I’m just gonna admit it:
I dread going into my garden this time of year.
Texas heat, low rainfall, squash bugs, spider mites–gardening can be downright discouraging sometimes! Especially when my once-luscious, thriving plants suddenly become yellow, limp skeletons in a matter of days.
In an effort to cultivate smarter and more efficiently, I built a keyhole garden in the spring of 2014.
Keyhole gardens are an excellent solution to vegetable gardening for folks like me who live in hot, arid climates with poor soil quality. However, don’t be like me and mistake the word “solution” for “fool-proof.” Embarrassingly enough, I was so excited about building and filling a keyhole garden that I didn’t put much thought into maintaining a keyhole garden.
First of all, building the structure took longer than expected so I was a couple weeks late in my planting.
It was also a hotter, drier summer last year, and, as a result, the plants suffered. There may also have been a teensy, weensy chance that I did not water the bed enough. I tend to do that, you know. Depend on nature too much and all. Sigh! Texas….
Anyway, above is a photo of the keyhole in June 2014. Discouraged by nature, I rarely watered, did not fertilize and did nothing to control the squash bugs. Bad gardener!
And now here is how the keyhole looks in June 2015:
What a difference rain and cooler temperatures can make! (And when I say cooler temperatures, I mean mid 90’s.) If only it always rained this much in west Texas! With this extra moisture, I’ve learned an important lesson:
Even though keyholes are built for hotter, drier climates, they still need deep, consistent watering to thrive.
Needless to say, May and June exhibited excellent yields!
The area of keyhole gardening I’ve managed to stay most consistent with is the composting part! The keyhole’s center compost basket system helps takes the mess out of composting. All I have to do is dump our bucket of coffee grounds, fruit peelings, etc. in here and let the heat and moisture decompose them into instant plant food.
Squashes and other curcurbits are especially happy in a keyhole. Their large, sun-loving leaves also help shade more delicate vegetables and herbs.
The squashes, however, are why I dread visiting the garden each morning.
You might already be able to tell from the yellowing leaves, but I’ve been battling squash bugs. Once upon a time in 2012, I grew apathetic and let them take over my garden. Now I fight every year for my squash. I’ve already had to pull one highly productive Cocozelle. 🙁
If there’s any silver lining to be had in this situation, it’s this: Searching under leaves for squash bugs and their eggs is MUCH EASIER when your plants are in a raised bed!
Come on little spaghetti squash. I believe in you. You’re gonna make it.
Since we’re on the subject of pests, now is a good time to share some practical tips in maintaing a keyhole garden…
Tips for Maintaining A Keyhole Garden
#1. Plant your tallest, sun-loving plants such as okra, squash and hot peppers on the west-facing side of the bed. They will help shade your more delicate herbs and veggies from the more intense afternoon/evening rays.
#2. Plant marigolds all around the bed to ward off pests such as nematodes and aphids.
#3. Water wisely.
- Water the bed deeply every 2 days if no rain is present.
- In addition to watering the soil, place a hose in the center basket and give it a good watering. The water will trickle down and spread to the plant roots.
- Planting your vegetables close together help to shade the soil, but a layer of newspapers as mulch also helps maintain soil moisture.
#3. Discourage pests naturally.
- Apply diatomaceous earth around and inside the base of plants and around the soil and leaves. Repeat with a fresh sprinkling all over between every couple waterings.
- Spray tops and undersides of leaves with a foliar spray. My recipe: 1 Tablespoon dish soap, 1 Tablespoon Skin-So-Soft bath oil, 1 teaspoon peppermint oil. Fill a hand pump sprayer with water, then add the soap and oils. Screw on the pump and give the container a shake to mix. Apply.
- Apply foliar spray in the cool morning or evening. Avoid application in the middle of the day or you will cook your leaves.
- A regular sprinkling of ground cinnamon around plants and beds is helpful in warding off ants.
- In the hottest, driest part of the season, blast plants with a strong spray of water every few days to discourage aphids and spider mites.
#4. Apply a commercial plant food to help set blossoms and nourish plant through production.
I use Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed® Tomato, Fruits & Vegetables. Doing so has really helped my eggplant blossoms stay on for-the-love-of-gawd.
#5. Check on your garden daily.
As nervous as I get about what damage I’ll discover (especially during the second half of the summer season), I’m learning that daily inspection makes the biggest impact on the health of my veggies. Each morning I:
- Inspect leaves for pests. No amount of insecticide can replace ripping out spider mite webs or squashing the darned beetle and its eggs with your fingers.
- Trim off dead/diseased/pest-infected leaves and stems. Be careful to wipe hands/scissors between plants or you could risk spreading the disease/pest.
- Clear debris such as dead leaves and stems from the surface of the soil.
- Check hydration levels by sticking a finger in the soil up to the first knuckle. If your finger comes out dry, it’s time to water.
- Harvest any vegetables (yay, finally!!), sing to your plants, praise them for their good work and enjoy the fruits of maintaining your garden.