For the past several weeks, I’ve been up to my neck in our latest gardening project:
A KEYHOLE GARDEN!!
Do you currently live in an area with:
- low annual rainfall (or is prone to drought)
- poor soil quality
- limited space
A keyhole garden is a special type of circular raised bed that gives plants maximum nourishment but requires very little water. Since drought is Texas’ middle name, I knew I had to have one of these the minute I learned about them last summer.
The building process cost me a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but the hardest part is over now and I AM SO EXCITED TO BE SHARING THE FINAL RESULTS WITH YOU!!! So…..
Want a wildly productive vegetable garden that requires no weeding and won’t run up your water bill?
Since there are a few steps involved, I’ve decided to break down the process. Here is how to build your own keyhole using stone or other masonry….
HOW TO BUILD A KEYHOLE GARDEN
You will need:
- 3 feet plus a couple inches rope or twine
- Measuring tape
- Spray paint
- Dowel or pole
- Approximately 75 large stones OR 150 paving bricks OR 50 cinder blocks
- Several bags of masonry mix like Quikrete (since I used stones, I needed about 10 bags)
Step #1: Measure out the bed
The dimensions for a keyhole garden are very specific to maintain optimum moisture. If the bed is too shallow or too small, it will heat up and dry out too quickly. Therefore, you need to follow these specific dimensions:
Circumference: 6′ Height: 3′
Here’s how to create an even circle by using a bit of rope, a dowel and a can of spray paint:
- Make sure you are building your garden level, sound ground.
- Tie several feet of string to the dowel and secure the dowel into the ground or have someone hold it in place for you.
- Using the measuring tape, measure out 3 feet on the string and spray paint a mark signifying 3 feet.
- Pull string taught and walk in a circle, spray painting the ground as you go, using the 3-feet mark on the rope as a guide.
Step #2: Building OUTSIDE the Box
When you lay down that first stone, make sure it is on the OUTSIDE of the spray painted line. If you build from the inside of the spray painted line, you will have shaved precious inches off the diameter of your garden!
That’s a simple piece of advice, right?
Step #3: Create the “keyhole” indentation
Notch out a space in the circle for the keyhole. This notch or keyhole will allow you access to the ever-important central feeding basket which we will discuss later. The dimensions for the keyhole should be as follows:
Width: Enough for you to stand in
Step #4: If you’ve never worked with stone before go ahead and jump into this project anyway
Technically, it’s best to have a team to help you build your garden; one person to mix mortar, another to help mortar all the pieces of stone together.
So naturally I just decided to do it myself.
Even though I had neither built anything with stone before nor mixed a bag of concrete, I felt Google could get me through it. Unfortunately, Google make me overthink this project way too much when I discovered that I would need to dig and pour a foundation first. This stressed me the heck out!
To make matters worse, I chose to begin building on the windiest, most bone-chilling day in all of Christendom, and after spending an hour slinging mortar around while my nose ran and my pants sagged giving me a massive plumber’s crack which I couldn’t remedy because my hands were covered in cement, I called it quits. The next day, I tried again, but this time just dry-stacking the stones. Soon, I began to feel like I couldn’t even do this right so after crying into my blistered hands, I decided to hire an expert to pour a foundation and build the damn garden.
Not sure who to call, I called up an acquaintance to ask if he knew of any local masons. Here was our conversation:
ME: Sir, you have a lot of mason structures in your yard. Do you have any recommendations as to whom I should hire?
HIM: Hmmm….let’s see. Masons, masons. Well, do you know any Mexicans? A lot of Mexicans tend to be masons. Good ones, too. You might want to ask one of them.
ME: [pause] Oh. Okay. Thanks. Maybe I will.
Step #5: Just go ahead and call a Mexican
After a week of dolefully staring out the window at the pile of stone in our backyard, I decided to screw the whole “mason-structures-need-a-foundation” idea and just go for it.
Besides, people build keyholes out of bottles, sticks and even aluminum cans so why should I be all Miss Fancy Pants?
In addition, I just so happen to be half Mexican so why not use this stereotype to my advantage and go out there and kick some rock butt??!!
Filled with resolve, everything suddenly made sense and in a couple of afternoons, I was able to dry-stack a very sturdy structure that did not budge in the high winds of early spring.
Now that I knew my keyhole was strong, I carefully unstacked sections at a time and rebuilt them using the mortar.
Another week and 10 bags of mortar later, my keyhole was FINALLY finished.
Before this project, I was practically a mortar virgin and it wasn’t until the 9th bag that I started getting the hang of the stuff.
By the way, do you know why they call it mortar?
Because you always need MORE of it.
My first trip to the hardware store, I purchased one bag. One.
Then I purchased 3 more. Then 5 more. And I could probably still use one more but NO! I’m done.
To give you an idea of where we’re going with this whole project, here’s a sneak peak of the next installment: FILLING A KEYHOLE GARDEN….
This gooey pile of kitchen scraps means you’re gonna want to stick around.
Until next time, always buy one more bag of mortar, use gloves, wear a belt, avoid bigots and have a wonderful Wednesday!!!