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Do you path compost?

 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Do you path-compost?
I “invented” this way of composting... Do you do it as well? I would like to know... This is for dry sites and/or dry material.

My first idea was to put pine needles on the paths. I was pleased with it. Then I started to put there the weeds from the sides.
I had some nice compost after a while.
So I started to dig a little more and put more pine needles! Then I needed more soil after reparing some stone walls, so I dug more, and so on. I made more and more, deeper and deeper! Then a nearby pile spared me the time to collect pine needles (and these are supposed to be too acidic, so better if it is not pure pine needles).

So I made a trench where I wanted to walk, and put the stuff waiting for composting.

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Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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My climate is mediterranean (=winter rain), oceanic (=not hot in summer) and sub-tropical (=frost free)
I had a problem for composting, even more than one.
You might recognize some very practical problems that are far from theory:

- Compost piles dry in a dry climate, then do not compost. I could have too much dry matter and not enough green material. Or green turning into dry fast.
- I had time problems for maintaining the piles wet and manage the covering and uncovering with plastic.
- It is not nice to be running to all piles to uncover them when there is some rain. Also, all this plastic around was not pleasing in such a beautiful place as a garden... (in wet place, it would be running to cover them....)
- The size of the different components is not the same, as I have weeds, little branches and cactus pads. (I try not to burn branches.)
- My back and available time hate turning compost piles, especially when some branches make it impossible!
- Mostly, I have terraces, and it is difficult to move the stuff, so I had to compost in more than one place, ideally at each level. Why move twice something? Especially when not even a wheelbarrow can go up and down.

So, I have found my solution for composting near the garden beds and for keeping the stuff moist and with less air.
I make as much compost as I can in the paths.

I thought paths had these carateristics:
- Garden paths are an almost useless place, the main use is to walk on it. Designing often include tips to reduce them.
- Some roots go under the paths, from plants around, especially trees.
- The ground is harder there, not the best idea.
- Evaporation is more important from conduction if the soil is bare.
- If weedy, it wets your trousers and feet with dew or rain.
- If it is hard and if you put stones or pea gravel, then weeding is hard. And I am not found of motorized smelly noisy weeding, nor covering all around in sticky green.

If I compost in the paths:
- I walk on the compost, so that I brake the dry parts and press them with the wet parts. No special work, just passing where I do anyway.
- No special place for it and I can cultivate everywhere.
- Compost will be at hand, and no need to carry weeds away from the beds.
- I still have to bring some dry parts from others parts of the garden, but it is less work if I have more than one place for composting.
- It does not dry so much in the sun because it is almost burried, and I water it less.
- If I water the compost, the extra water is for the nearby plants.
- Almost no weed, and they are easy to remove, and I leave them there.
- I have to dig the compost place, so I have extra soil, which is good for my place.
- Plants on the side of the paths have deep humidity and food.

Not all my composting goes there, I would say that it is a local solution for part of it. I also use it for part of the kitchen wastes, because I can empty the bucket under the covering, so that rats are less likely to have access to it.

About earth worms: they will surely come there as it suits them best. It is easier to manage than a special place where you have to take care of the suitable humidity, collect the liquid part etc. They know their job because for them is it just living!

For a start, I dig between 40 and 60 cms. I use the soil in the garden beds. It can be used for a raised bed.
Then I put all the biggest bits, like wooden sticks and dry stems (vine, cabbage and fennel stems, pigeon pea branches...) and cactus pads.
The smallest goes on top.
I can also put some goat/hen/pigeon manure, some ashes and charcoal.
I put some soil between layers. If I have some bad stuff, I mean something quite mineral that come from underground, that is where I put it, because the humic acids will make their minerals available. Of course I keep it as easy as possible, according to what is around without carrying. As my gardens were man build, I do find some close underground with less organic matter than I wished. But all food removal being a nutrients and mineral remover, I believe in taking care of the mineral enrichment. I can grow organic matter in sitiu, and I cannot get more minerals than what I already have. All I can do is making it more available to plants.
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Xisca Nicolas
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Posts: 1283
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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I especially mention a special interest when the garden is not absolutely flat (I do not even mean steep).
The organic matter can work as a swale and as a little "wall" to keep the upper bed flat.
It came out by itself when I did it, and I took pics to show the process, and remember it! I did not design this, the solution came by doing things with logic.

