This summer I experimented growing tomatoes in an African keyhole garden kit by Vita Gardens. I now have an abundance of ripening tomatoes and that was the goal! It’s been an enjoyable process, but with any new garden technique there’s always a learning curve. It’s the intrigue of learning new methods that keeps me growing each season. Gardening is many things, but it’s never boring.
I’m now hooked on this gardening method and will continue growing this way. I may even expand my approach next season. This kit is just one type of keyhole garden. There are several ways to create a keyhole garden using various materials. If you’ve never grown the keyhole way, it’s a process well worth looking into.
Here’s what I’ve learned about gardening the African Keyhole Garden way…
What Worked – African Keyhole Garden Kit
More space to grow in with less effort
This is the number one reason why I love the keyhole method. I planted 10 tomatoes, 8 spicy peppers and 10 basil in my 6′ x 6′ garden. Planting the traditional method would have taken twice that space and double the effort to prepare. If you plan to keyhole, load it up with plants!
Reduces wildlife/animal issues
My keyhole garden is 24″ tall which makes it completely out of rabbit reach, a huge plus for me. I also don’t have to worry about my dog or any neighborhood cats getting into my veggies. Luckily, I don’t have deer or squirrel problems. However, if you do have those problems, it would be easy to put a mesh cover over the garden. You’d need to think about this in advance though and put stakes in the four corners before adding the layers of growing material, but this garden is a plus in reducing wildlife interference.
Effective use of kitchen and garden waste
The garden basket for this bed is extremely large which is a plus. Initially I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to keep it filled. But my family eats more
vegetables and fruit than I had initially thought! I also throw in non-diseased scraps from other areas in my vegetable garden. It’s working out well. When I first saw the basket I was also concerned the grackles and other scavenger birds might pick out of it and use the natural waste for nest building material. I placed a piece of cardboard over the opening to prevent this from happening. I’m not sure if I really needed to do that, but it did alleviate my concerns.
Well, I guess I lied earlier because actually the NO WEEDING is my favorite part of this bed. Weeding is my least favorite part of gardening, but worse than weeding is using a ton of pesticides to control the weeds. No pesticides were needed or EVER applied in this garden. Win-Win.
Naturally Improved Plant Health
Overall, this is one of the healthiest gardens I’ve ever grown. The layering of green materials and compost/soil gave the garden a healthy balance from the beginning. Then a continuous feeding of natural materials added to the garden basket is keeping the garden actively nourished throughout the season. While I’ve needed to add additional organic fertilizers to other areas of my vegetable garden, I haven’t needed to add any additional fertilizer to this garden.
Areas to Improve – African Keyhole Garden Kit
I’ve yet to find a perfect product and there are two areas that I was disappointed about with my kit.
No Sample Gardens Plans Included
This is a brand new growing technique for me, I wanted to know as much about it as I could before starting. The kit included a nice chart for layering the garden and also decent directions for putting the garden together. The Vita Gardens website also has a very cool video I watched to better understand the keyhole growing concept. But, I really would have liked more specifics regarding which vegetables work well in this type of garden, along with spacing requirements and companion planting guides. Now that I’ve used the garden for a season, I have more ideas of how I can better utilize the space next year. But as a brand new keyhole grower, a few sample garden plans would have been very helpful and boosted my confidence when I first started.
Required Some Re-drilling
If there is a downfall to this product, it’s in the placement of the screw holes on the wall board slats. They’re too close to the end edge of the slat. We (actually my husband) needed to move them to the left and re-drill. If you’re handy with a drill, no problem. It was a fairly easy fix. Honestly, I like the garden so much that I wouldn’t let this stop anyone from purchasing it. It’s just good to be aware of beforehand. You’ll need a basic drill to put this garden together.
What I Will Do Differently
Half the fun of gardening is doing it differently the next time. I’ve already started planning next season’s keyhole garden and this is what I will change…
Be Prepared with Green Material
If I were to install another keyhole garden, a Vita Garden or other type, I would first make sure I had ALL of the layering materials I needed at hand. I seriously underestimated the amount of green material it would require. The Vita Gardens directions clearly listed 6 inches of green material needed. I just didn’t realize how much that was! We ended up using greens from our yard and also several unoccupied lots in our neighborhood. It worked out fine, but know in advance that it takes a large amount of green waste to get started.
Use Compost Not Soil
I would also only use compost and not soil. The Vita Gardens directions say to use soil, but other keyhole experts recommend compost only for better drainage and nutrition. My only experience thus far is growing tomatoes in this bed, but if I had a do-over I would use only compost. I think compost provides better drainage and additional nutrients to get the garden started.
One benefit of a keyhole garden is that it’s water-wise. However, this gardening season water wasn’t a problem in my area of the country. Typically, we’ll have a wet spring and dry summer. But this season we’ve had rain all summer long. Rather than retaining water, I needed the keyhole to drain well. This will be an on-going challenge for me as a garden….some wet seasons vs. some dry seasons. I think using compost only as a base seems to be a better choice. Again, not a deal breaker, and this is only my opinion. Your experience may be different. But next season I will refill with compost rather than a compost/soil mix.
The other area I would change is that I would stake my tomatoes. I made my decision to not stake my tomatoes based on the recommendation of a known keyhole expert. However, due to all the rain and high humidity staking would have benefited my tomatoes by supplying additional air circulation and again drainage. I’m losing a few to blossom rot which is a water-management issue and disappointing.
Plant A Greater Variety
I also will plant a much greater variety of vegetables in my keyhole garden. It’s HUGE and that’s great. I think planting vegetables of various heights would help with air circulation which is needed in the high humidity I grow in. This winter I’ll enjoy planning a garden of various veggies and maybe even a few berries. I think it will look awesome as well!
Why I like Vita Gardens
I’m so glad that I’ve been able to grow in a Vita Gardens product. It’s sturdy, dependable, and easy to use. It’s made with a food-grade, BPA free Polymer Extrusion and has a 20 year warranty. It’s a durable product that I believe will stand the test of time. I know I’ll be growing in mine for many seasons to come.
Vita Gardens has an incredible line of innovative products geared to help people garden. In addition to the space-saving, water-wise, organic keyhole garden, they also offer a number of raised beds including wheelchair accessible beds and products created specifically for the urban gardener.
Rwanda ~ A Commitment to Their Community
Vita Gardens is serious about helping people grow their own food. For every four African Keyhole Garden purchased, they are building one in Rwanda. Eddie Dejong of Vita Gardens is making this happen. He’s chronicling his journey on the company’s blog. You can read his adventures of making a garden from mud bricks, helping an elderly gentleman see, and creating a garden for a woman marked by tragedy. But mainly you should know that this company makes good on its promises. They are reaching out and helping those who need it most.
Would I purchase this product?
Yes. I’m already planning next seasons garden! Since I’ve already experimented with tomatoes, I will try something else. Can’t wait.
Would I try other Vita Garden product?
Definitely. They have some great small-space gardens already in their product line. But I admit….I’m wondering what they will come up with next?
More Than Oregano
Spicing UP The Garden Life!
I thought I’d post my morning’s harvest….first tomatoes of the season and first-ever from my African keyhole garden. Success!! (Yes, we gardeners get a wee-bit excited about our tomatoes!!) Happy growing!Share With Others....