Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Preparing The Garden Path

I know it's still February, but our warmer winter and extra rains have caused things to green-up just a little bit early this year. And as a result, grass is starting to grow where I'm not sure I want it. Like my garden paths. 

I could leave it to grow and just mow it, but I don't want the grass competing with the vegetables for the little water we have out west. Second, it would die fairly early in the season and just be a mess.  Third, we only have a non-electric mower that would fit in these path spaces and we really don't need the extra work.

Last year, I just left the dirt and kept it hoed. The results. A couple of tough days hoeing in the beginning, some easy maintenance the remainder of the summer, and lots of mud. Whenever I watered, the boxes seeped excess water and made the paths a mud pit. I really didn't care for this much.

My solution? Mulching the paths. I'm hoping that it will keep things dryer by creating a barrier between me and the mud. Instead of a plastic material, I opted for something that would eventually compost into the ground because it was natural and won't have to be removed in the event that we decide to move things around, and just because it was cheap!

Here you can see how we layered newspaper with straw on top. You can't see how thick the paper is, but you need enough that it won't break down too fast and you have weeds come through mid summer.

Here is how it looked when it was nearly complete:

I really liked how it turned out. We'll see this spring and summer how well it works. In case you're considering this for your own garden, here's some tips you might want to consider:

• Working with straw is messy business. Wear boots or you'll be picking bits of straw out of your socks. And a jacket that repels water should repel straw bits, too.

• If you have allergies, wear a mask, or do like me... stand up wind when breaking it up into pieces.

• Your surface underneath should be level and free of big rocks or sticks. This will make for a smoother surface to walk on even under all that straw. But don't dig up weeds; they'll die from lack of sunlight. If you have holes, the straw can be slick and you could slip into a low spot.

• When laying the paper, choose a day that isn't windy. Wetting your papers a bit the night before will make it lie flat and be easy to work with. 

• Add extra paper in spots where you know water tends to puddle. That way it won't break down as fast.

• To keep the straw from blowing, wet it slightly with a hose. We knew rain was coming later in the day, so we just let nature take care of it for us.

Perhaps you're wondering how many newspapers and how much straw do I need? My garden is roughly 24 feet long by 14 feet wide with four raised beds. (I like lots of room in between for maneuvering).  I used one bale of straw and two and a half crates of newspaper that were leftovers from the newspaper office (Thanks, Dawna! These will be going back to the Post Office asap!).

This is truly an experiment and I have no clue really how well it's going to work. But, I won't know until I try. This project seemed to have the potential for a big payoff with little risk or investment since it took us about an hour and only cost us $7 for a bail of straw. 

I'd really like to know if anyone has ever done this and how it worked for you. Do share!


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