Cardboarder: (n) a person who hoards cardboard
Over the past several months, I’ve become a cardboarder. It’s become somewhat of an obsession ever since I made the choice to build a keyhole garden. As a result, I’ve stuffed an entire closet with packing boxes and half of our garage with refrigerator boxes. (But we could probably use a little bit more….)
Last week, I shared my adventure in building a keyhole garden, and today you’ll see how I filled all 108 cubic feet of it using mostly free material, i.e. cardboard!
How to Fill A Keyhole Garden
[FREE] Materials you will need:
- Cardboard (preferably appliance boxes–ask a rep at Lowes or Home Depot and they will gladly oblige)
- Newspaper (our local newspaper gave me stacks and stacks of old issues)
- Green leaves or grass clippings
- Brown leaves (I found 10 bags just sitting in an alley)
- Twigs and branches
- Old clothing that is 100% cotton
- Horse or cow manure (simply ask a friend who has either)
- A few cubic feet of ground soil (for natural bacteria and enzymes)
[INEXPENSIVE] Materials you will need:
- 4′ x 2′ scrap of chicken wire
- Approximately 15-20 large bags of potting soil (I used a mixture of potting soil and compost)
Step #1: Line the keyhole with cardboard
Soak large sheets of cardboard with water until pliable. Line the entire surface of the interior walls and bottom floor with a couple layers of the cardboard, pressing out any gaps as you go.
NOTE: Make sure the cardboard layer is as tall as the garden walls.
Step #2: Build and insert the center basket
The center “basket” is the star of the keyhole since it is where you will water and feed the garden. To make the basket, take your scrap of chicken wire and roll it length-wise until the diameter is 1′ wide. Bend the wires with pliers to secure the structure.
Place the basket at the crest of the curve of the keyhole. (see pic above)
Step #3: Build Your Bottom Third Layer
- Soak smaller sheets of cardboard, roll them into tubes and line the entire bottom of the garden with a layer of the rolled cardboard tubes.
- Soak several newspapers, roll them into tubes and place an entire layer of newspaper tubes on top of the cardboard.
- Top this newspaper layer with old phone books, more newspapers or old 100% cotton clothing.
NOTE: Why roll?
Eventually the layers of your keyhole will begin to settle. Rolling the cardboard and newspaper creates a tighter space which will prevent your layers from settling as much.
Step #4: Build your Second Layer Using Browns and Greens
- Add several inches (or 4-5 garbage bags-full) of brown leaves, twigs and branches over the newspaper layer.
- Next, top the layer of brown leaves with several inches of green leaves or grass trimmings.
- Finally, top the layer of greens with another several inches of brown leaves.
Though the brown leaves were easy enough to come by, I was stumped as to where to find green ones. And then I noticed all of our bothersome, low-hanging branches…covered in GREEN LEAVES! Half an hour later, I had all the green leaves I could want AND my trees were pruned.
NOTE: Trim trees/shrubs at the very last minute so that the leaves stay as green as possible.
STEP #5: Launch your husband into the keyhole to stomp down the layers.
The more compressed you can get your layers in the beginning, the less they will settle later on.
Step #6: Fill the last third of the garden with manure, compost and soil
- On top of the brown leaves, add a layer of horse/cow manure or composted manure.
- Scoop out several cubic feet of grass and weed-free soil from your yard and sprinkle a layer of it over the entire surface of the garden. This will provide the keyhole with important bacteria and enzymes.
- On top of the natural soil, fill the keyhole up to the very top edge with several bags of potting soil.
NOTE: I mixed my potting soil with a few bags of compost and composted manure for extra goodness.
Step #7: Give the garden a good soak
Before planting, water the garden thoroughly until the top layer of soil is soaked. Doing so will cause the layers to sink a bit.
No problem, just add more soil.
NOTE: The soil should slope from a high point at the top of the center basket downward to the edges of the garden. Click here for details.
Step #8: Fill the center basket with kitchen scraps
Did I also mention that I hoarded kitchen scraps in plastic bags for several weeks, too?
Well, I did.
Fill the basket to the level of the soil with kitchen scraps and by “kitchen scraps” I mean:
- Coffee grounds
- Fruit and vegetable scraps, peelings, etc.
- Egg shells
NOTE: NEVER use meat scraps, greasy foods, dairy, etc. in your gardening. These items attract pests and create a horrible smell as they decompose.
Finish by giving the central basket a good watering!
Step #9: Add your plants and seeds
Against all that you have heard in the past, it is important that you set your plants close together so that they can shade each other in the heat of summer. (The only exception is if you live in a wetter climate where mold can threaten the health of your plants.)
Since I live in a hot, dry climate, I planted everything close. This allowed me to add a LOT of goodies to my garden. I have provided a list of all our summer fruits, veggies and herbs below.
To provide extra shade or protection from heat, wind and (eventually) cold, I plan to insert a frame of tent poles to drape a cover over. (pictures to come)
Step #10: Since I’m anal, ten steps sound better than nine
Pat yourself on the back for building and filling your keyhole garden.
Better yet, have someone ELSE pat you on the back, i.e. get a massage. You’ll need it.
Lastly, enjoy the fruits of your labor. YOU JUST TURNED WASTE (leaves, papers, manure, branches) INTO FOOD!!!!!
VEGETABLES & FRUITS IN OUR KEYHOLE:
- 2 eggplants
- 3 green beans
- 3 okra
- 2 Anaheim peppers
- 1 grape tomato
- 1 Cocozelle squash
- 1 yellow squash
- 1 spaghetti squash
- 1 cantaloupe
- 1 cucumber
- 1 watermelon
- 1 butternut squash
HERBS IN OUR KEYHOLE
- 3 fern leaf dill
- 1 pineapple sage
- 1 catnip
- 1 cat grass
- 1 tarragon
- 1 lemon thyme