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keyhole garden in summer drought

 
pollinator
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Thank you for that explanation Jay. We were blessed with a little rain yesterday. I've been rearranging rocks and flagstone in the area where we had our veggie garden for fifteen years. If my health holds I will continue playing around with permaculture  designs to try and hold rain water when we get it like yesterday. I can't wait to get outside and see if the swales I created for our Currents got enough rain to catch runoff. I hope I hope! One of my favorite things to do when it rains is go out and see where runoff goes and move it to where I want it to go if possible. Nothing like playing in the puddles to make a person feels like a kid again!
Brian
 
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Thank you all so much for the information here on keyhole gardening. I had never heard of this concept before and it has completely changed the plans I had started to develop for our small suburban plot. I'm going to put keyhole garden beds everywhere!

One thing I'd like to ask though is how this would go on top of sand? This land was formerly covered with coastal scrub, and all of the topsoil in the areas I'll be gardening was cleared to make way for the build. Would I need to alter the process at all to work with a sandy base? The drainage will be extremely good but I'm worried that this will result in water and nutrients leaching out of the beds sooner.

Thanks for your help.
 
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Ash Dalton wrote:... One thing I'd like to ask though is how this would go on top of sand? ...  Would I need to alter the process at all to work with a sandy base? The drainage will be extremely good but I'm worried that this will result in water and nutrients leaching out of the beds sooner.
Thanks for your help.


Probably this will work on top of sand. Just add a thick enough layer of topsoil / compost, and wood, branches, etc. on the sand. Maybe some of your plants will stretch their roots to, and even in, the sand. So slowly they'll ameliorate your soil!
My garden has a very sandy base too. And I even build 'hugelkultur'-beds on top of pavement!
 
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My soil is clay, not sand, but because we are in a drought the ability to hold water was vital this year to reduce the need for constant watering. The soil that held water the best was about 50% soil and 50% weeds: where the weeds were badly mixed with the soil the weeds got soggy enough to make problems with the roots of the plants.

If rotting weeds hold water that well, perhaps they could hold water in your sandy soil as well. But, you might try mixing them in better instead of just dropping them in the way that I sometimes did. I had no problems with the parts that were better mixed in with the soil
 
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Here's an updated photo.

I'm watering it with about a litre of water in the centre bin about twice a week.  Most of the plants there are started as transplants, so they got a bit of water when they went in.

Not bad results for so little water.  
IMG_3065.JPG
keyhole in july
keyhole in july
 
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Just looking at the weaving has me on-board I have to do at least one of those.
 
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At the moment, our issue is not summer drought, but unusually cold temperatures and snow for ~4 weeks now. There is still snow in the north shadow of my ARK2 bed, but despite that, there are still some things alive and growing!
ARK2-2019-purple-sprouting-brocoli.JPG
The broccoli *insists* spring is here!
The broccoli *insists* spring is here!
ARK2-unidentified-volunteer-2019.JPG
Whatever this plant is, it seems to come up in the spring and then die back.
Whatever this plant is, it seems to come up in the spring and then die back.
 
r ranson
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Some pictures from overwintering.
IMG_6396.JPG
In the snow
In the snow
IMG_0576.JPG
End of March - I put the pot over Good King Henry to blanch it in hopes that it might be tasty that way
End of March - I put the pot over Good King Henry to blanch it in hopes that it might be tasty that way
 
r ranson
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early spring 2020
stock-apr-2020-67.jpg
early spring 2020
early spring 2020
 
r ranson
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I'm leaning towards small perennials for this garden with the theory that they have deeper roots.  To that end, I planted strawberries.

But they needed water, so I took my dye adventures outside and let the wool drip dry above the transplants.

 
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r ranson wrote:I'm leaning towards small perennials for this garden with the theory that they have deeper roots.  To that end, I planted strawberries.

But they needed water, so I took my dye adventures outside and let the wool drip dry above the transplants.



I was thinking something similar for my keyhole, regarding the perennials, such as a perennial herb garden with some annuals like basil thrown in. I didn't think about strawberries, but could definitely see that working well... Especially if you live in a climate where they really thrive & need to be contained.
Looking forward to the future updates!
 