According to what I put, it can sink very quickly (opuntia young pads are very full of water, they are an underground watering!), and more matter will be needed after some time. I usually put more than needed from the start, and I usually end up the filling with armloads of nasturtium! This is like juicing into the drier stuff.
I also take care that no big stuff below can bother a confortable walking. Walking can be somehow annoying at the start though, before stabilizing. Gaining experience in doing it will also be useful...
I try to dig square trenches for doing this, which is not always possible. If the trench is between the Vform and Uform, and thus too wide on top so that I can reach the required depth, then I put more matter and put some soil on top of what will be the side of the path. Or I push the side soil little by little, to reduce the "Vform" into a "Uform".

In the 3 pics, I show that 1 side is a little higher than the other, and that I put some earth on part of the width of the path.
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Xisca Nicolas
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Posts: 1283
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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This is the longest I have done, in my "huerta chirimoya" (the 2 trees on the right, the best fruit in the world!)
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Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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That is a very cool solution to the dry climate issues you have. I like it.
 
R Scott
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I have done it, too. Worst case, it dries and makes mulch instead of compost.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Same here. It's mulch if laid down in summer. The critters still eat some and foot traffic breaks it down a little.

I'm more likely to ring compost, around certain plants. It all gets covered in coffee grounds, which is eaten by worms and others. Slugs have not been a problem, since the mounds are a breeding ground for snakes and lizards. They eat every slug and wire worm.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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I was also getting mulch when I was not DIGING!

Now the compost is in a trench...
I did this so that it do not become just mulch.

Happy to know that others have been doing it as well,
just wander how much you dug the path.
I do 1 foot.
 
R Scott
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As deep as my topsoil, it gets put into the bed. Usually that is 6-8 inches in my thin soil.
 
Kris Mendoza
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Location: New England USA, Zone 7a
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I am trying a variation on this in between my new annual beds. It's a city backyard situation. My husband (and I suspect my neighbors) hated my compost heaps... So I dug up the grass in the paths, turned it upside down and buried it in the new raised beds. Then I covered the bare paths with cardboard and bark mulch, which I hope will be a one-time job since I will be able to use kitchen scraps, chop & drop plants, etc. from now on. I have been brushing aside the mulch in a random part of the path, putting my kitchen compost in a little pile, and recovering it. Then in the fall I'll rake it up on top of the beds and cover the paths with fall leaves and begin again. I am a bit worried about slugs. I'll let you know how it works!
 
Marco Banks
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Brilliant!

I have a friend who runs an organic demonstration garden at a local university. He mulches lightly here and there, but never put down a heavy mulch of wood chips, which works so well in our climate here. So when they were doing some tree work on campus, I strongly encouraged him to get those chips and at least put them down on the pathways between his raised beds.

So that's what he did -- he laid an 8 inch layer of chips on all the pathways throughout the garden, and put a foot of chips into the chicken pen (how Joel Salatin does).

Two years later, he realized that the best soil in his garden was not in the veggie beds, but in the pathways where he had applied that deep carbon layer and where students had been walking for two years. Even better was the soil in the chicken pen. He started to rake the remaining mulch on the pathways back, digging up the newly formed compost/soil, and shoveling that into his raised beds.

I said, "Why don't you cut out the middle man, and apply the mulch directly to the beds?" He still has this mentality that you need "clean" soil under your garden plants, or bugs will get them.

I love your technique Xisca. Even in dry climates, it all eventually decomposes and breaks down. But your technique allows a fungal network to colonize the pathways, and that will eventually feed the tree roots once they find their way under the pathway.
 
eric koperek
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TO: Xisca Nicolas
FROM: Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com
SUBJECT: Path Composting
DATE: PM 3:46 Saturday 2 April 2016
TEXT:

1. This is a very old technology dating to the Middle Ages in Europe and to the Aztecs in Mexico.

2. My Father's family have been farming the same land for 800 years. Path composting = sheet composting is a big part of their horticultural operations. Sheet composting = deep mulching = don't pile materials higher than 12 inches or "compost" will start to heat up. Sheet composting is a type of "cold composting" where temperatures rarely rise above ambient levels = you DON'T want 160 degree Fahrenheit temperatures like you get in conventional big compost piles.

