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Interesting keyhole/hugelkultur design  RSS feed

 
Posts: 101
Location: 39.720014, -74.875139 - Waterford Works, NJ
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One way around the space issue, DJ, might be to change the shape of the central core to more of a curvilinear shape, like a "C" that would line the inside of the keyhole. It would allow you to space out the composting piles, still leave air access, but not be so bulky. Compost, even humanure, does flatten out and compress rather quickly - even more so when the worms get in there - so I don't know that the core really has to be that big, especially if you have several of these beds to space out your compost deposits.

Your curved berm chicken run sounds really interesting - please post pics of the sketches!
 
pollinator
Posts: 302
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I would love to hear an update from all of you above. There are lots of good ideas and many different ecosystems mentioned and it's very useful to know what didn't work or what went wrong as well as what went right.

I tried a "Charlie Brown ARK* bed" last spring. I just tied together a ring of packing skids trenched in 15 cm (6 inches) and used an approximately 45 cm (18 inches) tube of snow fencing I'd been given as the compost tube and dumped a bunch of rocks in the bottom of it both to keep the compost and the moisture it generated higher up towards the surface - this is something I'd read about these beds, but I can't remember where.

Problems/Comments: 1. I needed to build this approximately table height due to back problems I was having, but it takes huge amounts of dirt, punky wood, finished compost etc to fill that height of 2 meter/6 ft diameter bed.
2. Although I used lots of old cardboard to line the packing skids to keep the dirt in, too much leaked out - this year I'm filling the core of the skids with tree branches and old fence boards.
3. Because of 1 and 2, the bed sank tremendously - like at least 30 cm it's first year - due to settling and decomposing and leaking out.
4. The tube was under-engineered and not well enough supported, so it collapsed to an undesirable angle - I'm going to replace it with a half-barrel I've got which I'll drill a bunch of holes in for worms and moisture to get in and out and I'll set the barrel up on breeze blocks or similar to keep it at the right height.
5. I planted a couple of pumpkins in the edge by the keyhole entrance and as they grew I circled the stems around the outer edge. This appeared to be sufficient to stop the deer from eating the kale that was further in.
6. Other than watering in transplants, I did not water the garden once despite a significant drought last summer.
7. The *only* reason it didn't need watering is because I added a 16 liter bucket of vegetable scraps twice a week to the center. This is why these beds were originally trialed at schools in Africa - you need a fair quantity of high water content scraps to make the system work. There is *no* way my household generates that amount of compost in a week, so I get buckets of prep scraps from a local Thai restaurant.

So, although I had problems, the system proved itself sufficiently useful that I have been trying to rehabilitate it for a second year of growing, although other emergencies may prevent that from happening. I would love to build and trial a rock version, but that's another whole level of heavy lifting that I'm not ready for. Since many contributors have added, "in my dreams" ideas - I picture a mandala of these beds with my noisy ducks** visiting at ground level to keep the bugs/slugs at bay.

*ARK - African Raised Keyhole
** noisy ducks - any duck domesticated from mallards - currently I have a 4 Campbells, 2 Runners and 2 maybe Cayuga's.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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This is the first time I've seen this thread, but I built something almost exactly like it about 10 ft from my beehive and I'm planting it with various "bee plants", mint, bee balm, joe pye weed, etc. I built it out of old bricks that came from a house that was being torn down, filled it 3/4 of the way with old punky wood and the rest of the way with compost and composted wood chips.
 
Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Please ignore the lousy cell phone pictures.
planter.jpg
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planter2.jpg
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planter3.jpg
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Jay Angler
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Hi Todd

That's an awesome raised keyhole bed. Great job!

It's not technically an "ARK" bed which is what the original picture that starts this thread is depicting,because it doesn't have a compost tube component. Is adding a compost pipe something you considered and decided against, or just something you never thought about or feel you don't need? I'm trying to decide how much the compost pipe does to eliminate watering in climates with inconsistent rainfall.

Thanks J.
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Jay Angler wrote:Hi Todd

That's an awesome raised keyhole bed. Great job!

It's not technically an "ARK" bed which is what the original picture that starts this thread is depicting,because it doesn't have a compost tube component. Is adding a compost pipe something you considered and decided against, or just something you never thought about or feel you don't need? I'm trying to decide how much the compost pipe does to eliminate watering in climates with inconsistent rainfall.

Thanks J.



I did consider it and decided against it. I think the buried wood and the large amount of compost I used in the bed itself should eliminate the need for the compost pipe. We get 33" of rainfall here on average, but we can have fairly long summer stretches without rain. My experience so far is that deep mulch alone can pretty much negate any need I have to water. I may build another with the compost tube, just to see if one performs better than the other.

