Keyhole garden for strawberries?

diggity_ma(5 MA)January 31, 2014

I'm thinking about making a keyhole garden for my strawberries. Anybody have any experience with this, or with keyholes in general? I have some old concrete retaining wall blocks which I'm thinking would be perfect for this.

I've seen some rather remarkable claims about yield in keyhole gardens. Just wondering if the same production could be expected from strawberries in a keyhole?

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This gardening style is very new to me and I've never seen one before but from the googled images, the idea is worth trying. I think the main selling point is 'ease of access'

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 1:28AM
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Campanula UK Z8

Looks like a lot of faffing about for what is basically a raised bed??? Am not even slightly impressed with images of ones built with loosely stacked bricks (as a landscaper, this concept is laughable)......might be brilliant in Africa but looks like yet another garden fad to me.

However, I suppose you could make a nice decorative feature but yields have nothing to do with shape and everything to do with water, nutrients and light, genetics and (at a push) drainage....

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 9:30AM
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I think the reason keyhole gardens are different than just raised beds is they incorporate composting right into the bed as a form of fertilization, and also utilize principals from lasagna gardening, plus there's an emphasis on mulching as well. I say try it if you want to, maybe try your strawberries on one side & maybe some seasonal veggies on the other?

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 10:49AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

From all I have read about them the primary benefits - aside from the incorporated compost which is easy to do normally - is water conservation for use in exceptionally hot and dry climates.

I can't see any benefit to one in your zone 5. Is it the appearance that appeals to you or what?


    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 11:38AM
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diggity_ma(5 MA)

Dave, yes, the appearance is definitely one of the main reasons I'd want to do it. I'm reconfiguring my potager garden this year and I think a keyhole strawberry garden would be a nice feature right smack dab in the middle.

It sounds like it would be a good environment for strawberries as they would be protected from bunnies and slugs and probably receive a little bit more air circulation to help ward off diseases. I guess I'm just wondering about the nutrient transport capabilities. In other words, can plants at the periphery of the bed really get access to nutrients as they are released by the decomposing material in the center? I know how it's supposed to work - worms and other soil biota breaking down OM and moving it around in the bed. I'm just wondering how well it works in practice. I'm also not sure how densely strawberries can be planted in such a system?


    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 12:45PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I can see how a well built one could fit in very well in a potager garden format. Some of the pics are quite attractive.

And from all the photos I have seen, those built with a high center that slopes down to the sides would seem to be more effective than those that are flat. Hard to say how much slope. Proportional to the height of course, perhaps 30 degrees or so.

Even in regular flat gardens with compost bins in the corners I get some sure signs of localized benefits - less watering, bigger plants. But it is very localized - say a 1-2 foot wide circle around the bin.

So if the bed was flat it would have to be fairly small diameter - proportional to the diameter of the compost bin. Where the high-center bins that slope would diffuse more out into the lower soil. I think the strawberry plants would also benefit from a mild sloped planting.

You'd also have to keep the level of the pile in the compost bin quite a bit higher than the height of the surrounding bed.

I assume that at season's end all the compost in the center is distributed by hand or tool out into the bed itself? If so then you get that benefit for the following season.

Make sense?

How densely planted? Everbearing or June bearing? they have different spacing. And of course you'd want to leave room to root at least 1/3 of the runners from each plant around it.


PS: if you decide to do one give us pics and results updates, ok?

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 4:16PM
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I just learned something new, thanks! I've never heard of the keyhole garden. Very interesting concept. I'd really like to see pictures and hear results once you get going. Good luck!


    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 8:49PM
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diggity_ma(5 MA)

Dave, you betcha, if I go ahead with this I will certainly take pictures. Good thoughts on the importance of an adequate slope. I hadn't really thought about how much of a slope to give it, so I'm glad you mentioned it. It also occurs to me that a bed with a steeper slope would have more surface area (at least a little bit more), so theoretically I could pack a few more plants in there and maybe harvest a few more berries.

I'm looking forward to this, as I have a few of those new "Purple Wonder" strawberries which I'd like to transplant into a place of honor in the keyhole bed. I bought a single plant last year, which cost me over $20 with shipping! For one plant! I coddled it all summer long and let it send out lots of runners, so I should have several babies to transplant this spring. Looking forward to actually tasting one this year!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 3:22PM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

I've tried it two years in a row now...FAIL! I used large 24" drainage pipe (3 1/2'tall) and cut 3" holes every so often. Then I tucked the berry plants in the holes as I filled up the pipe with potting mix. The first year I ran some drip irrigation through the middle of the pipe. It didn't soak through the soil tho, just made a bee-line for the bottom and all dripped away. Last year I fashioned a sprinkler head to the top of the pipe...didn't work either. The water soaks the foliage but not the soil. The key-hole idea might work if you can solve the watering problem. But my strawberries like lots of water...and yet, they like good drainage too, so I wasn't able to meet their needs. I'm using my pipe for a tall standing display of moss roses (portulaca) this year. A few volunteers sprouted with my berries and grew I know they will like the set up.

Since you're thinking of the raised block method, maybe regular watering will work for you. Watch out for how vigorous strawberries can grow those runners tho....I have a feeling they will be like granddaddy spider legs everywhere.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 8:11PM
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diggity_ma(5 MA)

Yeah, I have one of those strawberry planters which is pretty similar to your drainage pipe idea. It didn't work so well for strawberries for me either. For the past few years it has been planted with petunias, which seem to like it just fine.

I'm with 'ya about the runners. They can be a real pain to manage sometimes. But I'm hoping the elevated keyhole bed will help here too, since the runners will be easier to spot. Maybe. ;-)

    Bookmark   February 11, 2014 at 8:29AM
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