Building a Raised Bed Keyhole Garden

As the cold wind howled outside, I was rattling around the confines of my home, going a little stir crazy. The winter of 2009 had been long and cold in Connecticut. Although the snow had melted by late March, frost still regularly visited overnight and I knew my desire to get out, and plant, wouldn’t be realized for several months. But, even if my lettuce and spinach couldn’t survive outside right now, the idea of being productive and doing something in my garden had taken hold of me.

But what could I do?

A thought had been growing in the back of my mind for several days: build a raised bed garden. It would be simple enough to just toss soil between some wooden slats, but I had something more permanent and aesthetically pleasing in my mind.

The Effectiveness of a Raised Bed Garden for Annual Planting

A few months before I’d stumbled upon the interesting work of Send A Cow, a British charity that works to bring sustainable, small-scale agriculture to African countries. Specifically I’d been inspired by how they address the harsh climatic conditions of Lesotho, where rain has just two modes: torrential downpours, and not at all.

The soil in Lesotho is infertile, rocky, and thin, and periods of intense heat and cold come and go. When land is cleared for planting it will dry and crack during the droughts and then be washed away by the relentless downpours. In short, the traditional clear and plant agricultural paradigm doesn’t work, even in a small-scale garden.

Send A Cow helps the locals from multiple African countries build raised bed keyhole gardens for their annual vegetables, with materials sourced from what is available locally, and with different designs to suit their respective climates. These raised beds allowed locals to stop soil from being washed away, keep the soil moist, and harvest a more regular crop. You can learn more about how they use raised bed gardens in Lesotho here: