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Keyhole Gardens: An Excellent Way to Grow Food in Dry Areas

A keyhole garden in Africa

I was on Pinterest and discovered an article on Attainable-Sustainable with suggestions for Growing Food in a Drought. That led me to Inspiration Green's article on Keyhole Gardens. Here in Florida, we grow most of our food during our winter dry season, so anything that will save water is of interest to me.

Like so many wonderful things, the idea of keyhole gardens originally came from Africa, but they are becoming popular in many dry, hot places, especially in the U.S. states like California that are affected by a prolonged drought.

Not since Greening the Desert have I seen such an efficient way of using compost to grow food in desert conditions. I think these are much better than raised beds, as they get taller year after year, so by the time you get old and can't bend down to garden anymore, you garden has risen up to meet you.

Inspiration Green's article has several examples of keyhole gardens from all over the world, and video instructions from Send a Cow, a wonderful organization that could use your donations if you are so inclined.

Water is a finite resource, and our food supply is becoming unsafe. We all need to grow some of our own food, and gain knowledge about how to grow more for the future. This is just one way to do that.

Controlling Weeds in Landscape Stone

Originally Published on Yahoo Voices

Landscape stone is a beautiful way to accent a garden bed, but weeds can be a problem.All the grass has been removed and landscape cloth laid, shrubs have been planted and covered with a layer of beautiful landscape stone. But this doesn't necessarily mean weeds are something you will never have to deal with.

Dust carried by the wind and washed in by the rain soon will deposit itself into the spaces between landscape stones, providing weed seeds with the soil they need to grow. Think of the layer of dust that accumulates in a home every week. Multiply that by 52 weeks a year, and that will give some idea of how weeds manage to grow in landscape stone.

Weeds generally won't grow up through the landscape cloth, but their roots will grow downward through it, making them almost impossible to pull. Small weeds may be easily pulled, but once established, another alternative is needed.

Using Chemical Herbicides to Kill Weeds

Although not the safest alternative, commercial herbicide spray, used carefully, is effective at controlling weeds in landscape stone. Always mix commercial herbicides according to label directions. Using more won't be any more effective, and can be harmful to surrounding plants. Never use commercial herbicides around smaller flowering annuals or perennials, because the inevitable drift will damage them. Weed roots and flower roots often intertwine underground, and herbicide that gets into the weed roots can also kill the flowers.

Using a large piece of cardboard or some other shield to keep from getting over-spray on plants is always necessary. If over-spray or drift occurs, plants may exhibit signs of leaf burn, but the plant won't die.

Weed Control in Annual and Perennial Beds

Pre-emergent herbicides are always best to use in flower beds. Pre-emergent herbicides should never be applied after the plants are established, or into a newly seeded bed. 4 weeks after the beds are planted is a good waiting period before application.

Using Natural and Organic Weed Controls

If using chemicals is not an option, first try apple cider vinegar sprayed full strength directly onto the weeds. Several applications may be necessary. Apple cider vinegar is a non-specific herbicide, so always shield your desirable plants from the spray. Vinegar purchased in the grocery is usually a 5% solution. 10% apple cider vinegar is sold online or at some garden centers.

Corn gluten is an effective, if expensive, natural pre-emergent. The drawback to using corn gluten is that it must be applied at precisely the right time, or it will do nothing but feed the weeds.

Gardeners need not assign blame when weeds grow in their landscape stone mulched beds, because there is absolutely no way to keep weeds completely out. Unfortunately, the best methods will only control them before or once they are there.

Protecting Tropical Plants from Cold Snaps

While some tropical and subtropical plants will be fine at temperatures above freezing, most sustain damage at temperatures below 40 degrees.

Living in a subtropical or tropical area is a wonderful experience for gardeners. Year-around gardening without a greenhouse is every serious gardener's dream. While temperatures in subtropical and tropical areas rarely dip below 40, there are those occasional cold snaps, where protecting tender plants is necessary.

Water Plants Well Before a Cold Snap

Well watered plants are more likely to survive the cold, especially if the plants are too large to be covered. Tropical trees and edibles will likely sustain leaf or limb damage, but if they are well watered, they have a much better chance of staying alive to grow back.

Covering Plants During Cold Snaps

The most effective and simplest way to protect tropical plants during cold snaps is to cover them with cloth. Depending on the temperatures, plants should be covered with sheets or blankets. This covering not only provides a warmer, insulating environment around the plant, but protects it from the cold air damaging the leaves.

Covering with plastic is not recommended, due to the fact that even during the cold weather, the sun is very strong, and will burn anything that is touching the plastic. Heat builds up rapidly, which itself can damage delicate tropical plant leaves.

Creating an "Ice Blanket" for Larger Tropicals

When driving through orange groves in the colder areas of Florida, travelers will see irrigation pipes along the ground, and tall pipes going up next to and above the trees. These are turned on during freezing weather and allowed to run all night. As the water hits the leaves and fruit, an insulating layer of ice is created that adds protection from the cold.

For larger, cold sensitive fruit and flowering trees, this is a good method of protection, if a yard has the capability. Even a simple lawn sprinkler can create a tall enough spray to protect most smaller trees. Avocados and Mangos must be protected from cold for the first five years of their lives, and this is the best method of doing that when they get larger.

Building a Temporary Hoop House or Cold Frame

Plastic and PVC pipe or wood can be used to create a temporary cold frame that will protect smaller plants. If the area has regular cold snaps, it may be beneficial to construct something that can be removed in warmer weather, yet easily reconstructed during the winter, such as a simple hoop house. Again, be careful not to let the plastic touch the plants, and to provide air circulation during sunlight hours so that heat doesn't build up inside the structure.

Protecting Potted Plants

The simplest way to protect potted plants is to bring them indoors. If there is no way to bring them into the home, a garage or shed can be used. Simply having them under cover on a porch and covered with blankets can provide enough protection if temperatures are not below freezing.

Potted plants too large to move can simply be laid on their sides and covered with cloth for protection.

Save Money by Protecting Plants from Cold Snaps

Tropical and subtropical plants can be a big investment, and unfortunately, one that can be wiped out in a single night of unusually cold weather. By protecting the plants, there is no need to replace them, thus saving money in the long run.

Landscape plants as well as potted plants depend on the gardener for everything they need to thrive. Protecting them from harsh weather is just another way gardeners show their love for their leafy friends.