Keyhole Garden Yields Benefits for Arizona Gardener

Charlie Tardibuono built a keyhole garden at his Arizona home

Today’s guest blogger is Charlie Tardibuono, Food for the Hungry’s Chief Information Officer, who guides our technology efforts worldwide from the Phoenix office. He worked with several other FH staff to build a keyhole garden at his Arizona home. To his delight, he found that the keyhole outperform his other raised-bed gardens. He wanted to share the great benefits he discovered!


My wife and I love to garden. We have built a garden with 15 raised beds that produces a summer full of great-tasting, healthy vegetables.

In my travels with Food for the Hungry (FH), I was intrigued to discover several FH sites where beautiful “keyhole gardens” had been built. Listening to our local partners in the fields (Latin America and Africa), I learned the benefits of the keyhole garden approach.

Charlie's keyhole garden

My keyhole garden provided higher yields than my other raised-bed gardens had provided.

Since my last field visit, I had my mind set on building a keyhole to discover just how this approach to gardening would work in the mountains of Arizona. Prescott is a quaint mountain community about 130 miles north of Phoenix at an altitude of about 5,500 feet. Due to this location, our growing season is shorter than Phoenix, but the temperatures are about 15 to 20 degrees cooler during the hot summer months. Our winter average temperature during the day is around 28F degrees with lows down to about 10F degrees. Given these conditions, we need a garden that is designed to give our plants every chance to produce in our short summers.

This summer, several members of our Phoenix-based FH staff came to our home in Prescott and helped build our own keyhole garden. It was part of a partnership with a local elementary school. (You can watch a video that shows our build and helped FH kick off the project.)

The garden bed is beautiful, but beauty alone doesn’t necessarily mean a good crop. Our raised beds provide benefits, but the design of the keyhole offered several benefits that the raised beds don’t.

The keyhole garden was easy to build.

From start to finish, the garden took about six hours to complete and plant. While we considered several methods to build the garden, we chose interlocking block for our garden walls. We chose cement block mortared together to form the opening to the center of the garden. Using a wire mesh called “hardware cloth,” we fashioned the compost pipe centered in the garden.

The keyhole garden made the job easier.

Charlie's keyhole garden next to his other raised-bedsThe keyhole quickly showed much healthier plants, and within four weeks was out producing the plants in our raised beds. Watering is made easy as you pour directly in the center over the compost pipe. The water then leaches down through the compost to help distribute the nutrients throughout the soil. Plant roots grow longer as they grow toward the moisture and nutrients at the center of the garden. Plant types take in certain nutrients while producing chemical properties that are placed back in the soil. Using a variety of plants helps to balance this process and provides a healthy mix that benefits all plants in the bed.

Other benefits include easy access to the center of the garden’s compost pipe and for adding organic material and for watering. This design also makes it easy to harvest.

With this one season behind us, we have seen a clear acceleration of grow and healthier produce compared to our raised beds. We plan on building another keyhole, and our neighbors have already built their own keyhole gardens. It is amazing how such a simple concept can make such a difference in growing food. We are grateful for our FH communities for teaching us how to make a better garden.

Keyhole Garden eBook CoverWant to learn how to make your own keyhole garden to see if you can improve your garden yields?

Food for the Hungry has prepared a handy instruction guide called 5 Phases of a Keyhole Garden, which can help you plan, build, fill, plant and maintain a garden with high yields of high-nutrient vegetables!

Download your guide now!