Jay Angler
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My ARK2 bed has been overgrown with last year's leaf cabbage and kale which I've been gradually cutting back and feeding to the ducks. I like to let some of it bloom for the bees, who have been visiting. I had some mouse visitors who were digging tunnels, but I think I've managed to relocate them. When checking things earlier this week, I discovered there were potatoes growing. Huh? I have *no* recollection of tossing some little potatoes in, but they're too evenly spaced to be accidental! Since I've already had to plant some extra tomatoes on the south side, I'm not sure I won't have to chop the taters down eventually, but for now I needed to top up the soil in that area so I did so around the new growth this evening. I was planning to plant bush beans this year, so we'll see how things progress. The "compost" side of things is improving - I can actually see areas where there's soil-like stuff, some of which I dug out and used to fill in a gap in the bed itself. I think the bed itself would work better if I had some animals in the area so I had an excuse to dump their soiled water-bucket into the center compost. That may happen, but would require some fencing and a gate and I'm not convinced I'll get that far.
ARK2-Apr-2020-new-tomato-plants.jpg
[Thumbnail for ARK2-Apr-2020-new-tomato-plants.jpg]
 
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I like the concept. I too wish to be irrigation free if possible. I have done allot of research on biochar and have started making my own. I have been incorporating it into my beds with new plantings and into new beds from the get go. Fortunately my drought season isn't near as bad as yours. You might want to take a look at biochar. It is fairly easy to make and has many benefits outside of water holding capacity.
 
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r ranson wrote:I'm on a well and there have been a lot of housing    ............

I call our farm experimental because we are trying lots of different methods to see what works in our changing climate.  Some things like air wells have been a massive success.  




I know that this is a very old post oh, but I stumbled across this mention of Airwells in your replies.

Can you please tell me more about this if you are still active here on these forums? I found out about are Wills years ago but finding any real information on them as well as dewpondd is difficult.  I think air wells are worse because there's some air conditioning companies using the name. It's very difficult to find more than a couple of references to them and even less on the actual construction of them.
Are there actually modern constructed airwells being used in western Canada?.  Where can I find out more information about how they were done?

Thank you, I know this is an old post and I'm probably just creating a zombie thread. But I would really like to know more.
 
r ranson
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Airwells are a great tool on the farm.  I use a much simpler method than most, making a pile of rocks at least a foot high, at the base of any trees I transplant.  It has a 90% success rate of surviving the summer without water as opposed to my 5% success rate without.  
 
r ranson
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r ranson wrote:Airwells are a great tool on the farm.  I use a much simpler method than most, making a pile of rocks at least a foot high, at the base of any trees I transplant.  It has a 90% success rate of surviving the summer without water as opposed to my 5% success rate without.  



I should mention that these survival rates are at about 400 trees without airwells and 200 with airwells over 10+ years.

Of course, they do better with water.  But water is a limited resource in the dry season.  
 
Nancy Graven
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r ranson wrote:Airwells are a great tool on the farm.  I use a much simpler method than most, making a pile of rocks at least a foot high, at the base of any trees I transplant.  It has a 90% success rate of surviving the summer without water as opposed to my 5% success rate without.  



Oh, thank you for the reply! I wasn't sure if there would be an answer. I have heard of the 'pile of rocks' airwell. What I was interested in was the ones that were a little more constructed and actually produce water that either feeds into a well or cistern. I was toying with the concept of an airwell keeping a small decorative pond topped off.

Do you know of any sources for information about more constructed airwells? I have found it difficult to find anything.

 
r ranson
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This might be a starting place https://permies.com/t/airwell

I saw a lot of reference in the medieval literature when I was at university.  Some amazing builds with very simple tech and local materials.  But Alas, I don't have access to those papers anymore.  
 
r ranson
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It's been five years, near enough, and I'm finally ready to plant some trees in that patch.  But first, I want to dissect the garden and see how it lasted.  Did the wood rot?  Did the wattles hold up?  Did all the soil fall out of the woven sides?  Did the wattle walls let too much moisture out?  What about the compost bin?

