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What are the paths between your raised beds made out of ?

Not sure if this is best in this Forum or the Permaculture Forum...
I have two pathways for 3 raised beds. Both started out lawn grass. The raised beds are on a slope grading away from the house.

One was made last year and was covered with cardboard then about 2" mixture of shredded hardwood and pine bark mulch. Then there was a low spot that kept getting wet so I put a couple of flakes of straw down and, I think, more bark mulch.

The other one was started last fall and spent the winter under cardboard. This spring, I covered the surface with straw, just enough that cardboard doesn't show. This area too gets very wet and puddles after watering the raised beds.

The problem is Path#2 is starting to smell. Something is obviously wrong. All the wetness -- maybe causing anaerobic reaction? Wouldn't that be detrimental to the nutrient levels in the beds? Since it's a low area, I'd like to raise it up a bit so I'm not standing in 1~2" water. But what to add?

The Path#1 doesn't smell -- I'm guessing all the shredded bark -- maybe the pine especially is helping, but after 3 days of rain, it's starting to puddle and get really mushy. I'm going to have to raise the level there too.

I started to wonder if this is the best use of these paths? So much carbon material -- will it affect the nutrient levels in the beds?

The trouble is I can't think of what to do. If I raise the path surfaces, won't that take away from providing better drainage for the raised beds? Also, my neighbors on the other side of the fence has complained that when I water too much, their lawn, which basically forms a trough between their house's grading and ours, ends up with standing water. Aside from the unpleasant surprise of walking through the hidden puddle, the grass there grew so lush there last year that he had to mow extra! (I suspect all the rich goodness from my raised beds were feeding his grass :roll: )

So, I need ideas
(1) immediate fix for the Path#2's possibly anaerobic condition (I tried scattering a small handful of dolomite lime in the area and that seemed to help for about a week, but it's starting to smell again after 3 days of rain)
(2) how to keep the paths from puddling and neighbor's yard from flooding when I water the raised bed (when it rains, his rain gutters pour water down there too, but that's not my problem) One obvious fix I'm not willing to tackle is to dig up the raised beds that are butted up against the fence to make any drainage structure underneath.
(3) At the same time, I want to KEEP THE EXTRA WATER

Some ideas I've toyed with -- dig a diverting trench/swale along the house ends of the raised beds? Dig a small pond/swale and direct water to drain in there? If I grow something on the path, won't that help take up the water?

... help :?:
Last edited by applestar on Wed May 06, 2009 8:22 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Location: Zone 6, NJ (3/M)4/E ~ 10/M

I think I just found an answer -- not an easy one and one that would require major reconstruction in the fall... Not sure if I'm up to it.... :roll:
Still looking for other ideas... :wink:
[permaculture] Material for raised bed
John Schinnerer eco_living at
Wed Aug 7 02:25:16 EDT 2002


On gentle slopes, try simply shaping your beds to follow contour lines
and don't bother with building walls. I reshaped most of my front yard
beds this way this spring and it is working well so far (for both
natural rainfall and summertime watering). It's a gentle slope, but
steep enough that my original 'rectangular' layout led to excess water
running off along downhill paths.

Now, the path space in between my contour beds is slanted slightly down
towards the next lower bed (i.e. the path is a bit of a sidehill);
where lower edge of path meets upper edge of bed becomes the bottom of
a mini-swale, where excess water from the upper bed collects and soaks
into the upper edge of the lower bed (instead of running down to the
bottom of the garden like it used to).

If you also want to spread/move water in particular directions in the
garden, lay out paths just off contour to move the water along the path
areas in the desired direction (beds in between paths, obviously).
Micro-keyline design, essentially.

Ecology Action's own research garden is all on sloping ground, much of
it quite steep. They use old boards and rebar and wood stakes and
whatnot to retain the lower edges of their steeper beds, nothing fancy.
Rocks too in a few places if I remember correctly. The less steep
areas, they just shape the beds and leave it at that, no edging/walls
to speak of.

Uncovered cob/earthen ovens are mostly found in arid climates; those I
know of in the soggy Northwest all have some kind of roof over them, or
are tucked in under the eaves of a building/dwelling.

John Schinnerer, MA
- Eco-Living -
Cultural & Ecological Designing
Food - Water - Shelter - Community - Technology
john at

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Super Green Thumb
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carpet strips

you can just put down strips of old carpet (carpet side down). They last for at least a few years. They don't add or subtract nutrients, just keep your paths weed free and not muddy to walk on.

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Yeah... well... that's often mentioned, but carpet is infused with all kinds of chemicals and I'd probably die of respiratory failure if I tried to walk into a carpet store. I had to rush out of someone's house because she failed to tell me she'd just got new carpet installed. With old ones, I guess gaseous chemicals would've out-gassed already, but I wonder what water soluble stuff might be left to dissolve and leach out... :? Thanks anyway... :wink:

sweet thunder
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Location: Eureka, CA

I like the contoured bed idea, but it does sound labor-intensive.
Could you perhaps use some wooden pallets, cut in half or to whatever width your paths are? It's not the most beautiful solution, but easy enough to come by.

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