For those curious, yes, the bricks originally lined up in the inset of the structure. Frost heaving took care of that for me
 
pioneer
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Posts: 11372
Location: Left Coast Canada
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Is there some reason the compost circle in a traditional key hole bed is so small? 
 
gardener
Posts: 7562
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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I think it just becomes a feeding station for worms, that live throughout the bed, so material doesn't accumulate as much as it would, if the compost were a stand alone feature.

One guy on YouTube did a heavy watering of his whole bed, through a central compost pile. His theory was that he was washing the nutrients around. I'm pretty sure that the worms would do the same thing.
 
raven ranson
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Posts: 11372
Location: Left Coast Canada
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Do you think there is anything wrong with having a bigger compost center?  We do make a lot of compost.
 
raven ranson
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Posts: 11372
Location: Left Coast Canada
2016
books chicken fiber arts cooking sheep
 
raven ranson
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Posts: 11372
Location: Left Coast Canada
2016
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Do we know of any of these beds 5+ years later?  Does the centre eventually fill up and no longer go down? 

What's the life expectancy of this kind of bed?
 
raven ranson
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using mostly cardboard and leaf mulch to fill this keyhole garden, with a small compost basket in the middle.



Later on in the video, it shows some gardens that are several years old. 
 
raven ranson
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Here's a collection of different African style keyhole gardens from all over the world

Here are a few of my favourites



Keyhole garden with a surround of sticks in Uganda by Send a Cow.



walls made from upcycled milk jugs.


And this one from Texas



I like how they kept the rocks in place. 
 
pollinator
Posts: 54
Location: Zone 4, SD
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I am so going to build and plant one of these this spring!   Love that this got highlighted in our email today.  Been watching YouTubes about these for nearly an hour now.  LOL!


 
pollinator
Posts: 724
Location: Meppel (Drenthe, the Netherlands)
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I made a start at my keyhole-with-compost-center some months ago and will go on when the new spring arrives

I think we'll use this idea too in our community garden.
 
Posts: 22
Location: South East Missouri
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I am currently building my first combination Keyhole / Hugelkultur planting bed.  I have tried my hand at raised bed, french intensive gardening, but watering is always a challenge.  I built complex rainwater collection and drip irrigation systems, but the hugelkultur approach looks like it makes much more sense.

The pictures show my first attempt, which is still under construction.  I am determined to be ready to plant by the spring.
Keyhole1a.JPG
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My first attempt at a Hugelkultur / Keyhole Garden
 
Phillip Stuckemeyer
Posts: 22
Location: South East Missouri
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Built into a hill, the Keyhole Garden is higher and deeper on the downward side.  The Keyhole garden is about 15 ft. across, and I do not plan a compost bin in the center.  I prefer to be able to stand in the keyhole and from that vantage point will be able to reach the entire planting area from the inside or the outside.  I have recently finished a grey-water collection system, and have run piping in a trench from the storage tanks to the planting bed.  A motor operated ball valve, controlled by schedule, will allow the grey water to saturate the planting bed several times a day.
Keyhole1b.JPG
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Grey Water piping will irrigate the mound.
 
Phillip Stuckemeyer
Posts: 22
Location: South East Missouri
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The grey water piping lands in a transfer box that diverts the water in both directions.  Ultimately, I would like to build 3 more Spiral or Keyhole Hugel beds that go down the hill toward the pond, and this piping will continue down the hill from the transfer box so that all 4 of the Hugelkultur mounds are kept in a perpetual state of saturation.  My 86-year old home has a huge cistern in the cellar (that is where the grey water collection system is also) and new maintenance free gutters and downspouts will be installed within the next two weeks.  This cistern used to be the sole source of water for this old farmhouse, but now I enjoy a deep drilled well as my primary water source.  The rain water will supplement the grey water, and serve as a ready source of fresh potable water in the event of a power outage.  The large pipe will allow the grey water to gravity feed, while the smaller black tube runs inside the larger pipe and will allow for pressurized application of water with a sprinkler or hose by opening a solenoid activated gate valve.
Keyhole1c.JPG
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Grey water, controlled by schedule, will flood the trench.
 
Phillip Stuckemeyer
Posts: 22
Location: South East Missouri
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This will be a traditional Hugelkultur mound with logs, branches, wood chips at the bottom of a trench and layers of cardboard, compost, leaves, grass, topsoil, and potting soil throughout.  Manure from cattle, rabbits, and chickens will be added as needed and tea from a worm composter poured on the plants from time to time.  This picture is a bit washed out by the sunlight, but I hope you can see the trenching underway inside the circle.  I am determined that the trench will be level so that the grey water pools consistently around the entire circle.  I will upload more photos as the spring nears and I make notable progress.  I may choose to stack additional layers of the landscaping block in order to get the right height and depth.  Because I was digging into a hill. the most difficult thing about building this mound was getting the first course of blocks level.
Keyhole1d.JPG
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A level trench circles inside the planting bed.
 
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