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Keyhole Garden: Feeding the Soil

September 13, 2010

If you are interested in how we created this keyhole garden, please read the post Keyhole Garden: Making the Bed.  After we formed the shape of the garden bed it was time to improve the health of the soil.  

According to Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture, the key to creating a garden “that’s bursting with healthy plants, well-balanced insects, and thriving wildlife” is to increase the life in the soil.  Healthy soil is teaming with life; bacteria, fungi, amoebas, worms, millipedes, spiders, and so much more.  All of this soil life is actively working to break down organic matter into nutrients that are more usable by plants.  Gardeners who focus on “feeding” the soil with compost and organic matter have little need for added fertilizer, as the soil life transforms these materials to nutrients for plants.  Read this Soil Biology Primer to learn more about the fascinating world of soil organisms.   

Sheet mulching (very similar to Lasagna Gardening) is one way to create healthy soil by adding tons of organic matter.  This method fundamentally consists of two layer:

  1. A weed-suppressing layer of newspaper or cardboard
  2. A One foot deep layer of organic matter (straw, spoiled hay, leaves, yard waste, grass clippings, wood shavings, as well as compost and well composted manure, if you have it)

This process can become more elaborate as you can choose to have multiple layers, as with Toby Hemenway’s “Ultimate, Bombproof Sheet Mulch“.  But if you remember these two steps you can develop your own mulching style. 

I like to mulch my garden beds in the fall so that by the following spring all of the organic material is broken down and a well composted soil remains, ready for seeds or seedlings.  How we mulched the keyhole garden:

Mulching the Paths

  1. Cardboard- for weed suppression
  2. Wood chips- for weed suppression and to secure cardboard

Mulching the Garden Bed

  1. Newspaper- for weed suppression
  2. Straw- organic matter
  3. Compost- organic matter
  4. Leaf mulch- weed suppressant and for added organic matter

*NOTE* Add water to each layer, this will help to hold the layers in place while also providing water to help kick start soil life activity. 

*NOTE* Compost and Leaf Mulch were purchased from AgRecycle.  Please review our Garden Resources for local sources of compost and mulch. 

Please check out the slide show below to see how we mulched the keyhole garden!  

 Sheet Mulching: Step by Step! 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2010 3:43 am

    A good post…I enjoyed reading this, nice layout and clear info!

  2. September 29, 2010 10:17 am

    Thanks so much Colette! Glad that you enjoyed it. We hope that you continue to visit Porchside Gardening!

  3. Jennifer permalink
    January 9, 2011 9:55 am

    I love this idea and want to try to implement this in my own backyard. Would springtime (after last frost) be too late to start the layout and begin planting?

    • February 28, 2011 11:21 am

      Hi Jennifer – Spring is not too late. The garden we constructed was actually developed in mid-summer. Spring would be a great time to get started.

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