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I planted in the path between raised beds and the difference is clear

 
steward
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I've had this garden for 4 years.  We shoveled soil up into gentle raised beds and always walk in between them.  We've always kept the paths mulched with wood chips and we mulch the beds with chopped up leaves.  This year I wanted to plant oats so I figured I'd plant in the path to get more growing area.  I raked the wood chips away and broad forked the path.  It was, of course, clearly tougher than broadforking the beds.  I planted oats and they all grew well.  From the picture below you can see that the center two rows are in the old path and are not as tall as their friends.  The raised bed is only 1-2" higher than the path.

I'm sure there are many reasons for this (compaction, different soil life under wood vs leaves, different soil life under plants vs foot traffic, etc) but it was neat to see so clearly.
Oats-in-path-vs-bed.jpg
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Oats in path vs bed
 
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I would think the compaction would be the main difference, that and the wood chips promote fungi more than they do bacteria but oats, wheat, barley and rye all like a fair mix of these organisms.
Another thing that could cause such stunting would the difference in nutrients, I would imagine the actual bed would have more since those areas would have more of the microbiome growing nicely compared to the previous pathway.

Excellent work there, you are on to something.

Redhawk
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks Bryant!  It was neat for the difference to be so clear.  The main learning I got was to not plant in the paths unless I'm willing to accept lower performance  If I try it again I'll do more broadforking to see if that fixes the issue.  I'd think ideally in the fall and spring prior to planting.
 
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Good observation.  I think that the issue of compaction and then using a broadfork on it is good.  The compaction is general, though, and the broadfork can only do so much.  The broadfork will break up the soil into a type of soil aggregate made up of compacted clumps, rather than breaking it into clumps that would simply be held by bacteria and fungi.  I think that if you continue to work the paths with plant roots/growth and broadforking, then you will slowly make gains on this, but compaction does not go away in one day, even if it looks like the structure has similar qualities.  Not sure.  That's my two cents.  Also, if you add compost teas or manure teas to the situation it will aid the clumps to get microbial growth.  
 
Mike Jay
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Good point Roberto, I'm sure the broadfork chunks are larger than the natural tilth of the planting beds.  Maybe I'll have to till the path.

Just kidding
 
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You might turn a corner at some point, if this is anything to go by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCtafUgoCX0.
I had to think of this vid when I saw your topic. In the vid are paths there that have been covered with wood chips for 8 years. 4 years - 8 years: things can happen in that time, like soil being able to give back more and compaction becoming less of an issue.

It also matters what you're planting, of course. The guy in the vid is showing a tomato, I think that's kind of an easy one; fast growing fruit crops want nutrition, and don't mind too much if some of that comes in a somewhat raw form.
Today I harvested a big garlic bulb, my biggest one so far with a diameter of 8 cm. It was growing half in the pathway, somewhat down from the bed. My guess is in that position it stayed more moist, and probably there was less temperature fluctuation. And Alliums can deal reasonably well with compacted soil, although my soil is compacted anyway, also on the beds.
I think it's well documented especially in the Hügelbeet section that many crops benefit from being in the lower sections of such beds. So... what I'm saying is there are quite a few things to factor in. One example will not tell a full story, I'm sure you'll realise. It would be fun to learn more if you're continuing experimenting with this!        
 
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Broadfork, then sow diakon or tillage radishes?
A great crop, it has greens and seedpods, so leaving the root to feed the soil isn't too much of a sacrifice.
 
Mike Jay
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I harvested yesterday.  Some of the oats in the middle two rows had been nibbled by birds and some on the edges was still a bit green.  I weighed the harvest from each row for scientific purposes.  The 8 rows run N/S and are about 12' long.  From left to right (W to E) the harvest was:
  • 7 oz
  • 4 oz
  • 4 oz
  • 2 oz
  • 1.5 oz
  • 3 oz
  • 4 oz
  • 5 oz


  • The two middle rows that were in the path did clearly worse.  The West row clearly did the best.  We were quite dry this early summer and the sprinklers probably hit that row the hardest.
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    DSC04574s.jpg
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