would be handy to have around anyway).

I think we are going to start two or three keyhole beds (for now, eventually a dozen would be awesome!) in the area like the ones laid out in Gaia's Garden (which I just ordered, should be here in a few days, can't wait!), plus over nearer our kitchen have a herb garden and a small kitchen garden with some of the staples we run out for last minute (lettuce, cucumber, etc.). If I'm understanding the terminology correctly, that area I pointed out is actually zone 2, but most of the zone 1 areas are either much shadier, or right over our septic drain field. I was thinking of doing straw bale beds for the potatoes this year, since they're easy and temporary (though not that cheap in my area), except if we have a really rainy spring like last year I'm worried about the slugs. They decimated my garden last year. Maybe I should look into some ducks...
                                    


Joined: Dec 28, 2010
Posts: 27
Oh, meant to add about the acidity. If I'm doing raised beds, do I need to worry overly much about testing the soil there now for heavy metals and acidity, etc? I plan to plant sunflowers (one of my favourites anyway) and mustard greens just in case. To be honest, I'm not sure heavy metals would change my plans that much anyway. After all, we don't test the soil that the produce in the grocery stores is grown in, so I sort of feel like mine would be better regardless, especially since I plan to have raised beds. Is that naive?
Paula Edwards


Joined: Oct 06, 2010
Posts: 411
For direct seeding you must simply prepare a fine seedbed. For the carrots some people place a board over it to help to germinate. I did this with an old piece of fabric, but maybe a board is better.
However, if you have tons of slugs you might have a problem with direct seeding.
solomon martin


Joined: Jan 17, 2011
Posts: 102
    
    1
Here is a quick cheap and fun slug control method:

Buy a six-pack (or a 12 pack if you have friends to help you) of your favorite bottled beer.  Drink beer, reserving a sip in the bottom of each bottle.  Place bottles around planting bed, nestle them in so the slugs can easily crawl in through the neck of the bottle.  Do this in the evening (what better time to drink beer)  In the morning, you will find slugs in the bottle, hung-over and ready to be disposed of.
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit


Joined: Aug 08, 2010
Posts: 201
Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
Put the carrot seeds in a glass of handwarm water for 6 hours OR in a glass of wet sand for 5 days and directly seed them. I like the method with sand best, the seeds are easier to sprinkle when they are mixed with sand. It is very important to keep them moist till they germinate otherwise they burst. You can use a sieve to cover the seeds with fine soil or: Just put some fine sand on top of them. Fine seedbed is a must for small seeds.

They take awfully long to germinate so don't forget to mark the place where you put them and reduce competetion by weeding.

ediblecities idea to cover them with board is good to keep the seeds moist but it is a really bad idead when you have a problem with slugs. Slugs gather under board and wooden planks. In fact: I always leave some wooden planks lying around and check under them frequently. I pick the slugs gathering there put them in a plastic bag and throw them in a trash can. Heartless, I know.

Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit


Joined: Aug 08, 2010
Posts: 201
Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
Attracting slug's attention with beer is a bad idea in urban environments. Your neighbors will be happy that all the slugs in the area will gather in your garden though. Don't attract their attention. Just pick them and get rid of them.
solomon martin


Joined: Jan 17, 2011
Posts: 102
    
    1
If you are going to the trouble of chopping logs with a chainsaw, you may consider building a huegelculture bed with them instead.  Using upright logs as a bed border sounds like lot of work and may in fact turn into great slug habitat when they start to rot.
                                    


Joined: Dec 28, 2010
Posts: 27
Thank you both, some good ideas and lots to think about. We're not exactly urban, though definitely not as rural as some of you. We're one of the smallest lots in the neighbourhood, at 1.4 acres.

As for the beds, we have tons and tons of logs around. More than enough to make some as borders and some inside for hugulkultur beds. It would be a lot of work, but it just seemed like a good idea to form raised beds. Having no edging and raised beds seems like it would just have issues with the edges constantly falling into pathways, especially in our rainy climate. We're also only going to do a few at a time, so it wouldn't be that much work all at once.

On the topic of building the beds, should I set up some form of irrigation system (drip water, etc) before I build the beds, or will having hugulkultur beds help negate a lot of the need for that?
                          


Joined: Jan 03, 2011
Posts: 25
I'm subscribed to this topic only to learn, as I am looking for all the ways I can find to transition to more permie methods and structures in a rental situation.  I ran across this web site the other day:

http://www.suburbanpermaculture.org/

Catchthewind, as you say you are on a 1.4 acre plot among other dwellings, perhaps this website has some info you can use.  I have not seen specifically keyhole patterns used there (nor have I thoroughly explored the website) but so much of this seems applicable in various ways, I thought I would share it here.

Thanks for the great discussion(s)!
            


Joined: Dec 04, 2010
Posts: 79
You can get a good, comprehensive self-test soil test kit for around $20 at gardening supply stores.  You can also take soil samples and have your local county ag extension office test them for a small fee.
solomon martin


Joined: Jan 17, 2011
Posts: 102
    
    1
From what I understand, the buried wood (in a hugulkultur bed) acts as a sponge/water reservoir that circumvents the need for irrigation.  I am just learning about this method and am eager to build a bed as soon as the ground thaws.
Suzy Bean
steward

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
    
    8
Paul, Jocelyn, and Dave discuss keyhole gardens in this podcast in which they review the first 3 chapters of Gaia's Garden: http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/326-podcast-043-gaias-garden-chapters-forward-to-3/


www.thehappypermaculturalist.wordpress.com
Suzy Bean
steward

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
    
    8
Here are some pics of different kinds of keyhole gardens, the first one being several inside of each other:

from: http://www.pricoldclimate.org/files/imagecache/default/files/images/Mandala%20Design%20Details.jpg
Suzy Bean
steward

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
    
    8

from: http://www.myclimatechangegarden.com/blog/eco-gardening-secrets-from-africa


from: http://www.ecofilms.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Mandala-Garden.jpg


from: http://www.gardeningonline.ie/blog/image.axd?picture=2009%2f11%2fkeyhole+garden2.JPG
Jason Vath


Joined: Jun 10, 2013
Posts: 68
Location: Hardiness Zone 6
    
    8
I'm recently experimenting with the Keyhole Garden method along with Hugelkultur principles.
Seems to be working well so far.

Please look at my post as I update frequently.

http://www.permies.com/t/25531/hugelkultur/Hugelkultur-keyhole#202108



[Thumbnail for KeyholeGarden_2013-09-12_polyculture.JPG]


Hardiness Zone 6
http://www.permies.com/t/25531/hugelkultur/Hugelkultur-keyhole
http://www.permies.com/t/29919/hugelkultur/Hugelkultur-Large-WIP
 
 
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