The right paths can reduce mud, but they can also retain water. They make access to your growing areas much more enjoyable. What I did was dug 24″ deep trenches about 24″ across the top on contour with double reach beds in between, then filled those trenches with shredded wood chips.
Originally those chips would be dug out to be put on beds, yet they pack down into a nice mat within a year. It's great that even during a heavy rain I have no standing water in the garden. Before using this concept I had muddy spots, compacting in the wrong places, and had to water regularly — no more.
Even on the hottest days I could dig down just an inch in the mulch paths to find moist chips. New layers were inoculated with mushrooms and now I have a secondary harvest. What would fewer trips with a watering can, or babysitting soaker hoses mean to your garden enjoyment?
Wood chips come from local tree trimmers. There is a risk of getting a sick tree so I ask them not to bring by diseased wood. Cuttings around the property get dropped in place, I do chop-n-drop on deep mulch beds. Deep straw mulch on beds keeps away weeds, not much grows on the wood chip mulch paths.
Started this on a new property in 2012. I only water when seedlings are just put in, outside that watering isn't necessary. As the paths break down they become spongy like the core of a hugelkultur. They retain enough moisture that I periodically get a mushroom harvest outside of normal seasons.
I'm careful not to leave organic materials on the paths that would make good mulch or that could be composted. Keeping paths clear reduces hiding places for snakes, voles, and other visitors.
Keeping paths clear and layering paths over time also reduces short term disease vectors — especially since the paths are first line of defense from what visitors track in off the road, grass, or other areas off property. Clear mulch paths also work as a heat sink during cool seasons when plants are shorter.
At some points these paths get as tall as raised beds, which have also been mounded with deep mulch. Perhaps in the future the first layer of mulch would be removed from paths as they are dug out — however, how beds are managed that won’t be a problem.
When you are ready for less work in your garden and better results around the homestead, then write us about materials management — as PROSPERITY HOMESTEAD helps certified permaculture designers displace landscapers as the normal for land management. Contact us for details.
Justin Hitt is a Permaculture Design Consultant with more than two decades of experience with organic gardening. He teaches the practical application of critical thinking, entrepreneurial ecology, and homestead management. Practical insights for practitioners, estate owners, and homesteaders.