“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” ~ Dalai Lama
I wasn’t always a plant person, a gardener. My green thumb was hit or miss most times. Ultimately, Nature shed light on Her perfect ways, leaving me to question mine. It’s nice to be wrong sometimes.
If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, you know that I was first wowed by the keyhole garden in 2012. A severe Texas drought the previous year had forced me to (albeit accidentally) learn the ways of the underground microbial world in my own backyard. With only kitchen scraps and yard debris as inputs to a compost cage, plants began bursting forth from seed in and around the compost pile: volunteers.
These seeds, I learned, were getting a jump-start by microbes, microbes that both decompose the organic material in the vicinity and deliver materials in the form of basic elements to their plant hosts. Plants and fungi have been really good at creating cozy little tit-for-tats for hundreds of millions of years before humans came along.
Squash and Tomato Volunteers
The concept is easy enough: provide a cafeteria, apartment building, and safe work environment for all the microbial ‘workers,’ in turn, they do all the work in growing plants into healthy, tasty edibles. It’s the way of organics. It’s the way of nature. Our own food sustainability is — always has been — reliant upon healthy, living soil.
This isn’t new science. This symbiotic relationship between fungi and plants — arbuscular mycorrhiza — has been well-known for decades. But what may be convenient for us is not necessarily good for all parties involved. In our petroleum-based economy, the fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and gas-powered machinery regularly used is harmful to soil creatures. They prefer to be tended nature’s way, and the more natural ecosystem that results is critical for plant survival.
The keyhole garden exploits nature’s relationship between plants and fungi — naturally. Built entirely with free organics, the layered substrate will, in time, become soil; it’s basically a giant hot compost that is built all-at-once and planted right on top of. The only regular ‘inputs’ thereafter is the occasional layering of more organics (as it loses height) and additions into a center compost basket. Even without adequate rainfall, kitchen scraps will provide enough water and nitrogen; leaves, twigs and cardboard provide all the carbon. Fungi and bacteria — along with a host of other soil animals like earthworms — provide the work to break it all down.
For more information on the keyhole garden, click on the article at the end of this post or explore other posts on the topic as a category on this blog.
Keyhole Garden 2.0
Lettuce, Mustard, Broccoli, Kale
Mycorrhizal fungi do the bonus job of delivering water and all the necessary micro nutrients directly to the roots of plants. The body of the fungi becomes an extension of the plant’s root system, getting a plant host more of the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium from the soil than it could ever do on its own. It’s easier to count the plants that don’t rely on this symbiosis; more than 80% of earth’s terrestrial plants and trees have evolved with this relationship.
Gone are my days of expensive fertilizers and fancy mixes; set are my ways of leaf-hoarding management.
Gone are my days of watering; set are my ways of composting.
Gone are my days of weeding; set are my ways of yard-eating (especially when ‘weeds’ become food!)
Gone are the days of tilling and resetting every season; set are my ways of leaving the earth. The heck. Alone.