Water efficiency is improved by the use of hugeled, woodchip paths adjacent to traditional or sunken hugels. My main garden is constructed with paths dug into the ground 30cm (1 foot), and filled with woody material, and finished off with woodchip to ground level. The paths trap water and provide a water store for the sunken hugels.
Back to Eden Garden Method
Paul Gautschi pioneered and promotes the Back to Eden Garden (B2EG) Method. Using chicken manure and mulch he builds a nutrient rich soil that leads to great yield and less work in the garden. He claims to never water his fruit trees or vegetables, and not have any pests.
Although I’m sceptical about the last two, I was inspired by his philosophy of mimicking God/nature’s method of creating soil and retaining water. He used the model of a forest for inspiration, with decaying wood, leaves and debris to create an organic “sponge” full of beneficial bacteria, insects and nutrients to feed and water massive trees. This makes a lot of sense when you’re trying to build good soils that are rich in organic matter and retain water.
As the basis for his B2EG method, Gautschi advocates the use of wood chip mulch (which he buys by the tonne).
I’m fortunate that I have access to free materials for my paths and hugels:
- our local council provides free stockpiles of wood chip
- we back onto crown land full of bush that needs to be cleared annually for bushfire protection.
- we also have an electric chipper for smaller garden waste,
- and our rather large lawn provides grass clippings regularly during spring and summer.
My experience with woodchip (before we bought the property, two large pine trees came down in a storm and were chipped into a big pile) is that it will not break down on its own — probably because it is too uniform and compacts into a big block similar to chipboard, with not enough air pockets and a monoculture not conducive to fungi and other micro organisms.
Using Gautschi’s philosophy of mimicking nature, if you layer various grades of organic materials, (both finer and coarser), into the woodchip you provide air pockets, food, and pathways for different organisms to move through the woodchip and help it break down.
I use a modified B2EG method in the paths between Hugels, as a form of sort of “swale” to trap rainwater and provide a reservoir to the adjacent hugels.
My garden paths are 80cm — wide enough for a wheelbarrow to negotiate (although as the season progresses plants encroach on the path, and it’s a squeeze for a person to get through). They are dug out, 30cm (one foot deep) and then back-filled with layers of:
- smaller sticks (kindling size),
- more dirt,
- and a final layer of woodchip.
The paths will sink as they decompose over time, and compact due to traffic, and need to be built up again during the year.
Maintaining your paths is easy:
- A small amount of dirt, compost, and straw mulch falls onto the path from the hugels and garden construction over the course of the year.
- Onto this I throw weeds pulled from the hugels and paths (these very rarely grow, but if they do, they’re very easy to pull out of the woodchip).
- Leaves from nearby plum and eucalyptus trees drop onto the path.
- I pile a thin layer of woodchip onto the path at the start of Autumn and Spring, which also improves the look of the garden too.
- Gautschi weeds his woodchip gardens by just dragging a rake over them.
The paths can be a bit of work to build initially, but I usually build a hugel and path together, shovelling dirt from one onto the other. After a year of my B2EG paths, I’ve discovered that the paths are moist, breaking down nicely and full of beneficial fungus, and worms.
Slugs and woodchip
Slugs… I know, I’m obsessed. Woodchip will provide wonderful homes and breeding environments for these pesky critters.
My advice is:
- Remove all larger pieces of woodchip that make a nice pocket home underneath
- Backfill large pockets and spaces with dirt or coffee grounds.