Keyhole Garden composting is an effective and eco-friendly growing method.

How do you compost organic kitchen and garden waste if you have no space for a traditional composter? This was one of the dilemmas I faced when I moved into a new home with a small backyard.

Located on a former tobacco field, the “soil” is pure sand, and I knew it would require considerable amendment with compost – but there was no space for a traditional composter. The solution: a “keyhole garden.”

Keyhole gardens originated in Africa as a nutrient-dense, drought-resistant gardening method that allowed people with infirmities to garden without bending over. Traditional keyhole gardens are round, made of stone, and have a keyhole-like indention leading to the centre of the garden where a compost basket is set to accept garden scraps, greywater, and manure. The gardens are watered through the basket allowing nutrients to permeate throughout the garden.

Example of a traditional low-cost keyhole design.

Designing my Keyhole Garden

Some traditional designs use mathematical size formulas for efficiency, however, these metrics are debated by many.

For my space, I created a simple 4’x3’x3’ rectangular raised bed with a composting basket in the centre. I layered the raised beds with cardboard, compost, newspaper, manure, wood ash, dry and clean vegetative matter, and topsoil until it reached the top. And then I let it do its thing over the winter, adding kitchen scraps regularly. It was ready to plant the following spring.

Here’s my simple design:

Other designs can be found online as kits you can buy/build such as this very elaborate and attractive large model:

The Keyhole Garden composting method gave me great results!

I have planted a wide variety of vegetables in my keyhole garden and the results have exceeded my expectations. Everything thrived; so much so that I relocated the tomatoes that quickly grew too large for the space!

Despite some concern that the compost would smell, that has not been an issue. After 4 years of year-round use, the baskets continue to have space for additional kitchen scraps. This past spring, I turned the compost (more out of curiosity than need), and was happy to find dark, pliable soil with plenty of worms.

Plans for Future

Next spring, I will don rubber gloves to collect compost from the baskets to amend my garden beds. I plan to retrofit two smaller raised beds with wire compost holes and hope for comparable results.


Even without similar gardening challenges, I recommend considering a keyhole garden. With this smart, environmentally friendly solution you will grow healthy vegetables without fertilizers or excessive watering.

Resources and Related posts

Garden Professors – Tools and Tips for Raised Beds -this is one of our most trusted resources for reliable and science-based information

Garden Gate Magazine – How to Build a Keyhole Garden

Curtis shares his preferred design for a raised bed