The Green Path
The title of this post was “borrowed” from an excerpt from the book Mindfully Green by Stephane Kaza. I must confess I haven’t read the book, but the excerpt was great reading. In a way, it is all related…
So many options
For an edible forest landscape there are quite a number of options for the medium and style of paths that you can use. It ranges from formal concrete paths, crushed rock, pebbles, various types of mulch, to different or combined forms of greenery, like grass and clover.
In our decision-making process, we had a lot of factors to consider. We are hoping we’ll be able to turn Dreamland into a health sanctuary, therefore we need paths that are inviting and also easy for public of all ages to use. Besides, we also need to be able to access all the areas with a wheelbarrow, our work cart or whatever small equipment we need to get in there. Our children, especially the youngest one, loves to run around barefoot. And, as I mentioned above, the paths also need to cater for ducks and chooks.
Cement is easy to maintain and it is very convenient for work equipment, but it is a bit too clinical, it has too much impact on the environment and besides, the network of paths we need would be way too costly for our budget. We use a ton of mulch in our beds and all over the place to improve the soil and for water retention, so we don’t really want to mulch the paths as well. Besides mulch isn’t always so nice on bare feet either.
So we decided to go green. Our initial idea was to get sheets of non-invasive roll-on lawn. We have learnt our lesson with the kikuyu and couch we inherited over at Homeland, you know. Roll-on is so quick and easy – prep, roll-on, water. But again, our budget restricted us. So in the end, after a lot of research, we decided to go with a mix of white clover, red clover (both perennial) and non-invasive tall fescue lawn. The rationale for the clover mix is that it is fodder for chooks, attracts bees and it also assists in improving the soil by providing nitrogen back into the soil. So the fruit tree roots growing in underneath the paths will greatly benefit. If we have to mow it, it will be good fodder for the compost heap too. The grass and clover seeds were sourced from McKays Grass Seeds.
It’s all in the preparation
The most work was in all the preparations. Removing weeds, lightly tilling the soil, burning weeds, putting in edging – making good use of the pine treasure we had earlier – and putting in (more) irrigation.
Shortly after phase one sowing was completed, we ran out of pine logs for edging. I posted on the Lara residents page, as well as on the Geelong permaculture page if anyone knew or had any not-too-thick straightish logs for the taking. That is so amazing about community – I got some good responses on both sites. Through these posts I got the help from a friendly lady called Angelique, who turned out to be a very good log spotter in our town. She sent me to a long gum-lined street, where we had such a good innings we managed to finish the edging work for phase two and even have a bit left for phase three.
Markus worked very hard carting logs, matching logs to bends in the paths and cleaning and raking the paths. Eventually we got all the edging done – also a good two to three days’ job.
Edging around the forest beds
In our dry summers the clovers, and even the grass to some extent, will have to be watered. It’s a long story, but we have to strike a balance between using tank water and town water on Dreamland, so we don’t have the ideal pressure nor water quantity for extensive irrigation. Conventional lawn pop-ups just don’t work. I have a box full of pop-ups that were only tested a few times, if anyone in the area wants them…
With good advice from the guys at Total Eden we’ve managed to increase the pressure by running a thicker hose to the irrigation station. We installed a series of little sprayers that cover most of the path and seating areas. In some places I’m making double use of some of the water sprayers from the vegetable and herb beds next to the paths. I other parts I’ve split the irrigation pipe into three separate sections. My rationale is that I can then water each section (automatically) each morning just by setting the right configuration the night before. It’s a bit of a compromise between reducing manual watering time and spending thousands on irrigation pipes and additional controllers.
Irrigation at work
This job took way longer than expected – the irrigation alone took more than 3 full days.
Lastly I carted in a thin layer of composted topsoil for the grass and clover seeds to be sown in. Incidental weightlifting exercises – topsoil must be the heaviest thing to wheelbarrow around! This mix was sourced from The Mulch Centre in Geelong. Again Shaun from The Mulch Centre neatly backed his big truck through the S-bends and dropped it all neatly without touching a plant or a barrier. I just love their mix, it has such nice warm damp fine black compost in.
Carting in the best part of 6m3 topsoil is an intimidating exercise, well for me it is anyway. So I had to play mind games to make it happen faster. First clear a path for the mulch cart to be able to pass the top soil heap, then finish those two paths before lunch time and then have all phase two completed before the kids come back from school. Small little milestones to break up the impact. Works for me.
Lastly, using the kitchen scale, we mixed the seeds in the ratios we wanted for the various areas – we wanted to top-up the “secret garden” and “hideaway” with only fescue grass, while using the clover and lawn mixture on the paths. The rationale behind this was that we wanted to attract bees, but not as much to the seating areas. For phase 1, Micaela and I sowed and raked. I just love sowing and planting stuff – there is something amazingly creatively satisfying in doing it. She also loved it – I think mostly in anticipation of the ducks which will eventually come – she is a big duck fan. Regardless of her motivation, we spent a great time together.
For the second phase both kids joined in and we had a great time sowing, raking and checking it all get watered through the various irrigation settings. Unfortunately, we were all so involved in the sowing, I don’t have a single photo of them helping…
We have sowed two of the three phases to make it more handle-able, and now we’re watering, praying for rain and hoping for good germination and growth. Phase 1 has already started sprouting and it’s looking good. The kids are so excited to see their seeds grow – they can’t wait to run all along the paths!
It’s amazing, now that we have the knowledge, how we almost automatically apply the permaculture principles. Here we observed and interacted, used small and steady solutions by doing the paths in phases, we reused the pine edging, we’re exploiting the multi-functionality of clover and we are ensuring that our paths are multi-functional too. I’m looking forward to walking and working around here in spring!
Looking forward to see the end result. Hope for you that it rains just enough!
You have quite a few nice eucalyptus in the background there. Do you happen to know what specie they are? After years of stigma, it nice to see that some of the smaller eucalypti are available for home gardens. We have a Eucalyptus cinerea that will be planting at work for the foliage. (Children at camp use it for crafting, even though it is not native.)
Tony, the big eucalyptus are actually just on the other side of our fence, on the boundary of the school that’s behind us. They’re beautiful trees, attract a lot of larger birds and create the most amazing silhouettes at sunset, BUT they slurp up a LOT of our ground water! Sort-of a mixed blessing 🙂
All specie of eucalypti have been rarely planted for a long time. People dislike their innate structural problems, and their combustibility. However, they are resilient to the warm and dry climate here. Some really are good trees for us.
People still plant them here, but mostly as windbreaks on larger farms – e.g. my neighbour’s son just planted a few hundred on a big farm. Or they are planted along the roads by the councils. As you’ve mentioned, because of their combustibility (and their water needs), less and less are being planted on smaller properties.