The first permaculture book I read was “The Permaculture Home Garden” by Linda Woodrow. Back in mumblemumble 1997. I read it from cover to cover one cold weekend in bed with my first baby, (those were the days). Usually I’m on a needs to know basis with non-fiction, but I gobbled it up. Linda made so much sense.
One thing I acted on immediately was sawdust paths. Revelation! And I’ve been doing them ever since. The effort required to make them is far outweighed by the benefits they bring.
Back then I loved those paths for the easy weeding (weeds through mulch are soft), and the lovely mud free working surface. Over time I’ve found more good things to honor about the humble sawdust paths. Now I consider them a part of my soil health regime.
A Border-less, Flexible Garden
There are no borders beneath the soil. No paths, no fences, no roads – all is one. Mulching the paths improves the soil beneath the paths, which in turn improves the beds. No boundaries remember. What we do in one part impacts on the next. Jump in a virtual drone and pull back from your property – really gets you thinking doesn’t it!
When the soil in your paths is as nourished as the soil in your bed you’ve got flexibility, room to spread your wings should you need an extra 100mm extra to fit another row of crop in. Which is another good reason for no hard edges.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts ” Aristotle.
And then there’s the mulch factor. Left to time and micro biology, your paths turn dark and load up on worms. Should you be low on mulch – the paths are your back up plan. Right there in your garden!, no shop required. Well rotten sawdust is a beautiful mulch. There is of course a trade off here – once removed, fresh sawdust is required.
Plan Your Paths
Paths make up a big chunk of your garden, yet they don’t usually factor into the planning process. They should! They make a big difference to the overall flow and your workload. Too wide and there’s more room for weeds and less for crops. Too narrow and your garden is no fun to work in. I like a central wheelbarrow path with narrow walking paths coming off it. It’s all the little time savers and benefits that add up to an easy to manage garden.
It’s all about the pro’s and con’s. And here they are for various path covering materials, starting with my least favourite, ending with most. Stones = weed growing heaven, not to mention horrible to barrow loads on and no flexibility. Grass = weed competition on four sides of your bed and too much mowing. Bare dirt = too much weeding for my liking. Sawdust = soil building, mulch making, easy weeding = heaven.
There is one other path covering I use and that’s planks of wood in the greenhouse where growing space is at a premium and the beds change slightly each year depending on what crop is grown where. Even though its a hard surface – it still brings the worms up, but best of all stops compaction from foot traffic. In winter the paths all come up and are stacked away until spring, and the greenhouse is sown in a cleansing mustard greencrop.
The Simple How To’s
Lay cardboard on top of the grass, unless you have pernicious weeds in which case you need to grub them out first. Be pernickety with your cardboard laying – leave no gaps and go right to edges. I even go up the sides, the cardboard will break down after all. Cover deeply in sawdust.
Some of you will worry about the sawdust blowing away. This is a possibility if you live on the edge of the Cook Strait, but I’ve never had a problem here. The sawdust mats down beautifully. Sure it’s a bit fluffy when it goes on, but a bit of ironing with the wheelbarrow or stomping feet = sorted! And yes, it’ll attach to your boots until it settles in – nothing a stamp on the grass wont sort out.
In the first few years I top the sawdust up annually. Thereafter as required. If its been a particularly wet year I’ll need to, and if I’ve had a heap of open days (your feet pound it down!), I’ll need to.
Because we have our sawmill down the road I don’t need to go far. Find a local mill or hit up a landscape supply outlet. Sawdust direct from a mill is untreated – it comes from the unprocessed, raw log. It’s sawdust from a workshop you need to worry about.
If you live local to me and are intrepid – you can share our sawdust bounty for a koha. It’s up to you to get here and stump through the mud in your gumboots (or phone your mate with a 4WD) and fill some sacks. You wont need the gym that day 🙂