Thursday, March 19, 2015

Keyhole Gardens: My New Obsession

Before we talk about my latest obsession, I need to make a confession: I hate composting. I still do it, because I would be consumed with overwhelming guilt if I didn't, but I hate it. It's messy and stinky and it attracts bugs. Ew. I just hate the bugs. And it's not like I haven't tried lots of things to try to make it better. Here's my sad (and whiny) tale:

I started with a free composter offered by the city of Gilbert. It looked something like this.

Total disaster. I couldn't properly stake it into the ground, because the soil where I was trying to place it was the consistency of concrete and the stakes it came with were approximately the size of thumbtacks. My husband and I are both pretty wary of rodents coming into the yard, so having what essentially was an open-bottomed food receptacle was a no-go in our minds. I sent it back.

Next up: I got a couple of those turny deals that are completely enclosed and make it easy to aerate your compost. Specifically, I got the Keter 17186745 Dynamic Composter (60 gal). Here's a lovely picture of a mother and daughter using one in their idyllic country yard:

I wonder what that mother has to do to get that daughter to compost? Bribery? Threats of grounding? I just don't have to the parental backbone to deal with the whining that would ensue. Yeah, sometimes my daughter likes to turn the crank on our composter, but be close to it when the door is open? No thanks! And by the way, we have big bungy chords wrapped around ours because the doors have a tendency to pop open when the composter is full and the contents dump out everywhere. Sooooooooooo lame.

And when we finally have finished compost? It's easy enough to dump it on the ground underneath the composter, but getting it into the garden is a bit of a logistical nightmare. I either have to scoop it out of that thing into another container and haul it over to the garden (no fun) or drag the whole composter over to the garden and empty it there (awkward). Either way, I'm reaching pretty deep into the thing to clean it out, because a decent amount of compost doesn't want to come out on its own. (Gross)

So to deal with the not-easy-to-empty-out problem, the next thing I tried was garbage cans. I just took some heavy duty trash cans with lids that stay on well and drilled lots of holes in them. When it comes time to turn the trash cans, I put them on their sides, and push them around with my feet. Not bad. They are easy enough to turn, protect the compost from critters, and are easy to dump into the garden when the time comes. Sounds like the perfect solution, right?

No! I still want something better! I'm a big whiny baby who still wants to have something easier! Wah! Wah! Wah!

Enter my new obsession: Keyhole gardens. There are a couple of variations on keyhole gardens, but the one I'm talking about has a compost pile right in the middle. The basic idea is that you create a circular garden with a notch on one side and a hole in the middle (i.e., something that looks like an old-fashioned keyhole from above) and you put a compost pile smack dab in the middle. Like this:

Here's another view:

Once you set this up, all you have to do is periodically water the compost, creating compost tea that seeps into the surrounding garden, nourishing the plants. Which means you never have to turn the compost and you never have to move the compost. You just throw your "greens" (kitchen scraps in my case) and "browns" (shredded newspaper in my case) in there periodically and water the compost tower periodically. Are you hearing me people? Composting just got lazier! Woo hoo!

As best as I can tell, this gardening method was pioneered by the Send a Cow organization to help families in Africa with poor soil and limited water. (Yup, in addition to helping lazy gardeners like me, it actually has a much more altruistic purpose.) Apparently, keyhole gardens are catching on big in arid climates in particular, because they save water in addition to using compost efficiently. Specifically, keyhole gardens appear to be catching on big in Texas with the help of Dr. Deb Tolman and Texas Co-op Power. (I have to admit, I still don't fully understand how they save water--they are raised beds, which traditionally suck up more water--but results don't lie!)

So in addition to making composting easier, keyhole gardens also save water? Sold! I can't set one up yet, since I've already planted my spring/summer garden, but I can start planning for next season. In the meantime, I'll pour over pictures of other people's keyholes gardens and come up with my perfect plan. The thought of makes me almost as happy as this little cutie appears to be with his new garden:

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