Permaculture - The keyhole bed of Toby Hemenway and improved version from Lesotho (lesson 27)


The keyhole bed

source - example of the keyhole bed from Zimbabwe

When designing the vegetable garden, we got used to its rectangular shape, cut with long paths allowing us easy access to all plants. Of course, this is one of the many options, and if you want your garden to look like standard, you can use it, but there are more effective solutions.

Space for paths is necessary, but it is worth doing our best to minimize it. The ground under the footpaths does not produce any crops, so it is somewhat of waste in our garden. The development of every square meter is particularly important when we only have a small garden. So how do you do it most effectively?

One of the fathers of Permaculture, Toby Hemenway, proposes to arrange beds in the shape of a keyhole. In his book "Gaia's Garden", which every permaculturist should know (if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend buying a book or e-book), he compares three different methods of arranging flower beds:

  • in the most basic one, known from many home gardens - in a rectangle cut by paths, as much as 50% of the earth's surface is occupied by paths and other crop failures.
  • in gardens with raised beds (which I will talk about soon), with paths every three or four beds, waste occupies only 30% of the area.
  • the last method, i.e. the keyhole, is a garden where the paths take up less than 25% of the space.
Standard beds - 50% of garden effectiveness

WhatsApp Image 2021-10-25 at 12.58.44 PM (1).jpeg
optimized raised beds - 70% of effectiveness

WhatsApp Image 2021-10-25 at 12.58.44 PM (2).jpeg
The keyhole beds - 75% of effectiveness

As you can see in the photo, such a garden has the shape of a circle, and a short path leads us to the central point from which we have access to most of the plants. The efficiency is additionally rewarded with the unusual, beautiful nature of the garden.

However, there are many more advantages to the keyhole method. Let's try to list most of them:

  • higher productivity, less space taken up by paths
  • interesting aesthetics
  • greater interaction between different plant species, and thus the possibility of increasing their positive allelopathic effects and better growth
  • reduced risk of the spread of plant diseases by enriching the biodiversity in the flower bed
  • more natural shapes of sowing plants (in nature, straight lines with the sowing of the same species are practically non-existent)
  • the possibility of creating sunscreens by sowing tall plants on the edge of the flower bed on the north side and keeping the heat longer in such a semi-closed space, which increases the yield
  • facilitating the watering of the garden
  • reducing the work of the gardener who does not have to move around with tools while weeding weeds or harvesting vegetables

When designing a larger garden, you can include a spiral with many flower beds arranged in the shape of a keyhole, for example like this:

WhatsApp Image 2021-10-25 at 12.58.44 PM (3).jpeg
All drawings made by @papi.mati, inspired by Toby Hemenway's pictures

African Keyhole Garden

The idea of Toby Hemenway was improved and adapted to the African harsh environment by permaculturists from Lesotho and then it spread around the world. Lesotho version contains the compost pile in the middle of the construction. As the compost breaks down, it leaches to the soil around, providing nutrients to the plants. That version minimizes the work in the garden. You basically have to provide the compost and water the garden, nothing else is needed.

To check how to compost, what is allowed to include in the compost pile and what we should avoid, check the lesson about composting (links to the previous lessons at the end of this post).

How to build African Keyhole Garden

All my lessons are shared totally for free with a CC-0 license (which means you can copy my text and share it wherever you want to, without the need to mark me as an author). I hope it will bring you joy.

Previous lessons can be read here:


Soil and minerals


Basics of traditional permaculture

25 - Three ecological principles from the Gaia's Garden School
26 - Basic tips for permaculture gardeners

Thank you for reading,

Authors get paid when people like you upvote their post.
If you enjoyed what you read here, create your account today and start earning FREE STEEM!
Sort Order:  trending

Congratulations, your nice post has been upvoted by the steem.skillshare curation trail!
If you wish to join as well our trail and support our community, other users, and earn the curation reward, please ask how in our discord channel:


It was really interesting to watch that video😄


Hello! yesterday I was reviewing @papi.mati post for inclusion in the top posts of our Steem-BRU community. The author has not increased the strength in the last 7 days. Have the rules changed again?


I did increase my strength seven days before, +/- ;)

Besides that #club5050 does not include obligatory power ups every week, but at least making power up every time you transfer the money to binance/Bittrex, so when reviewing the wallet you are just checking if there are unpaired withdrawings :)

Steemcurator was mentioning it before so in Skillshare as well as Steem-Travelers, we are just checking the wallet to make sure there is no withdraw that is higher than power-up, then checking delegations to the bots, then "steemexclusivity" :D if we would expect the power ups weekly, users who earn much less could be excluded from the program, as well as users who did not earn the money at all. Besides that #spud4steen would stop existing and simply... powering up weekly is the pain in the ass. All that log ins in wallets, millions of the passwords and verifications. Luckily it's totally in a club5050 spirit to save on steemit, then make one big withdraw and one big powerups in a month. At least it's how I understand it.

I'm pretty sure you know I am powering up regularly. I was making #club5050 much before this program was created. That's why since may I managed to become almost double dolphin (yay!) :)))

I was hoping to save some SP for #spud4steem event but I'd truly appreciate being mentioned in BRU though so I will gladly power-up again today, if it's not too late.


Please do not be upset! :) I did not want to offend you, the curator simply replied to one of our participants that there must be an increase in the last 7 days, since they check the wallet history exactly in 7 days. that's why I asked.
Thanks for the answer❤️


Ay, no worries - I just like to talk, so my comments, as well as posts, are always too long. It doesn't mean I'm upset though :) I couldn't. Especially not for Steem-BRU or for you.

I love your plant contests and obviously, your community. One of the greatest on Steemit, very nice atmosphere and plenty of interesting users!

Have a great day ;)


We saw this power-up that matched a withdrawal at the same time...

2021-10-19, 20:10 papi.mati papi.mati 297.624 STEEM


Thanks! I'll try to be more attentive! 😏