A tread, or path between garden beds, is getting its yearly clean-out.
There is an old Chinese method of gardening that may be the genesis of what is called no till gardening. Briefly, trenches are dug on either side of strips of dirt approximately 3 feet wide. Dirt from the trenches is piled onto the strips. What results are pathways between beds where plants are grown.
Many of our smaller local farmers use what they call a "no-till" method of gardening: the ground isn't plowed or spaded up ever. Instead, layers of composted material is pitched on to garden beds and, because the dirt hasn't been disturbed, helpful insects and nutrients thrive. The bed and tread method is a variation on the no till method because compostable materials--like leaves, shredded cardboard, or tree mulch--is poured into the treads, walked on for about a year, and then shoveled onto the beds at opportune moments. The only difference is tread digging.
I've seen this method used throughout Southeast Asia, especially in Laos and Vietnam. Since farms remain in SE Asian families for centuries sometimes, and because the method has been used for so long, some of the treads or pathways between beds are two or three feet deep. This results in a minimal amount of bending or stooping which, over time, certainly facilitates weeding, picking, and plant inspection.
The photograph above shows a tread being cleaned out at the Community Garden behind the First Christian Church in Berryville--as you can see, the soil is then layered on the adjacent beds between plants. Church gardeners have used the bed and tread method since the garden began 5 years ago and are pleased with how the method conserves water and reduces the amount of time required for weeding.
Because the garden was started on a quite rocky, unused playground with a gravel base, plowing and spading wasn't much of an option in the beginning. Instead, the gardeners scraped topsoil off the designated pathways, and then filled them with mulch, cardboard, and leaves. The result was--and is--a tidy looking, even pretty garden, with a regular source of composted material: the treads themselves.
The bed and tread method has worked well at FCC-Berryville, but gardeners should check with County Extension before leaping into the method. As we all know, there are almost always unintended consequences for the approaches we use. For FCC's Community Gardeners the main consequence is several hours of backbreaking work cleaning out treads. But there is an upside: weeds are controlled and...the plants seem to love it!