Our Keyhole Vegetable Bed: What Worked and What Didn’t Work

keyhole garden bed

This is what our keyhole bed looked like yesterday just before I fed the remaining vegetables to our chickens and the compost pile. Ignore the large pot–that’s a future solar powered fountain that will be incorporated in a new vegetable garden we’re working on.


Here’s what the keyhole bed looked like just after I installed it back in October. Note the compost repository in the center of the bed. I used straw wattle (available where professional irrigation supplies are sold) to form the sides of the keyhole.


A month later in November a few seedlings were popping up. I had to robustify the skunk barrier (made out of bird netting) after repeated skunk raids.

What worked:

  • The compost decomposed nicely and seemed to attract insect life.
  • Stuff grew.

What didn’t work:

  • I didn’t make the bed high enough–more height may have helped prevent skunk incursions.
  • The compost bin in the center of the bed should have been sturdier. Skunks got into it eventually.
  • The cheap bagged soil I bought had a lot of wood chips in it. Brassicas did fine but other veggies did not appreciate the high carbon content of the bagged soil. It would have been better to make my own soil with high quality compost, but I was in a hurry.

Clover in the keyhole bed did well and produced some pretty spring flowers.

Despite my mistakes, I heartily endorse the keyhole bed concept. I’d just make the sides higher and take more time putting the bed together. My neighbor Anne Hars layed her keyhole bed out more carefully and, as a result, it was more productive and more aesthetically pleasing. Part of the problem for us is that the keyhole shape, from a design perspective, didn’t work in the space we put it in. We’ll blog about the new veggie garden we’re putting together where the keyhole bed used to be in future blog posts.

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    • When we had our two foot tall beds we had fewer skunk problems–but we’ll see–they do seem more persistent lately. Relocation may be an option!

  1. I try to buy organic compost and soil amendment, and I’m always disappointed at how woody the contents are. This always causes a huge roly poly population explosion in my yard, and then they go after my tender vege. Or was it the earwigs.. both seem to appear in large numbers when carbon materials are present. Bah!

  2. Wattle has worked well but i wish i had put stakes around it to prevent the circle from widening. It is a foot wider all around and is losing its compact shape. I went with 2 layers of wattle and wish now i had a third one. the wattle sides are incredibly comfortable to kneel on while tending the garden but it does end up compressing. my conclusion is that it would be great to add another layer every other season and that initially i should have staked it.

    • Thanks for the feedback Anne–ours also could have used some staking and heightening. I did find a lot of worms under it–a good sign.

  3. I haven’t heard of composting in the middle of a keyhole, that a great idea! I am curious as to what materials you used and what size it is (worm-compost size or more self-contained size?). If there is an original post about the construction please point me to it, my cursory search was unsuccessful.

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