Keyline Garden Design in Central Texas
Keyline Garden Design in Central Texas. Regenerative Agriculture using soil and water conservation patterning.
Keyline, Garden, Design, Drought proof Garden, Texas Hill Country Garden
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Keyline Garden Design

Today I am sharing my new Keyline garden at Texastopia Farm. This is where we will grow medicinal herbs like chamomile, lemon balm, echinacea, comfrey, yarrow and many others. This garden is special because it was built on a very degraded caliche hillside. I believe this garden will soon demonstrate that it is possible to grow high quality food and medicine while restoring degraded landscapes at the same time.

First Garden at Texastopia

This new garden is an addition and retrofit to an existing garden that was built by the previous owners of the property. In that original garden I built some raised beds that were all very nearly on contour. The beds were made with finely shredded mulch, algae harvested from the Blanco river and compost. I ran drip lines down each bed for irrigation. During the first year this garden was slow to perform, the wind would easily dry the beds out and the plants were slow to grow. As the months have gone by all of that organic material has begun to decompose. The fire ants and earthworms have been turning the soil from underneath into the mulch and compost. The result has been the creation of some fantastic garden soil, plants began to grow vigorously towards the end of this last summer. We had a great harvests of milky oats, tomatoes, holy basil and our spring wildflower blooms lasted into December. The diversity of the garden was the main attraction for cardinals, hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

Brand new beds just watered in. We built the beds right on top of the Bermuda grass with no weed fabric, plastic, or cardboard underneath.

 

Here are the mulch beds with a fresh coat of mulch. These beds easily dried out at first from sun and wind, but now are holding water much better.

 

Close up of one bed in the first growing season. The diversity of plant roots provides many different types of feed for microorganisms. The beds are now completely shaded and many different types of fungi can be seen fruiting and mycelium has spread throughout the beds completely. The fungi are the teeth breaking down and eating the wood mulch inside the beds, turning it into luscious soil that has a clean forest smell.

 

 

This is picture was taken in late spring of the gardens first year. There are garden beds down there underneath the plants. Sunflowers did a great job giving us summer shade in the garden and bloomed spectacularly for the many pollinating visitors.

 

Garden Expansion

After the first year I decided to expand the garden. This expansion offered a great opportunity to practice some Keyline patterning with garden beds. Special thanks to Kirby Fry for being a great mentor, without him I would never have been able to build a garden like this. Together we have grown comfortable designing and installing systems similar to this.

This is what the area looked like before we started the garden addition. Almost 100% bare soil. The only things growing were sticker burrs and KR bluestem. Will things actually grow here?

 

The first thing to do was survey and lay out the garden and fence with flags. After laying out the keyline pattern, I began to move soil into the garden area to build the beds. I used some fill dirt as the base for the beds, which is mostly gravel and caliche. This is not the best substrate, but its what we had available on the farm. Once the base for each bed was built I began working on the fence.

 

 

 

 

 

The fence is 6 ft tall with 6×6 corner posts, 2×4 welded wire fencing and I used T-posts as the line posts.

 

This is a picture of the finished 6 foot fence. Thankfully my good friend Kirby Fry was willing to come over and help me get all this wire-fencing put up.

 

Here is an overhead view of the first garden and the new garden under construction.

 

Once the fence was complete it was time to start top-dressing the new beds with compost, mulch, and seed. We used compost from Geo-growers in Dripping Springs, oat straw from a local farmer and a diverse variety of annuals, native and cover crop seeds.

Here the beds are seen top-dressed with Geogrowers dairy compost.

 

Heres I am spreading compost and getting ready to rake the beds to perfection. The garden paths are already mulched.

 

This keyline garden is patterned for soil and water conservation. All of the bare soil is now covered with a layer of organic matter and seed. This garden is now a huge sponge capable of soaking in heavy rainfall.

 

Keyline patterned garden beds with fresh mulch. The beds are parallel to each other and designed around a single line on contour.

 

The final step to complete this garden was to add irrigation. I ran a 1 inch poly pipe up to the center of the garden and now can run all 4 sections of the irrigation system at the same time. This time I opted to use 360 degree micro sprayers on the garden beds instead of drip line. This gives us better seed germination and waters the beds more thoroughly.

 

Here is a photo of the irrigation system running and our new seedlings coming up!

 

The finished product is a drought proof garden that harvests rainfall and mitigates runoff in an area that was once completely degraded. In spring this once source of albedo will be vibrant with wildflowers, herbs and buzzing with bees and hummingbirds.

This photo of our keyline garden was taken the first spring April 10, 2018

For anyone interested in building these types of regenerative systems please inquire about our upcoming educational course that will be led by local legend and design mastermind Kirby Fry and myself in the spring!

3 Comments
  • Kirby Fry

    January 14, 2018 at 2:02 pm Reply

    Great looking gardens, Pete. Good job! I really like it that you’re using straw mulch.

  • Eric Huggins

    January 16, 2018 at 6:22 pm Reply

    Looks great! Really enjoyed your talk at the Fall PDC at Whole Life and would love to hear more about the educational opportunity when the info becomes available.

  • Woody Welch

    February 8, 2018 at 5:25 pm Reply

    Very nice before and after shots Pete. The best thing about it is that this narrative is still alive and will just keep getting better!

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