Sunday, April 7, 2013

Up the garden path, part 2

It's been nearly a year since I posted about my difficulties coming up with a suitable surface for the paths between our raised vegetable garden beds. Well, I can now report that we have come up with at least a possible solution.

One of the by-products of all the planting we did last weekend was about ten gallons of fill dirt—mostly subsoil, with a generous sprinkling of rocks, that got dug up out of the holes where we planted the plum trees and never went back in. Our original plan was to add this extra dirt to our garden beds, as the landscaper we consulted last year had recommended. (Her argument was that if you have boxed raised beds, they should be filled all the way up to the top to improve airflow.) So we cleared all the leaf mulch off of one of the beds and mixed in a couple of buckets of our homemade compost in preparation for planting the snap peas, our first crop of the year to go into the ground. But as Brian stood with a bucketful of dirt poised to dump into the bed, he paused and said, "I just can't do it." The soil in the bed was so much nicer than the stuff we'd be adding to it that he thought it could only make the overall soil quality worse rather than better. So I said, "Well, just dump it out onto the paths, then."  And after we'd done so, it occurred to us that we might as well spread all the rest of the dirt on the paths as well, over top of some brown kraft paper. (This had been another of the landscaper's suggestions, and we happened to have plenty of it left over from our massive floor refinishing project three years ago.)

As you can see in this picture, we had enough dirt to cover just one corner of the existing garden enclosure—about one-sixth of the total path area. The kraft paper we had was nearly twice as wide as the paths, so we unrolled a length of it, folded the excess over, and tucked it underneath before spreading the dirt on top. After we'd picked out the largest of the rocks, it made a reasonably smooth and comfortable surface—certainly much better than the surface we have on the rest of the paths, which is a mixture of weeds and dry leaves. And we hope the brown paper barrier will keep it weed free for the rest of this growing season, at least. So, in theory, there's no good reason why we couldn't use this solution for the rest of the garden paths as well. The only problem is that we've run out of dirt. No doubt we'll generate some more when we dig up the rest of the rhubarb bed to add our new plants (they're due to ship this week), but it won't be enough to cover the entire area.

Now, when the landscaper originally proposed the brown-paper barrier for our garden paths, her suggestion was to top it with a layer of wood chips. She said it was often possible to get these delivered for free from tree removal companies. However, when I tried calling around, the one company I found that would do this warned that they come by the truckload, which he said was "about 25 yards." (Assuming he meant cubic yards, this works out to 675 cubic feet.) At the time, we assumed that this would be way more than we could possibly use, since the entire path area would only take about 50 cubic feet. But now, with all the plantings we have added to the yard, there are a lot more places where we can use mulch. If we were to have a load delivered at the beginning of the spring, we could put

  • 50 cubic feet on the garden paths
  • 4 on the cherry trees
  • 16 on the raspberry patch
  • 22 on the rhubarb bed
  • 8 on the asparagus bed
  • 15 on the cherry trees
  • 2 on the day lilies in the front yard
  • 6 on our foundation plantings

And all of that adds up to...hmm, just 123 cubic feet. That's a lot more than we could easily haul home from the store in 2-foot bags, but it's still less than a quarter of what a tree service could be expected to dump in our driveway. So we may have to look for other options. A quick search of the Craigslist postings for our area did turn up a few posts from homeowners who have wood chips to give away (either left over from a delivery or produced on site from trees felled during Superstorm Sandy), but we'd have to pick them up and haul them ourselves, and our little car can't accommodate much more than 12 cubic feet at a time. So we'd be talking about maybe 10 trips. That might not be so bad if any of them were actually nearby, but the closest one I've found so far is half an hour away. Still, it might be worth keeping an eye on.
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