Keyhole Gardening – The What’s, the How’s the Where’s, the Do’s and the Don’ts!

Permaculture design advocates for the maximum utilisation of space, for efficient and intelligent ecological design that benefits the land and all living beings. One such methodology of design that is a heavily used example of Social Permaculture & design is the Keyhole Bed.

The Keyhole Bed is an efficient circular design that is a climate-savvy, space saving, nutrient-recycling and waste-upcycling method. It is used in inner city suburbia and in small-homesteads, but has origins in rural Lesotho, of sub-saharan Southern Africa, where the weather is hot and nutritional abundance can be lacking as a result of drought and poor-soil conditions.


As I travelled across my own country and around the world I found a few manifestations of the keyhole design (a testament to its versatility!). Many argue the source of the inspiration of the Keyhole Bed, but most point back to the Basotho culture of Lesotho where the design is said to be influenced by their proudly worn, enigmatic attire, specifically the triangular Lesotho hat.

Beautiful hats for sell in South Africa.

Farmers are often found wrapped in mysterious folds of blanket with said woven hats dipping low over their eyes. This protective outfit can be seen as a source of inspiration for the enclosed and insulated design of a Keyhole Bed. Do yourself a favour and adopt the design in a hot climate! It reduces the effect of heat and maximises energy and thus productivity!

Effectively, the design is quite straight forward, however it is always advised to ‘Observe’ and then ‘Interact’ / implement.

FIRST find a suitable site by applying permaculture design methods. What hemisphere do you live in? What elements on your property will cast shade or expose your keyhole bed to sunlight? Where have you placed the entrance to your bed? Think about accessibility as much as placement.

NEXT consolidate all of your material.

The Walls: Think about the construction of a Herb Spiral. Any medium can be used to construct the walls of your keyhole bed. Examples extend from thickly woven, wooden beds (a great way to utilise all that wood from clearing alien vegetation) to stacking large river stones or cinder blocks!

The Core: Essentially, this is your ‘compost bin’ where you can insert any meshed material that will keep the cylindrical shape. Place medium sized stones at the bottom of the ‘bin’ for drainage and layer accordingly. This ‘core’ will feed your keyhole bed continuously.

The Inner Layer: This is the area in which your plants will grow and flourish. Therefore it is important to give extra care to the nutrient layers here. For drainage build your first layer with twigs, sticks and other hardy debris. Then, much like a raised bed garden (except a few layers higher) , build up your ‘inner layer’ with soil (earth) , manure, ash and other beneficial organic matter. For increased structural support you can make small twig & stick layers throughout your keyhole. And don’t forget to mulch nice and heavily!

Keyhold Gardening 02


Orientate yourself! Where will your keyhole garden get the most sun? Are you going to plant shade loving plants? Place your keyhole garden close to the back door of your kitchen where you can easily access it. Where will you be drawing water from? If you’ll be using greywater, think about placing your keyhole closer to an outlet.


Constantly fill up the compost pit in the centre!

Mulch your bed continuously!


Don’t over water, the keyhole bed is meant to conserve energy and resources!

Tell Me Why, Again?

In the hotter climates of our planet, soil erosion and drought contribute largely to food shortages. By applying small-scale farming methodologies that have a regenerative approach to waste management and food production, we can contribute to our well-being. Keyhole beds allow for the production of perennial vegetation with the strong nutrient density and height made available. In and amongst this veg we can grow annuals that not only fix the soil but also increase the potential yield of your keyhole bed.

Watch this quick video for an easy run down of the steps:


  1. Would you please post any photos or videos of existing keyhole beds or their construction stages?

    From the description, I couldn’t understand how the compost bin in the middle feeds the plantation bed around it…

    Thank you for all your hard work!

    1. I couldn’t find photos of my keyhole garden in Texas, but I can tell you how mine worked. I made a column of chicken wire to hold the compost, and set it in the middle. I dropped compostable materials into the column. The column is also where you should water your garden. (I did water the soil when the plants were very young). You should mound the soil up toward the center column so the center soil level is about a foot higher than the perimeter. Whatever material you use to fashion the compost column should be open enough to allow water and nutrients to flow through. Roots of your plants will grow toward the center where the moisture and nutrients are. Do mulch. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button