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Pathways in your BoonJon Garden

Building a BoonJon garden takes time. The whole process is designed to be undertaken in affordable stages. The basics are a raised bed or two and a composting tower or two. All the rest, the security fence, the trellises, the work tables, dehydrator system and pathways can be added as you go and may take years. It did for me and this is good because it gives you time to think things out and to experiment and fail on a smaller scale using trial and error. You’ll discover why something works better here rather than there. What grows best when and how much to plant. That is how a permaculture system should grow. But today I want to jump to the topic of pathways and why I chose what I did, specifically gravel chips.

Because you are working with such a small piece of land, a quarter acre residential lot, the garden will of necessity be near or next to the house. This is good from the standpoint that you want to maintain some privacy to protect your crops and your methods from sight. All gardens are essentially therapeutic, but the purpose of your garden may well turn out to be your main source of fresh food in the near future. If that is the case, you want to keep its existence from casual view or prying eyes.

End of summer neglect

But one of the downsides to having your garden so closely located is it attracts vermin and insects and it makes the work of keeping your home clean on the inside more difficult because you can track in dirt or mud from the garden. That makes a cleaning station a necessity to wash your hands and any produce you want to bring inside. More on that later. But more importantly, it is desirable for you to be able to simply walk outside and check the garden and then come back inside with clean shoes. So the decision becomes, what kind of material should I use to cover the pathways around the raised beds. Let’s look at a few.

I first considered making wooden walkways between and around my beds, but after the experience I had using pallets to support my plants when they were in buckets, it became clear that wood on or near the ground attracts slugs which can do an enormous amount of damage. I don’t have chickens to keep them at bay so the easiest solution was to remove that from consideration. I also didn’t like mulch because it would not be clean to walk on and difficult to blow off any leaves. Then came pavers; bricks and or concrete pads. I had access to enough pavers to cover the areas needed, but it required bringing in sand to level the area to make the pavers sit flat and look nice. The other problem is that I have moles and they bore under the pavers and cause them to become uneven in a very short time. And finally, laying pavers is labor intensive. It was too much work and not a cheap solution.

White gravel

My last solution was to use gravel chips which almost immediately began to show other assets they had that I didn’t even consider. The first batch of gravel I ordered was white granite chips. The company that sold it to me dissuaded me from using lime stone chips. They said that some people complained that the limestone caused issues with altering the pH of the surrounding soil and effecting plant growth. I don’t know if that is true or not but I liked the way the granite looked as opposed to the limestone. It was much more expensive than limestone, running around $650 for 6.5 yards (8 tons)for the gray colored granite. I had bought white granite prior to that which cost about $200 more. I bought the white to use around the house’s decorative beds for the reflective qualities but it turned out that the gray was better for the garden for a couple of reasons. First, it didn’t look dirty as did the white and it was easier on the eyes in direct overhead sunlight. It did absorb more heat from the sun but during winter that was good because it became a heat mass that kept the plants from freezing or frosting over at night when the outside surrounding area would. We seldom get hard freezes for which we have to take protective measures, but we do get frequent frosts and the gravel seemed to retain enough heat to keep the garden area in check.

Also, gravel chips are self cleaning. Every time it rains, the dirt washes off the surfaces of the rocks and so the dirt doesn’t transfer to the bottom of your shoes as it would with pavers. In addition, you can empty water out of a container and it will dissipate immediately instead of pooling and getting your shoes wet every time you walk there. I did lay down a layer of anti-weed fabric under the stone as a weed barrier and it has worked fairly well but when weeds do peek up, I can remove them quickly using a blow torch which avoids using chemical defoliants or having to pull them by hand. Gravel also makes it easy to make modifications to the garden beds by simply raking back the gravel where needed and returning it when done. Leveling the gravel wasn’t that important either as it looks good even when it is a little rolling and the well trodden center of the pathways tend to settle slightly giving the garden an old world look.

But areas could be leveled very easily using a tamp like that shown above for setting up bucket systems and the like. And finally, we get a lot of rain here in central Florida and my garden used to flood regularly in the pathways after a heavy rain. With the gravel it may pool briefly but it drains away very quickly. I can always add more gravel if I want to speed up the drainage.

It is my intention to raise the walls on my raised beds a few inches to keep dirt from getting on the gravel and I may raise the level of the gravel along with that. Eventually over the years dirt will fill in around the gravel and it will have to be excavated, rinsed and replaced, but I imagine that will be 10 years from now or later. Gravel is by far the lowest maintenance and labor cost material for pathways and considering the other advantages, it is hands down the number one choice for me.

Please feel free to make constructive comments or ask questions below.

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