Spring Keyhole Garden Transition

By Published On: March 26th, 20243.4 min readCategories: Garden

How to swap the winter crops for spring veggies and get them off to a fast start

A keyhole garden in mid-March growing lettuce, peas, bell peppers and broccoli

The keyhole garden on its 5th birthday (March 22, 2024)

Spring arrived a few days early this year, which is just fine with me. I hate sitting inside watching the weeds grow outside while waiting for warmer weather, so even a few extra days are welcome.

While the weather is still a bit too unsettled to start planting in the main vegetable garden, the keyhole garden is doing just fine. It’s been going all winter, kicking out lettuce, cilantro, peas, and even a few sweet peppers. As those winter veggies finish their runs, they’re freeing up room for the early spring crops idling in the greenhouse and waiting for their time in the soil.

Before I start loading the keyhole garden with the spring stuff though, I want to do a little recharge for the bed’s soil to make sure the spring and summer plants get off to a good start and get all the nutrition they need throughout the main growing season. To do that, I’ll be digging out sections of the bed left empty after the winter crop was harvested from there and reloading it with fresh compost (check out How to Refresh a Keyhole Garden for more details).

Using “Hot” Compost

If this was early autumn, I’d be “bottoming-up” with small branches and sticks followed by a layer of leaves and compost, and then re-topping with the soil I dug out. The bulkier stuff takes more time to break down, but it also acts as a barrier to annoying burrowers like gophers which are very active in winter.

Since it’s spring, however, I’m going to reload the bed with something that’ll break down much more quickly and provide a little extra bonus to boot – chicken manure and straw that’s only partially, rather than completely, composted.

Going Bottoms Up

Fresh poultry manure is normally too “hot”, i.e. high in ammonia and nitrogen, that can burn plant roots. But, if you load it into the bottom of the bed and then re-top it with soil, you’re basically creating a hot compost pile underneath the raised bed.

This is beneficial because the microorganisms in the partially composted materials will generate heat as they do their work, keeping the soil deep down several degrees warmer than it would otherwise be at this time of year.

Soil temp is critical to young plant development, so warming it up will encourage the plants to set their roots deep. By the time the plants are large enough to reach down into the soil where you buried the compost – usually around four to six weeks – that composted straw and manure will be all broken down, providing a rich source of nutrients and minerals needed to support healthy, happy herbs, fruits and veggies heading into the summer growing season.

Win-win!

The Carrots Love It

Crop Rotation and Transition

One other trick (though it’s not really a “trick” per se) I’ve found over the five years the keyhole garden has been running is being smart not just about crop rotation, but crop transition as well.

Crop rotation is important because you don’t want the soil being drained of nutrients faster than the keyhole garden’s compost bin can resupply them. Crop transition, on the other hand, is key because in order to keep the bed in year-round production like I do, you need to inter-plant different crops so the bed is always occupied – as one crop is going, another is growing.

I’ve found that inter-planting leafy, low, fast growers like lettuces, spinach, and cilantro with taller, slower growers like dill, broccoli, and tomatoes works very well for keeping production steady and varied throughout the growing season.

Spring Crop Transition Plan

Planning the plant transition helps keep the keyhole garden in production all year long.

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About the Author

author avatar
Sage Osterfeld
I’m just a guy with nearly an acre of dirt, a nice little mid-century ranch house and a near-perfect climate. But in my mind I’m a landscaper survivalist craftsman chef naturalist with a barbeque the size of a VW and my own cable TV show. I like to write about the stuff I build, grow and see here at Sage's Acre.

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