Into Africa: Learning To Make Keyhole Gardens In Rwanda | PITH + VIGOR

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Into Africa: Learning To Make Keyhole Gardens In Rwanda

 Eddie Dejong Keyhole garden maker wita gardens contributor to

by Eddie DeJong

Keyhole gardens:

  1. One of those buzz words that seem to be taking over the gardening world.
  2. A circular raised bed with a central composting bin, and a path to the center (a slice of the circle cut out) that originated in Africa.

People who plant: eddie dejong goes to africa to learn to make keyhole gardens a story from

The whole keyhole garden concept came up quickly – like a whirlwind. I stumbled across the idea while researching for new products back in the spring of 2014. It was an idea that seemed too good to be true. A keyhole garden is a single, compact unit, designed to use less water – a compost and garden in the same vessel.

Before I knew it, I was hopping on a plane to build gardens for the African people out of thankfulness for giving us the great idea. My wife and I wanted to “give back,” but by doing more than just writing a few checks. We wanted to be involved personally and physically on a long-term basis. Going to Rwanda would allow us to feel the heart – and heartbeat – of a nation and let it change our perspective.

People who plant: eddie dejong goes to africa to learn to make keyhole gardens a story from


The only thing I knew about Rwanda was something vague about a genocide. I quickly learned that Rwanda is only 100 miles north of the equator and that Rwanda in July is just nuts.

The flight was brutal. We left Detroit at 6:00pm, and arrived in Kigali, Rwanda, at 9:00pm the following day, a full 20 hours of travel time. We had a stop in Amsterdam, and then one more in Tanzania before touching down in Kigali. After sorting out our visas and paying a few tolls, we met with our driver and were whisked away.

Kigali – the capital city – was different from I had imagined. I had assumed it would be quiet, shutting down for the night. Instead it was bustling and busy. Kids yelled: Mazoon-goo!! (which means white person) and wanted to give us a high-five. There were night clubs, music and dancing. Speeding motorcycle-taxis scooted expertly in and out of traffic as we went up and down hilly roads, until we arrived at the guest house where we spent the night.

The next morning revealed a beautiful cityscape. In the background a few cranes surrounded new skyscrapers – a good sign in a big city. Cranes mean building and building means economic expansion.


People who plant: eddie dejong goes to africa to learn to make keyhole gardens a story from


Build day presented its own set of challenges. We were oriented with a project manager, Theo, who took us to a fresh keyhole garden built for training purposes. They used different materials than our kit back home, but the intent was to purchase local materials to support the local economy. This included stitched rice sacks for the structure, sticks for the framing, and available dirt for the soil. The dirt – oh my – the dirt.

The dirt was like concrete. It had been sun-baked to a rock-hard crust since the last rainy season. The soil was rusty orange, and contained few nutrients. We first had to fracture the hard-pan, then lift it and pulverize it into something useable. After each blow, the dust would rise into the air attaching itself to my wet shirt and clothes. The dust went everywhere, into my nostrils and my lungs, into my shoes and permanently staining my pants. Close by a house was being built – out of bricks made from the identical soil that we were using! To make matters worse, we only had one wheelbarrow and a few old tools on the verge of breaking, so we ended up crafting a makeshift wheelbarrow out of canvas bags.



Excerpted from the Autumn 2015 Print Issue of PITH + VIGOR –  To read the full story visit the P+V shop to order your copy.  

images: provided by Eddie DeJong, Tazz Kelly, and Esther Havens

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