3. I grew up on a commercial vegetable farm that contained 10 hectares = 25 acres of raised beds. We threw all agricultural wastes from the raised beds into the paths simply because it was the most convenient way to get rid of the mess. Sheet composting in paths eliminates hauling materials and turning compost piles. When you farm primarily by hand labor you have to be ruthlessly practical. Anything that saves hand labor is good. Anything that requires more labor is bad (because labor is the most limited and expensive agricultural input).

4. Rotted plant materials = rough compost can be easily and efficiently forked up from pathways to raised beds as needed.

5. Closely related technologies include CATTLE PENNING and CHICKEN YARDS. The principle for both is the same. Take all agricultural wastes that need "shredded" and dump them in the cattle pen. The animals will stomp everything to pieces and mix it with their urine and feces. Instant compost with hardly any labor. Once yearly, rake off the coarse upper layer then fork out the finished compost below. Use chicken yards for smaller waste materials. The chickens will scratch and peck everything to pieces and mix it with their dung. Keep throwing plant materials into the chicken pen to form a "deep mulch" = sheet composting. Keep adding mulch so chicken pen stays clean = manure decomposes along with mulch to make compost. Once yearly, rake aside rough materials and fork out finished compost.

6. Sheet composting = deep mulching is ideal for fruit trees, grape vines, and berry bushes. Apply mulch out to the drip line = farthest extent of branches. Use any kind of organic materials. Apply mulch at least 8 inches thick. Fertilizers, lime, rock dust, et cetera can be sprinkled over the mulch as needed. For best results, apply manure under the mulch to prevent flies and to prevent nitrogen loss.

7. Keep all crops mulched 8 inches deep at all times = 365 days each year. Pull aside mulch only as needed to seed or transplant crops. When plants are well established, pull mulch close around crop stems. Run drip irrigation hose under mulch for a super-efficient watering system.

8. You can run entire farms on nothing more than dead leaves and other organic wastes. Manure is nice to have but often hard to get. Leaves, weeds, and straw are generally easy to obtain. Fill beds with organic wastes then let everything rot for a year. The resulting coarse compost is an ideal growing medium for most any horticultural crop = fruits, flowers, herbs, vegetables, even small grains.

9. Earthworms like organic matter. Mulch heavily and earthworm populations will soar above 1 million worms per acre = 23 worms per cubic foot of dirt. 1 million worms per acre produce 1 ton = 2,000 pounds of "worm casts" = earthworm manure every day during the growing season. The earthworms till and fertilize your crops saving you much time, expense, and labor. My Great Grandfather taught me: "Feed your worms and they will tend your crops". Worms especially like legumes. Earthworm populations double when soils are planted with clover (as opposed to pasture grasses).

10. If mulching materials are not available or too expensive you can plant crops into a living mulch of Dutch White Clover. This works especially well for any crops that can be transplanted. Mow the clover just before transplanting to give crops more time to get established. Remember to water and fertilize generously because you are growing 2 crops (cash crop and mulch crop) on the same land at the same time. The clover replaces most of the fertilizer and all of the herbicides and insecticides used on conventional farms using synthetic chemicals.

11. You can also grow your own mulch where large quantities are needed for field-scale production. Plant cereal rye then mow with a sickle-bar mower or roll with a roller-crimper when rye reaches 6 feet high. 6 foot high rye produces 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of long straw mulch per acre = 90% weed control. Seed or transplant directly through the rye mulch. This works great with vine crops like pumpkins, squash, and melons.

12. We seed paths between raised beds with Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) because it only grows 6 to 8 inches high and keeps paths clear and mud-free.

ERIC KOPEREK
 
Irene Kightley
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That's a really interesting post Eric, thanks. I especially like two things you said, that in farming you save labour and use animals to do most of the work for you.

I always keep both those things in mind and couldn't manage my garden (about a hectare) myself if it wasn't for my animals' help.

Nicolas, I too use paths for making compost and mulch material, but that's a by-product of the way that I make paths and keep them clear and agreeable to walk on. I've already posted my method in an older thread here : http://www.permies.com/t/14614/homestead/garden-pathways.

Irene
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Glad to have posted this and get so many more input, details and variations! Thanks!

Yes, this is a sort of sheet-compost, but narrower.
I have real sheet compost where I have trees.

My main leaves source are avocados, and they have some surely "bad" components, because hardly anything can grow under them.
I plan to intensify my use of pine needles. (herre they are used for mulching onions for example)
Straw is not a common by-product, and if I buy straw, then it would come from abraod by boat!!! Yes, straw!
Here, if you find cow manure, it is not mixed with straw but branches... So you cannot put this on beds and sow in between. You can hardly even plant in between......

