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By W. Leon Smith

During the past four years, I have been involved in keyhole gardening.

It began with a rock and cinderblock version the first year, after which, due to the time consuming experience of building one, my brother and I decided to try to develop an easier way.

We did considerable experimenting and came up with a newer version, light in weight, that if provided in kit form can be constructed in about an hour.

Keyhole Farm currently boasts of five keyhole gardens, with the plan to add more.

The beauty of keyholes is that they are easy on the back, you can plant crops closer together than in a conventional garden, they take up smaller space, crops are easily accessed via the keyhole design, and they are extremely water efficient. The lack of weeding is another huge advantage.

During our experiments over the past three years, we have planted numerous crops, from watermelons, to pumpkins, to okra, to green beans, to black-eyed-peas, to tomatoes, to asparagus, to onions, to carrots, to cabbage, to lettuce, to jalapenos, to cucumbers, to zucchini, to squash, to melons, to cantaloupes, to numerous herbs and other plants, many of the aforementioned in a variety of types. My favorites are sunflowers.

The original website consisted of several updates each year as our experiment on the durability of the gardens progressed, but in our recent re-design we decided to feature a few photos in our header and let readers know that our gardens have proved successful.

A keyhole garden is circular in design looking down at it, but has a pie-shaped wedge cut out  and a circular wire basket placed at the tip of the wedge, making it resemble an old-timey keyhole, thus the name.

These gardens can be watered with a hose, or with sprinklers.  On ours, we place layers or cardboard, leaves, cut grass, small tree branches, compost, and other ingredients, usually putting about  two feet of topsoil on top, water it in, let the level sink a little as some of the ingredients settle, then add more topsoil. The topsoil is angled down slightly from the interior basket which is edged with a higher level of dirt.

The basket is used to “feed” the garden, either via water or certain left-over foodstuff, like banana peels and left-over veggies. The idea is to provide moisture and minerals in this manner to embrace recycling.

On our gardens, we generally try to group crops, thinking ahead to allow greatest sun exposure as they grow. Most of our plantings are done by poking holes in the dirt about two or three inches apart and then going back and placing the seeds in those holes before covering them up and smoothing out the surface some.

You can expect an “overflow” reaction as some plants grow over the sides and deposit their fruits on the ground. This was our experience with watermelons, pumpkins, many cucumbers, certain melons, cantaloupes,  and tomatoes, to name a few.

Because we plant the crops so close together, it is quite an adventure to find all the crops when they are ready to pick, for the garden is thick with them. Here in Central Texas, we usually do a second planting mid-summer by planting cowpeas and okra which tolerate hot weather better. It is amazing to watch these plants produce and reproduce many times during the hot months.

Billy Martin constructs a keyhole frame in our factory.We firmly believe that keyhole gardens will be the wave of the future since they are so compact and produce extremely well, conserving water at the same time. is currently working with a Texas charter school to install six keyhole gardens on that campus.

The idea is to tie the growing of keyhole gardens to subjects such as geography, economics, science, and mathematics as they pertain to agriculture.

Students will have the opportunity to raise crops and keep track of growth statistics and experiments that they conduct.  Providing advice will be the county Extension agent and Master Gardeners.

Too, we are always trying to improve our designs and testing the quality of our products. Recently, we decided to put a bamboo skirt around one of our gardens to “see how it looks” in the event it might make our garden kits fit better into some environments. We will probably offer these in the future.

There is something magic about raising some of your own crops, turning your hands into plowshares and learning about a key element of survival. Now, with keyholes, you can turn a corner of your own backyard into a showcase that has its roots deeply buried in something you created and nurtured.