Alanna Smith: The key to making home gardens fun

Saturday April 18, 2020 Written by Published in Environment
The TIS office made this keyhole garden made of available rocks washed up fishing nets and wiring mesh. 20041723 The TIS office made this keyhole garden made of available rocks washed up fishing nets and wiring mesh. 20041723

OPINION: Te Ipukarea Society has been making the most of the agriculture ministry’s support package by planting new life in the office’s keyhole garden, writes member Alanna Smith.

Our keyhole garden has a circular rock wall design with an indent in the wall allowing access to an active compost pile placed in the centre of the keyhole-shaped bed.  

The central idea to the design is that all the decomposing nutrients produced from the compost in the centre will disperse throughout your soil bed, enhancing the nutrient input in the garden.

Thanks to the agriculture package, we were able to collect free seeds and seedlings.  These were made available to help address food security needs during the times of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To keep costs low and make better use of items around the office, we started the seeds in used cardboard egg cartons. The cartons had a small hole pierced into the bottom of each tray to assist drainage water and were filled with rich soil straight from Te Ipukarea Society’s worm farm.

After a week’s worth of watering in a shady location, the seeds had graduated into healthy little seedlings. Some have already been transplanted in the keyhole garden, after being cut directly from the egg carton.  The rest will follow in a few days.

For best results when building a keyhole garden, first identify a sunny site and mark out and clear a circular area roughly two metres in diameter. The outline of the garden can be lined with stones, coconut logs or any type of barrier to retain the soil.

One section of the wall is indented to allow access to the central compost heap. Four corner posts are then placed securely in the centre of the keyhole garden to mark out the compost wall.

Chicken mesh or similar can be wrapped around the posts to act as the walls of the compost heap.

When filling up your key hole garden it is important to consider different layers of material to retain moisture and keep the soil well-nourished. The first layer may include iron scraps such as empty tin cans, as well as broken pots and dry animal bones. 

This provides not only minerals to the soil, but assists with drainage during heavy rains. Soil can then be placed on top to provide nutrients and scatters of wood ash to provide potassium.

Make sure that every layer slopes downwards from the central compost well, so water can flow properly in the soil around it.

Your choice of vegetables to plant will influence soil nutrients and pest management within your garden.  

‘Companion planting’ involves planting different kinds of crops together to benefit each other. Different methods include planting leafy crops next to root vegetables or planting pest resistant vegetables like onions or garlic next to regular crops.

To best ensure that your garden will stay fertile and resist pests, plant a minimum of four vegetable types. Examples of root crops include carrots, onions, beetroot, radish, turnips and garlic. Leafy crops include pak choy, spinach, lettuce, herbs, capsicum, eggplant and corn.

The agriculture ministry’s crop and research director William Wigmore has been amazed at the amount of interest generated by local communities with many people coming through to pick up seeds and seedlings.

Ministry staff have also had the opportunity to visit homes who have received free seeds and seedlings to make sure the produce has been put to good use and not wasted. Available seedlings include choy sum and Chinese cabbage, and seeds available range from corn, to beans and cucumber.

Anyone who wants to drop in to see Te Ipukarea Society’s keyhole garden in all its glory are welcome to swing by and see us, between Bamboo Jacks and Rarotonga Printing in Tupapa.

Alanna Smith TE IPUKAREA SOCIETY 

Leave a comment