You have to understand that I cannot sheet compost at the moment in my beds, because I have no access to bark,
and also, I have chosen to NOT use "biotrituradora" (this noisy machine that turn branches into chips).
So, when you say that you put aside mulch for sowing in between, I CANNOT! It would be to big stuff.
I have very little thin stuff apart from pine needles and weeds.
So it all dries and hardly ever compost...
Apart from green weeds that stick to the ground and do not really make mulch.
 
Rue Barbie
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Location: Coastal Southern California
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I've sometimes done this, though not intentionally. I like to put down mulch in my paths as weed control and sometimes when I'm weeding from the beds I'll put the weed bodies onto the path, with the intention of moving them elsewhere. But sometimes that just doesn't happen and they get stepped in. When winter comes and it rains, things break down further. In the spring when I'm preparing beds, often there is good compost to rake into the beds, and the paths get remulched with fresh debris.

A few months ago I was watching some youtube videos of intensive gardening in Japan. The gardener would put most everything he was removing into the paths and walk on it. The language spoken was Japanese so I have no idea what the narrative was. But it was interesting to watch him work. His veggies looked great too.

I think I'm going to do more in path composting this year. Already lots of paths have mulch and/or weeds down in them. More mulch on top, and then add a bit of moisture.... I'm thinking some of the grey water from the house will be perfect for this.

Thanks for the idea.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Rue, same in the end! I did this, though not intentionally!
For a start.
Then it became intentional, and with some voluntary modification to the basic idea.

The changes were:

- Dig the paths deeper
(get more soil for beds, get more room for compost)

- Add dry stuff to the weeds from the beds
(less sluggy for walking, more air, dry stuff can rot with the help of weeds)
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Actually, I want to add something to the 1st idea....

DO YOU STONE COMPOST?

Because I also have the tendency to throw stones away but not far
(much heavier than weeds!)

At the beginning I could not chose between using paths for weeds or for stones....
The configuration of my place allows me to throw stone either at the foot of stone walls, or at the bottom of the ravine.

But then, I discovered that I find MORE worms where the soil has more stones!
I think it is because of keeping more humidity,
BUT I am not sure that it is the only reason....
Because I heard about the humic acids eroding stones and desolving minerals into the soil.
It is even the reason why it is good to add stone powder, with a composition compensation for the lack of certain minerals (according to soil analisis or knowledge of the place you live, each having a general mineral pattern)

I have nothing against this idea, except that it is costly in transport and extraction.
I sure like the idea of working local!

SO, I want to start some compost WITH STONES.
Of course not big, the smallest the better.
Anyway compost is better sieved to remove half done compost and put it back for finishing to mature.
The same stones can be used for vEEEEEEry long.

Somebody doing it?
 
Rue Barbie
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- Dig the paths deeper
(get more soil for beds, get more room for compost)


Because of our on-going drought, this year I tried making some sunken beds so water would be contained and not run off, with the paths higher than the beds. The garden has very good drainage, so 'water logged' is no concern. This has worked well, but adding and making compost and mulching makes it difficult to keep the beds at the lower level I want. In the back, where I was working today, the beds were raised. There were some weeds in the paths, and after adding more weeds and mulch, the paths were almost as high as the mulched beds. It all will settle. I did toss some grey water on the paths, so we will see what happens. I think it will work well.

- Add dry stuff to the weeds from the beds
(less sluggy for walking, more air, dry stuff can rot with the help of weeds)


I can see doing that come fall. Since we don't get rain, and my soaker hoses are beneath the mulched beds, I expect the mulch on top won't decompose very much. Should be good 'path fodder'.

Gathering more weeds for the path composing also cleared a couple more small areas to plant. One will have more chilies, the other will be a basil bed.


As for stone composting.. Nope. Hardly any smaller stones here, and only a few larger ones.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Posts: 1283
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Close latitude and climate, but not soil, I do have quite a lot of stones in some parts of the gardens, because my soil is man-made.

If you do not have many stones, then anyway the soil is made of "reduced stones", and you still have humic acids "eating up" the sand or any mineral, so that they become bio-available to plants.

I would put soil in the weeds, not only for inoculating but for the favorable mineral degradation that the compost does.

This point may not be very well known?
 
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