Now and again the effort was intensified. By the middle of the summer especially after a good downpour or two I couldn’t help but notice I was no longer walking on one or two weeds but a blanket. Very thoughtful of the weeds to be thinking of our needs but alas we didn’t place this order, thank you.
Yes, the weeds stopped us getting muddy and those knees were thankful to be on a soft mattress of green. But then the weeds went into overdrive. No longer were they content with our pathways, they decided our vege beds were fair game. Slyly at first Mr. Couch (Elymus repens) and Ms. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) were sending their roots deep into our beds, unnoticed with their covert approach. They were the first wave and what a formidable wave they were too. This seemed to open the floodgates. By the end of the season I was pulling my hair out. No longer relaxed by a blissful hour or two pottering in the garden. I could cope with the odd weed in the vege beds but this unruly offensive from the sidelines was too much. What to do?
The problem wasn’t the weeds, they were just part of a steep learning curve. We had a bit of mulch and some compacted dirt, but we needed more.
It got me thinking that paths can be more than just where we walk and wheelbarrow. Pathways can have other useful functions if we make the effort.
Three examples – one permanent, one more flexible and one I couldn’t resist.
You can chuck a few chips down, but for great results dig a path 30cm deep, filling generously with woodchips to allow some compaction. They’re easy to maintain if the odd weed pops up.
The woodchips slowly break down. You can top up with fresh woodchips from time to time. After four to six years dig up the woodchips and apply them directly to your vege garden. You will find they have broken down beautifully. The top 5-10cm is less decomposed and heads to the compost heap. The bottom 20cm is rich and compost like. Straight onto the vege beds. Mixed with some blood and bone, sheep pellets or compost, topped off with some mulch and the beds are raring to go. Refill with woodchips and the cycle begins again.
I struggled at first when I came across concrete paths. This is a long-term solution. With this permanent path comes years, maybe lifetimes of hassle free pathways.
Other advantages and probably my favorite is ‘thermal mass’. Concrete soaks up the heat all day, changing your microclimate. On those marginal frosty mornings these concrete paths make all the difference preventing frost in your vege patch as they emit the previous day’s heat slowly.
There’s one homemade greenhouse in our community that has deep concrete paths. This greenhouse almost never goes below zero. You could easily spice the concrete up with a bit of color in the mix or add some colorful inlays.
The composting path
I stumbled across a friend using this technique. To add extra heat to her greenhouse over the winter months she decided to have a composting path.
Over 1m deep, she layers the paths following the same principles as a hot compost heap. This definitely is a labour-intensive system. She turns it a couple of times over winter. The composted paths are applied to the beds after four months then refilled again. Her veges definitely looked cozy with this central heating system. This is for the very enthusiastic.
It reminds me of the Victorian gardeners growing pineapples in their glasshouses using deep steaming manure pits below the plants.
Other materials we can use for pathways include gravel, sand, crushed rock, sawdust, pavers, carpet, weed mat. The more permanent the material the less maintenance it will require long term.