To this, I give you the answers in the form of a video:

 
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Okay here is a concept which I think few issues could be combined.  Here is one design of a keyhole garden https://www.engledow.com/green-scene/2013/12/how-to-create-a-keyhole-garden/    .    What I think we are over looking is combining this gardening method as a source for biogas energy.  Here is a very science based report which I haven't completely read https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/biogas-digester   .    Here is a few more resources for biogas methods https://biogas.ifas.ufl.edu/digesters.asp      and    https://www.instructables.com/Biogas-Digester/   and  https://www.treehugger.com/make-your-own-diy-biogas-digester-4858616    I think thee should be away to unite these method maybe even thermal energy and give homesteaders and the rest of us a few new safe methods to generate energy.   Here are a few ideas https://www.treehugger.com/surprisingly-easy-sources-of-alternative-energy-4869216   We just have to think of the links the methods exist.
 
Jay Angler
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Sandra Gill wrote:

What I think we are over looking is combining this gardening method as a source for biogas energy.  

I notice that your profile identifies you as living in San Antonio, Texas.  A quick google found this site: https://weatherspark.com/y/7137/Average-Weather-in-San-Antonio-Texas-United-States-Year-Round
which describes your weather as "warm" to "sweltering" for over 7 months of the year. That is a great location to be working on pretty much any of the biogas systems I've read about. Combining them with a raised keyhole bed may well help to insulate your generator from both the cooler temps in the winter, and the hottest temps in the summer.

However, for the record, I will point out that R Ranson's profile identifies her as living in Canada. I have read of some people in England producing biogas, and their climate is similar, however, they had to use a percentage of their produced gas to heat their gas generator because this was the only way they cold keep it warm enough. Enclosing in a greenhouse for warmth requires extremely good sensor systems in case there's a leak.

There was a suggestion of using human sewage to do something like this on a semi-industrial basis near where I live, but NIMBY didn't like it, and they wanted to do this on farmland and we couldn't convince them that the micro-organisms involved were farm animals. Don't know why - healthy farms *run* on microbes. We contain chickens in barns, much to their detriment, so why not contain microbes in reaction vessels?

Permies has a whole forum on alternative, renewable, sustainable power generation here: https://permies.com/c/7
I'd love to see you develop and experiment with this concept and post your approach in a thread there. Please make sure you post all of successes, problems and failures (if they happen) so that we can build on that knowledge and find better ways to meet our energy needs. I do know of people generating hot water through the power of composting - but you need a *really* big pile and it has to be a climate where the microbes don't hibernate. I have dug out small compost piles that were covered with a foot of snow and found a worm orgy happening just underneath the top layer of compost, so there's heat there!
 
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Hi R Ranson, lovely wattle work! Wanting to do a similar thing only as a long rectangle shape as I will be using leftover thin strips from milling logs. They do not bend as willows do and some are short and will need to be overlapped or doubled up somehow. A suggestion for a cover on your compost bed - what I do for my compost pile - lay cardboard on top and cover that with clear plastic if necessary to conserve more moisture during hot dry weather. Remove the plastic to allow rain or not (if pile too wet). You don't have to use plastic as several layers of cardboard will still do the job. Easy to remove the cardboard to add more compost. It keeps the bed cool also which the worms/sow bugs appreciate. The cardboard eventually deteriorates, but holds up amazingly well even if it gets wet and dries out. It goes from soggy to stiff, but still works as long as not touched when really soggy. I've found things growing under the cardboard also - like mushrooms and some pits that sprouted.  You can cut the cardboard to the shape needed or tape together pieces or just overlap it. I also use cardboard to line the inside of my compost bins which are made of pallets standing end to end with metal T-posts or pipe holding them up and wired together if necessary. The cardboard has lasted for several years now even full of compost/soil. The very bottom of the bins are starting to 'leak' through but I hope to move the compost out soon and redo the sides with fresh cardboard.
 
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Don't call me an expert. An EX is a has been and a sPERT is a drip under pressure. And there are no failure, just learning experience. Some of us just take more of those experiences to learn
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Saralee Couchoud wrote:Don't call me an expert. An EX is a has been and a sPERT is a drip under pressure. And there are no failure, just learning experience. Some of us just take more of those experiences to learn


When I read this, I get the impression that the word 'expert' has something to do with 'experience' ....
 
Saralee Couchoud
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Please excuse my humor
 
r ranson
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a little treat for you

 
Acetylsalicylic acid is aspirin. This could be handy too:
Tour of Wheaton Labs, the Movie! - now available!
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