Super Easy, Super Productive

The keyhole garden is the most productive garden bed I have ever used!

What is different about the keyhole garden?

  • It has a compost system and watering system built into the structure.
  • It can survive using only the waste water you pour into the compost bin.
  • The roots are nourished with nutrients and water that leaches from the compost bin.
  • It can be built from material you already have at hand.
  • It can be planted, tended and harvested with minimal work and time. 
  • It is super productive.

How It All Began

The keyhole garden was developed in Africa where the environment is hot and dry. It provides an economical way for people to grow a lot of food with little work and little water, and in a small space.

It has found an enthusiastic following in drought-ridden southwest Texas and other dry environments. Because of its minimal work and maximal results, the garden can now be seen in backyards on all the continents (except Antartica!)

(Image from

What Does a Keyhole Garden Look Like

It is about 6 feet in diameter, shaped like a pie with a slice taken out. The point in the middle of the slice is squared off for easy access to the compost bin in the center. The planting area in the circle is accessible at all points because of this design.

The outer wall of the bed can be anything that will hold soil.

 Some ideas:

  • rocks, which can be layered free style or cemented in
  • bricks or cinder block
  •  fencing of almost any kind that can be shaped in a circle
  • corrugated steel
  • burlap bags filled with soil (the bags could hold more plants!)
  • window blinds turned on end
  • poles placed end to end for a six sided bed and the two sides of the pie slice
  • plastic gallon milk jugs filled with gravel

Some gardeners start with a low wall, 6 to 12 inches, as shown in the image above, then build the walls higher each year. If you prefer not to stoop, make it knee high or about 3 feet to begin with.

How to Build the Compost Bin.

Make the compost bin out of anything that will hold composting material but that will let water flow through it.

One of the easiest is a length of chicken wire or window screening. Roll it about 3 layers thick, fasten the ends with wire, and stand it on end.

You could use an old bucket (needs to be tall) with lots of holes poked in it.

To keep water flowing into the planted area and not onto the walkway, make the compost bin solid facing the walkway. If you are using wire, cover the front with a solid peace of plastic. (See photo above.)

If you are using a bucket, punch holes in 3 sides, leaving the area facing the walkway solid.

 Start putting your organic scraps in here. This is also where you will do your watering. Just pour it in the top of the bin and let it leach into the bed. You will use less water and it will do a better job of nourishing the roots.

How to Build the Garden Bed

  1. To begin, anchor a 3 foot string in the center of your planned area. Tie a stick on the end and scratch a circle in the soil. (Right)
  2.  Place the composting bin in the center.
  3.  Build the wall of the bed.

On the bottom of the bed, layer materials that will decompose: old newspapers, untreated lumber, yard waste such as grass clippings, leaves and tree branches.

Put your good soil on that, making it slope from the compost bin to the edges for better drainage. 

Finally, you may want to make a frame that will support a removable cover over the top. It can serve as an umbrella to protect the garden from super hot sun or incessant rain.

A clear plastic sheet can be attached to the frame in early spring to make a temporary greenhouse for an early start to your crop.

More keyhole garden designs                           

deb toleman's garden

Now you are ready to plant your keyhole garden! Why not make it a salad keyhole garden!

My Keyhole Garden

The garden outline (left)

Compost container in the center.(right)

The bricks in the outline and the walkway to the compost is in place. (below)

Notice the peace of plastic in the walkway side of the container directing the water to the roots of the plants and not to the walkway. (left)

Newspaper and tree trimmings are layered in the bottom of the garden. (below)

The garden is complete with rich, black soil.

My Keyhole Garden In August

 I am really sold on this design. The crops here are much more prolific than those in my usual raised beds.

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Keyhole Garden

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