Keyhole raised beds. Durable, functional, inviting.

One day in the early nineties, gardening with my mother at three years of age, I put a worm in my mouth and told her that I was going to share it with a robin. That is my earliest memory in the soil. Twenty one years later, I no longer eat worms, but I still have a strong sense of place in the garden. At age five, my mother first planted peas with her grandfather (my grandmother's father), who was also named Harry. Throughout my life, I hope to inspire those younger than me, and to assist those that are older to become acquainted with and stay connected with the soil. My mother is the most giving person I have ever met. Within the whole parent dynamic, I am often blind to her generosity, but I hope one day to give back at least a fraction of what she has done for me. She's someone who won't often explicitly say what she wants, but one day I heard, "I need a greenhouse." Going back and forth from college and Colorado, time to build was sparce, but I set out to make it happen. Home for the holidays in January of 2015, I got off the plane in Massachusetts and rallied. Having built three in Colorado (click here for the link), the 12'9" by 16' design was familiar to me. This time however, I was out to go #maxpermo (the maximum amount of permaculture one can exert). For the inside of the hoophouse, I designed 2'8" keyhole raised beds made of composite board and black locust.

This is a photo from when I was home in early April.

hoophouse with door.jpg

​​This is Matt in the greehouse just before the tomatoes went in.

matt hoophouse.jpg

Here we start the process. I began by using an architect's scale to draw to-scale floor plans of the hoophouse. The keyhole pattern (manifested in the inlets here) minimizes the percentage of paths in your garden. When you have 204 square feet to work with, you don't want it to be taken up by paths. The photo on the lower right is from the Eggplant Manor hoophouse last fall.

keyhole beds footprint.jpg

The first set of inlets are wider than the second two. I wanted the opening to be as iniviting as possible. The drawing to the right is a diagram of how I wanted the trellis' to sit. Instead of dealing with tomato stakes and string, I wanted to work the trellis into the design of the hoophouse.

keyhole beds view.jpg

Here started the implementation. This rope (between the woodshop and a black walnut tree) lies directly E-W.


With the pythagoream theorem, we found the N-S lines.

view from hemlock.jpg

We leveled it all with the backhoe and sand (sand was available to us, so we used it).


Floor leveled. The temperature dropped and froze the sand into a hand, level space to build on.

leveled sand.jpg

All of the pieces of composite board cut and ready to assemble:

pieces cut.jpg

Black locust 4x4s. They weight more than you do. Holy pseudoacacia, Batman.

black locust 4x4.jpg

Life is good when you're trucking away in the woodshop, listening to Permaculture Voices podcasts, and doing epic you-know-what.

life is good.jpg

Puzzle pieces coming together. I didn't build them any heavier than I could lift. Black locust and composite board are both HEAVY.

puzzle pieces.jpg

Used the hand-truck to wheel them out.

pieces outside.jpg

We made sure everything was level and in the right place. The sand has unfrozen since then, so they've all moved a little bit, but it was worth it to get everything in the right place at the beginning. Errors compound themselves.

puzzle pieces 2.jpg

​​​​The beds before being filled. Puzzle complete.

puzzle complete.jpg

Grammy drove down and loved the beds! She's 88 years old, and not having to bend over to garden is good.

grammy and I.jpg

We filled the beds half-way with leaves, and half-way with composted cow manure from Great Brook Farm. Backhoes get it done.

backhoe leaves.jpg

Bone meal for phosphorus (flowers, fruits), gypsum for calcium (cell walls), and greensand for potassium (root growth).


Grammy, Sarah, and Stacey all came down to help!

team 1.jpg

Base screwed together. Two corded drills = quality. This is probably the hardest part (pushing the base tight while screwing it together).

two drills.jpg

Black walnut in the foreground, rock garden, and bioshelter.

black walnut.jpg

View from the hemlock

view form tree.jpg

Matt, my mother, and I

mom, matt and I.jpg

All of this was done right around the winter solstice, so daylight was at a premium. We finished right as it got dark. Moonrise here.


We got 9 feet of snow over the winter, so I waited to put the frames and plastic on.

Instagram - What raised beds?  3+ feet of snow at #fortpondfarm and #campnashoba

Here's that first picture again. I'll take more once I get home. Frame and door attached.

hoophouse with door.jpg

Notes: The Colorado hoop houses (see post here) use wire-mesh, which comes in 8x20ft sheets. This entire design was based off of those sheets. It turns out that they aren't available in New England, so I bolted cattle panels together. Stay tuned for another post on the structure.

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