A Key to Sustainability

Keyhole Gardening a New Buzzword for the Industry
March 01, 2016
Written by Eddie DeJong
Eddie DeJong of Vita Gardens helped create 10 keyhole gardens in Kigali, Rwanda.
Eddie DeJong of Vita Gardens helped create 10 keyhole gardens in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo courtesy Esther Havens Photography
March 2016 — Teach a village how to garden and it will prosper for a lifetime. That’s our aim at Vita Gardens.

Based in Sarnia, in southwestern Ontario, we work to bring life to all through innovative garden technology. Inspiring people to grow healthy food through unique and responsibly designed raised bed gardens is our mission.

Keyhole gardening is one of those buzzwords that seems to be taking over the industry. The keyhole gardening method was developed in Africa as a way to grow food in severe drought and extreme heat. It works by creating one raised bed for both growing and composting and uses up to 80 per cent less water than conventional gardening beds.

To us, it was an idea that seemed too good to be true. How could one compact unit use less water, compost and grow abundant crops at the same time? We created an updated version that does just that – and eliminates the need for kneeling or bending over.

After the bed is loaded with green and brown composting materials, gardeners collect scraps and water through the built-in compost tunnel. This is key to reducing evaporation and allows plants to develop strong, healthy roots that are more resistant to drought.

Growing plants in the keyhole garden is easy. Any vegetable or ornamental that grows in a traditional garden can grow in a keyhole garden. While most common vegetables work well in this raised bed garden, tomatoes and kale tend to thrive in both North America and Africa.

Last summer, we wanted to give back with something more concrete than a corporate nod or a few cheques. We wanted to be involved with keyhole gardening personally and pay respect to the region that invented this practice. To do this, we partnered with an organization called Africa New Life to build 10 keyhole gardens in Kigali, Rwanda.

Physically building gardens in Rwanda allowed us to see the real needs on the ground. We decided to purchase all local materials to build the gardens so we could support the local Kigali economy. This included stitched rice sacks as the structure, sticks for the framing, and surrounding dirt for the soil.

The dirt was – without exaggeration – like concrete. It had been sun-baked to a rock hard crust since the last rainy season. We first had to fracture the hardpan, lift it, and then pulverize the dirt into something usable.

I will never forget the people we met over the summer. Rwanda left me speechless.

I saw a 73-year-old woman reach out to the heavens in gratitude as she danced joyfully around her keyhole garden. With tears in their eyes, I saw grown men at a loss for words, wondering why we would travel halfway across the globe to help them. I saw a 92-year-old man improve his eyesight after I gave him my old prescription glasses.

Teaching communities how to sustain themselves is a life skill. The great thing about keyhole gardens is that they can be made out of nearly anything. The average cost for constructing, training and materials for a keyhole garden in Rwanda is around $100.

While keyhole gardens are convenient and efficient, the benefits they provide are also long-lasting and impactful. After a few short months, our new friends began harvesting lettuce and other crops from their keyhole gardens. We’re excited to watch the community continue to grow.

For more information about Vita Gardens, visit vitagardens.com.

Eddie DeJong is the head of business development and design for Vita Gardens.

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