From Composting to Keyhole Gardens: How Permaculture Can Revolutionize Your Approach to Sustainable Gardening

From Composting to Keyhole Gardens: How Permaculture Can Revolutionize Your Approach to Sustainable Gardening

by Mailin Zschage -
Number of replies: 0

Imagine a world where food grows abundantly, waste is eliminated, and communities thrive in harmony with nature. This world might seem like a distant dream, but it is the vision of permaculture, a sustainable agricultural practice that is gaining popularity around the world. Permaculture is much more than just a way to grow food; it is a way of life that seeks to create sustainable systems that benefit both humans and the planet.

First mentioned by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, permaculture combines the words "permanent" and "agriculture" to describe a system of farming that mimics the natural ecosystem. It is based on three ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. These ethics are the foundation of all permaculture design and practice. While Earth Care is the recognition that the Earth is a living, interconnected system that must be cared for and maintained, People Care emphasizes the importance of taking care of oneself, one's community, and others, and is closely linked to the concept of social sustainability. Lastly, Fair Share recognizes that resources are limited and underlines the importance of having equal access to these resources by everyone in the present and in the future.

Overall, permaculture design is a holistic approach to creating sustainable systems. It looks at the entire ecosystem, including the soil, water, plants, animals, people, and seeks to create a self-sustaining system that benefits all of these elements. Permaculture design uses a variety of techniques, including companion planting, intercropping, natural pest control, and water conservation, to create a healthy and productive ecosystem.

A specific example of a permaculture design is a keyhole garden, which originated in Africa out of necessity. Keyhole Gardens offer a sustainable and affordable solution to grow food in dry surroundings as they only require minimal resources and can be easily adapted to local conditions and cultural practices. A keyhole garden is a circular raised bed that is typically six feet in diameter, with a keyhole-shaped indentation in the middle. The keyhole shape allows easy access to the center of the garden bed and creates a space-efficient design that maximizes the use of available land.

To build a keyhole garden, you start by digging a circular trench about 2 feet deep and then adding a layer of organic matter, such as compost, straw, or leaves, to the bottom of the trench. The walls of the garden are then constructed using locally available materials, such as stones or bricks, and filled with a mixture of soil and compost. In the center of the garden, a basket is placed for composting kitchen scraps and other organic matter.

One of the key benefits of a keyhole garden is its water efficiency. The incorporated composting basket in the center of the garden provides a constant source of moisture to the surrounding plants. As the compost breaks down, it releases nutrients and moisture, which are absorbed by the plants' roots. Additionally, the garden is designed to capture and retain rainwater, which further reduces the need for irrigation.

Keyhole Garden


To sum up, the keyhole garden is a great example of permaculture design because it allows water conservation, recycling, and efficient use of space. However, you might want to start with an easier project to incorporate permaculture techniques into your everyday life. One of the easiest ways to do so is to start using a simple compost bin. By recycling organic waste such as vegetable scraps, leaves, and grass clippings, you can reduce your environmental impact, save money on fertilizers, and improve the health of your soil and plants. Composting is a simple and effective way to promote sustainability, waste reduction, and soil health. It is a great starting point for those who are new to permaculture and want to explore ways to create more sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyles. As you become more comfortable with composting, you can also explore other permaculture techniques, such as rainwater harvesting, companion planting, and food forests. To learn more about other permaculture designs, have a look at the Permaculture Research Institute website. Here you can find a wealth of information about permaculture, including articles, courses, videos, and research papers.

As the global community continues to grapple with the effects of climate change, permaculture offers a powerful solution that can help us build a more sustainable and regenerative future. By learning from nature and adopting permaculture practices, we can create a world that is truly abundant, where people and nature thrive together in harmony.

So let us take inspiration from permaculture and work towards a future that is not only sustainable but also abundant and regenerative, a future where people and nature thrive together in harmony.

Suggested reading:

Keyhole Gardens: What Are They, The History Behind Them and Photos


Harland, Maddy. n.d. “What is Permaculture: Part 1 – Ethics.” Permaculture – earth care, people care, future care. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from,by%20many%20throughout%20the%20world.

permaculturefoodforest. 2016, April 14. “Keyhole Gardens.” permaculturefoodforest. Retrieved April 6, 2023, from

Plump, Gabriela. 2016, February 16. "Keyhole Gardens Change Landscape and Lives." Concern Worldwide U.S. Retrieved April 8, 2023, from

Tortorello, Michael. 2011, July 27. “The Permaculture Movement Grows From Underground.” The New York Times. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from