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Vermont Garden Journal: Keyhole Gardening

Similar to these traditional raised beds, a keyhole raised bed not only gets you gardening sooner in spring, but also saves space.
Similar to these traditional raised beds, a keyhole raised bed not only gets you gardening sooner in spring, but also saves space.

It's time to start thinking about your vegetable garden. Many gardeners have transitioned from flat, straight rows to raised beds. Raised beds warm up faster in spring, drain water sooner and allow you to garden more intensively without as much work. But the next level of raised beds is the keyhole bed.

Originating in Africa and used in permaculture gardens, the keyhole raised bed is a way to save space, reduce pathways, garden intensively and integrate composting into your garden bed. Using blocks, stones or bricks, create a three- to four-foot wide raised bed that's a “u” shape with a pathway in the center. You can also use wood to make the bed more angular. From above the bed, it looks like an old fashioned keyhole.

The keyhole bed also incorporates a compost bin right in the middle. The bin is designed to water and feed the plants. The bed is built two- to four-feet tall while the planting area has sticks and yard waste at the bottom and is filled on top with a mix of compost and soil. A three-foot diameter cylinder, usually made of heavy duty wire caging or perforated plastic, is placed in the middle of the bed. Stones and branches are placed at the bottom of the bin for drainage and then yard waste and kitchen scraps are added to the compost bin as you normally would. As this compost bin fills and decomposes, it leaches water and nutrients into the rest of the raised bed feeding the plants. Although designed for dry climates, you might want to give it a try in your garden this summer.

Now for this week's tip:  As the garden dries out, slowly start uncovering your perennial plants being careful not to damage any shoots of early-blooming bulbs and flowers. Start adding compost around your perennials to feed them for the growing season and weed as you go.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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