Introduction: Art Deco Keyhole Garden

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Recycling damaged glass blocks to create a composting keyhole garden is the latest structure in my permaculture farm.

Typically, a keyhole garden is a type of raised bed, which utilizes space very efficiently, and as an added feature also has a composting tower at its center. The idea behind this is as water is poured or rained on top of the compost tower it filters through and enters the adjacent soil, hydrating it as well as fertilizing.

I knew I wanted to create a keyhole garden so looked online for various ideas of how others had created them. Most examples I found used concrete blocks, bricks, or even purchased pavers. I didn't want to use the concrete blocks that we had as I don't like the look of them. We didn't have enough red bricks, which would have looked nice, but we did have a full pallet of unused/discarded glass blocks. Some were chipped or slightly damaged, many were just fine, and really, for this project it didn't matter.

Why not? No one else has ever done this, and my specialty is doing just that sort of thing, hence the "Art Deco Keyhole Garden" was born.

: D : D

Read on to see how it came together!

Step 1: Defining the Space, and Gathering the Building Blocks

I roughly cleared out an area in my garden to be a 6' circle. It is slightly on an incline, so I leveled it out a bit.

This is the pallet of glass blocks. These are serious bricks, heavy, 8" x 8".

Their current location was down in the forest area, so I needed a compact way to transport them through, up two hills, around some sharp corners, then through a narrow path into my garden area. I devised an idea to create a makeshift trolley using a dolly and igloo cooler, with the help of some strapping. It worked nicely! I worked out my fingers, wrist and forearms, grasping a glass block in each hand and carrying for 25', then pushed it along through prior mentioned pathways, working my calves and thighs ... a great each-and-every-morning workout!

The beginnings of my circular outline. The chickens are always helping/supervising. This one is Lefty. She is my Special Friend. Her name is Lefty because she has this beautiful pompadour that hangs over to the left. I take her for long walks in my Left arm, as only her right eye is available to gaze at me, her Best Friend.... and Food Provider.

: )

Step 2: The Composting Tower and Cementing of Blocks

I set some wire fencing into the circle to help me define the center and create my perimeter. The diameter of the tower is approximately 16", and 24" in height.

I lined the bottom with biggish rocks. I guess this is for drainage. I didn't really recess the tower into the dirt.

Now I was ready to start stacking rows of glass blocks. I thought that silicone would be the best option.(It worked like a charm!)

I was slightly concerned about levelness, but wasn't going to let that hinder my progress. Squeezing that stuff on generously, providing a thick cushion, totally made that a non-issue. Yes, I probably used more than one would if everything were perfectly level, but this is a structure in nature that will shift and move... it worked out really nicely.

My method was to squeeze a bunch on some blocks, then meander up the narrow pathway with my ghetto Carrier, down the steep hill, around the bend, traversing though the ducks(who always just happen to be in a place that I need to get through, and hence "disturbing' their little peace), taking a sharp right turn, down another hill, smelling the Hops and saying hi to any and all other farm creatures that I happen upon along my journey into the forest... for man-made glass blocks(sounds odd, eh?)

And then reverse direction with a full load, landing at my destination with the silicone in a perfect state, ready to accept the slightly, askew-placed glass blocks like they were meant to be there.

Step 3: Filling Up the Compost Tower and Finishing the Walls, Oops, Got a Boo Boo!

I alternated brown and green stuff from wherever I could. Just went for lots of variety: stinging nettle, leaves, mint, weeds, whatever.. no dirt, this isn't that kind of complete compost system.

The third image is after a day or two... it just compressed on its own, probably from a combo of settling and maybe a rainfall or two.

And then it occurred to me: Why do I need a "key hole path"(hence the moniker, Keyhole Garden) when this is actually a small circle and I can access everything by only slightly bending over?

Whew!! This eliminated the further step of having to wall off a separate pathway, which would have required extra bricks and silicone, fer sure.

(fourth pic)For the most part, the glass blocks that I used were in decent condition, but apparently one had a sharp edge from being broken that I didn't notice at the time. Minor boo boo, and I just used Nature's band-aid, Plantains, to wrap it up throughout the rest of my building the circle.

So.... I just completed the circle and it was done.

"Crap", I thought, "Can I still call this a Keyhole Garden?"

Lefty said it was okay, and I like whatever she says.

Step 4: Time for Fill!

We have lots of mulch as we have a big plywood sign out on the street advertising as such that we'd like some. Generally the gifts come from the Asplundt guys, who curate all the areas around the power lines.

I dumped 3 barrow-fulls into the garden. Fortunately the mulch was a little closer to my site. : )

I then situated myself at the former pig pen. When our Precious Piggies are Pink Piglets, they hang out here, for 3 weeks. They forage and poop and stomp and well, this stuff is almost immediately usable. Not too hot like chicken poo-poo, and not as cool as rabbit turd(which I also have as available), so it is an awesome medium for free "black gold".

I made quite a few trips. This wasn't as close-by as the mulch but not as far as as the Forest of Glass Blocks. I also supplemented with some dirt from an area where chickens inhabited about 5 years ago. The soil is soft and consistent and probably rich.

Step 5: Planting!

I had some kitchen herbs that I had purchased several weeks ago at a nursery. I usually like to plant everything from seed, but I was doing an experiment with a burlap hanging garden that I made.

The second image shows the garden seeds that I sprinkled over the dirt after I transplanted the herbs. They are all salad-type stuff that are also companion plants.

I like to let the ducks and chickens wander wherever they like to, so I do have to protect my plantings with fencing. I circled the perimeter with rigid wire fencing.

I then laid some (nylon) deer fencing on top and secured with old shower curtain clips. These are a good choice as I want to be able to remove the roof fencing at will to do what I need to tend to the garden.

The final result, with another of my cute chickens at bay.

I will update periodically with growth photos and any improvements or ideas along the way.

Thanks for looking and reading, and hope this inspired you to also build a mini-version of a traditional Keyhole Garden!

~ Cynthia

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