Managing Space Between Garden Borders and Crops

Clever ways to manage the spaces between your garden borders and crops. Includes borders made of dirt paths, mulch, grass pathways, sheet composting, edgings and bearwallow beds.

| May/June 1988

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    Susan and Franklin Sides (and little Walker) with the Bearwallow Beds described in the article.
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    The lap-joint corners of the Bearwallow Beds adapt themselves to hose guides and to bed coverings.

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The path of least resistance. Clever ideas to use when managing space in-between garden borders and your crops. 

Managing Space Between Garden Borders and Crops

Gardeners often treat their growing areas as almost sacred soil, while ignoring the earth directly underfoot—the pathways. We put so much energy into tending our crops and flowers that the spaces between the beds are mostly forgotten. But then one day we suddenly realize that we're forced to spend more time weeding the pathways than the crops. Or we get fed up with walkways that become as slick as boiled okra every time it rains. Or we pull another clump of tough-rooted grass and wonder if there's any way to keep that aisle cover from invading the asparagus.

Sound familiar? If your paths lead to similar toils and troubles, it's time you took a better look at just where you stand in your own garden. Everyone wants low-maintenance walkways that look good and make getting around pleasant and efficient. The ideas offered here can help you have them.

One note: Many of my techniques apply better to gardens with beds (wide growing areas) than to those devoted to row crops. Another note: Whatever pathway panacea you prefer, make sure the paths themselves are wide enough to handle the jobs you need to do. If you can't bring in a garden cart without crushing your lettuce or can't weed the tomatoes without sitting on the beans, you need wider paths (18 inches is narrow, 36 is wide). You may even want to work out an artful combination of different-sized pathways to use space most effectively.

Garden Borders and Dirt Paths

Pathways with unusually poor soil or heavy foot traffic may sprout so few weeds they can be left as is. (That's rarely been my luck.) If too many unwanted plants do shoot up, you can chop them off with a hoe. Better yet, sharpen the edge of a flat-faced spade, run it just under the soil surface when the earth isn't wet, and skim off the weeds. Skimming's not too difficult, and the results are clean lines with that well-manicured look.

If too much rainwater runs into your beds from the pathways, try working on the aisles once in a while during the wet season. Push a heavy garden fork about two-thirds of the way into the soil, and wiggle it to create air spaces. Repeat the process every six to 12 inches. (Either that or redesign your garden so pathway rivulets run through and out of the plot.)

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