Hello Everyone, long time lurker first time poster.
I dug a new veggie garden this spring in what was previously lawn had has probably been for the last 20+ years. Soil is a heavy clay in raised rows which will need work to lighten up and the plants are having mixed success at pushing through it. I have been mulching the plants with grass mowed from the lawn and am approaching the point where all the beds are covered. The pathways are currently bare clay and are slowly becoming home to whatever nature has decided to plant there. Before the mulch I had issues with the soil drying out and am thinking a cover of some sort on the paths is a good idea. The way I see it I have 3 options. 1) leave the "weeds", they shade the ground and their roots help break up the soil, 2) dump mulch on them and the ones that come up get to stay 3) pull them and mulch the paths. What is your experience with this? Any thoughts on what will be best for the long and short term health of the garden soil?
Paths to me are permanent structures since using them creates some compaction.
To counter this inevitable event, mulches of wood chips are one of the best, fungi will inhabit the woodchips and work their way down into the soil beneath, giving the start of a great mycelium network that will only benefit the plants in the gardens.
Some people use gravel or small river rocks, this is fine if you are going to be using heavy equipment most of the time but not so good if you are just walking with a wheel barrow.
Weeds can be left but then you are also adding to the weed seed load of the area, most people really don't want to add to their worries or weeding time load.
However, if you are ok with using weeds for mulch around your plants, then letting weeds cover the paths so you can chop and drop where you want new mulch, then your paths are going to be fine with weeds for the cover.
I personally have a mix of weedy grass lawn paths (between raised beds) and wood chip mulch paths (less frequently used paths).
Most of our raised bed gardens already have a good fungal network in the soil and the wood chip paths are spreading more fungal network to those areas slated for development at a later date. (these are paths to areas I am cutting firewood, clearing for silvopasture and opening to the sun for more garden spaces).
We do not want any soil to lay naked to the sun or sky, all soil should have something covering it, preferably growing plants but if foot traffic is going to be heavy then something more durable is usually better and that is where wood chips shine.
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i like woodchips also because it holds moisture well and over time , breaks down creating beautiful black soil , full of worms, which carry these nutrients into your clay soil areating it naturally. i get mine from a local arborist and put at least 3in. of green chips around all my plants and trees every spring. prevents weeds from growing there also.
Wood chips for me as well. And deep. I go super deep with them; this keeps the weeds down and after a few years I can 'mine' the paths for compost, replacing with chips and starting the cycle all over.
I'm very much in the mulch camp. In fact, when digging out and building new garden beds, I like to dig the paths down, as far as the beds, if I have the wood chips. As Redhawk noted, fungi will colonise the mulch and spread to the soil in the beds, helping to improve soil life.
When I did this in an urban backyard, I had a path around my 6' tall (three feet buried), 3' wide, 18' long hugelbeet that was three feet wide and deep with woodchips. It improved drainage in the rainy parts of the year, acted as a moisture battery in the dry parts, and did exactly what a good path should.
I was curious, so I dug it out the next season, when the arbourists were making their rounds, and found that a great portion of the chips, nearer the soil surface, had turned to soil. The wood chip trench that I had made as a path had turned into a soil bioreactor, producing living soil and thriving soil life.
So as long as the woodchips are free, I would definitely repeat this method.
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