Eco gardening secrets from Africa

An excellent charity called Send a Cow, have developed a unique method of growing vegetables in a keyhole garden using knowledge from African Farmers. They won a silver medal at the BBC Gardeners World Exhibition with their display which aims to save water and grow vegetables in a small area such as a patio or balcony.


As you can see, Key Hole Gardening  is an extremly attractive way to grow veg with  heaps of soil based around a compost that continually feeds the garden with the rotting matter as it grows. This a great way to use up kitchen waste and means you can grow lots of vegetables in a small area, all year round. Perfect for city balconies or terraces where space is at a premium and there is often nowhere to have a compost heap. The height is good for elderly people who may find bending down to tend their vegetables more difficult.

For many families in Africa these amazing keyhole gardens are the difference between life and death. Climate change has seriously reduced the levels of soil fertility in many parts of Africa and the situation has been made worse by the loss of almost a whole generation to Aids which means that horticultural know-how is very limited.

About 70% of Africans depend for survival on what they grow on their land and keyhole gardening is just one of the areas that Send A Cow is involved with. Set up in 1988 , this group of farmers in the West Country helps African farmers develop answers to this need to grow their own food. They deliver direct, practical help to poor farmers in Africa, by providing, cows and other livestock, training in livestock rearing and organic farming, plus low-cost veterinary and advice services .

Another novel idea that is being promoted by Send a Cow is the bag garden – see pictures above right. These tall hessian sacks of soil are sent to families trying to survive famine in Africa . They are deep enough to grow potatoes in, plus you can also cut holes in the sack and plant things up the sides too. They can be watered easily when irrigating fields isn’t possible. The bag garden saves lives in Africa but it will also do well on a tiny British patio or balcony.

Congratulations to Send a Cow for their invaluable work in Africa and for inspiring UK gardeners to think more about natural gardening techniques, soil erosion and water shortages – all things we need to consider for a future of gardening in a changing climate.

Anyone with a small terace or balcony could grow veggies in a key-hole or bag garden – if you are interested in makign your own,check out their excellent web-site at There is lots more information on their various projects plus some more sustainable gardening suggestions from Africa – making your own natural pesticide and liquid manure.

Garden sustainably from Send a Cow

1. Make your own natural pesticide

Soak seven cups of marigold leaves, one cup crushed chilli and seven bulbs of garlic in five litres of water. Add a piece of soap, three spoons of baking powder and some wood ash. Use after four days.

2. Make your own plant ‘tea’

Fill a bucket with chopped docks, comfrey and clover. Cover with water, adding a pinch of ash. Cover and stir daily. After a week, remove the leaves and use as you would a diluted liquid feed.

3. Make a keyhole garden

Draw a 3m circle and edge with rocks. Mark a tiny central circle with posts and make a compost “basket” inside with sticks and string. Fill bed with soil sloping down from centre, leaving a tiny path for access. Fill the basket with vegetable waste and enjoy your fertile plot.

This post was written by:

- who has written 872 posts on My Climate Change Garden.

I am not an experienced gardener - more of an enthusiastic amateur who learns by trial and error and who is keen to "manage" the effects of shifting weather patterns on my garden. Writing this blog is my passion and it has evolved over 12 years to inspire engagement with climate change outside our back doors, in our personal gardens and green spaces. My mission is to fertilise and expand this platform to grow a community of global gardeners communicating about the effects of climate change on our plants and exploring how each individual can make small changes in our lives to become more sustainable. The future of our gardens and #OurPlanet is in our hands - please plant your own seeds for our collective sustainable future.

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. The Intercontinental Gardener Says:

    Hi, really interesting texts from Hampton Court! (Your texts and pictures make me miss the UK so much!) It sounds like we are swinging between hope and fear with the climate change. Later, earlier, wetter, dryer… everything polarizing towards the extremes. As the glimpses of light for Africa’s gardeners, you just hope that they will have enought water for even these tiny growing solutions!

  2. Dagny Says:

    I love the idea of a keyhole garden. I don’t have a backyard but have always wanted to grow my own veggies. Thanks for brining this up, it also helps me with my dilemma of how to compost food with no yard.

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  3. willem van cotthem Says:

    Thanks for sharing these practical ideas with us. We are involved in humanitarian actions for rural people in the drylands and in the combat of desertification. Keyhole gardening and bag gardening fit very well in our strategies to help people suffering from drought and lack of soil fertility. Thus, container gardening is broadening to a growing number of “container types” of which most are described on my containergardening site. All kinds of pots, bottles, bags, drums, even wheelbarrows and many more containers have been suggested as solutions for food productions in rural and urban areas. I like the ideas of keyhole gardens and bag gardens very much. We will contact “Send-a-Cow” and set up some trials quite soon.

  4. Sayward Says:

    I ran across this blog while searching for African organic gardening techniques…very informative! I have a fairly nice- nice in that everything seems to be growing without too many problems, like pests or disease, but I doubt my garden will make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens! ;)- garden going this year and am interested in the ways other cultures tend their plots and use their food.
    I am sure this is a method that will work in impoverished areas with little water. I know the bag method works because I have used it before, with great results. Years ago when I first moved here, I didn’t have any pots right away nor money to buy them, but wanted desperately to grow some vegetables. I used the soil bags just as the came from the store, cut 1 hole for big things, like tomatoes,eggplants and squash, and two holes for smaller plants, like peppers and herbs. There could possibly be more use with even more holes. I also reused 2 and 3 liter (do they even make 3 liter sodas anymore?) bottles by cutting the top off and putting drainage holes in the bottom. For some reason these do not break down- I have been here over 11 years now and HAVE THE SAME BOTTLES. It just does NOT break down. Good for someone who is getting use out of it, but bad for the environment should it be left out there. So that might be an option, also.
    You can use just about anything to plant in. Anyway, sorry for rambling. 🙂

  5. Joel LeGrand Says:

    After more then 10 web sites, I found one who explained, why & how a keyhole garden.Thank you for a clear detail.