Mulching is the best method to avoid spending hours removing weeds by hand
As we know, in organic agriculture it’s not possible to use chemical herbicide so this is why there are several techiniques to reproduce what nature normally does.
Mulching is based on a simple concept: the soil all around the plant is covered, in this way weeds don’t have light and space to grow up. It’s not different from what happens in nature when tree’s leaves fall at their base.
The benefits of using mulching are numerous, allowing the grower to save a lot of work. When natural recycled material is used mulching is cheap: in this way, we can recycle leaves, straw or compost. To cover the soil we can commercially find mulch film, also made with non-contaminating and biodegradable materials.
Why shall I do mulching?
Besides the control of weeds, mulching has many other positive functions, so it’s really important to take action mulching vegetables and plants when it’s necessary, a precious help for the organic garden. The advantages of mulching are:
- Weeds control. This allows to save time and improve the cultivation result, avoid the use of harmful herbicides.
- Preserve soil heat. This can be useful to prevent freezing and climate changes that can damage plants, mulching protects plants like a blanket. When organic material is used decomposition creates heat, if black films are used the sun will heat more.
- Preserve soil humidity. This means water and time saving to irrigate. This is the feature that makes mulching so precious during summer season and in the driest areas.
- Mantains a soft soil. Preventing the soil get dry the covering let it to become softer, saving the gardener from aerating soil with weeder.
- Add organic matter. When organic matter is used for mulching organic substance is added too: as soon as the coverage material gradually degrades, it enriches the soil.
Natural mulching is made with local vegetative waste materials is for sure the most suitable for people who have a small domestic garden and obviously it’s a free resource. Using vegetative mulching it’s important to pay attention it doesn’t contain seeds.
When mulching is too fresh, there’s the risk it can rot or heat too much the soil while it degrades, for this reasons straw and leaves are the safest materials compared to compost and mowing.
Materials for natural mulching:
- Dry leaves.
- Cut grass.
- Mulching (cut and chopped grass).
- Wood chips and waste wood.
Organic cultivation and mulching
Mulching permits to control weeds, something you can’t do in organic agriculture using chemicals like herbicide. In this way you can save a lot of manual labor.
Moreover, mulching can save soil heat and humidity preserving plants and reducing the number of irrigations, a positive thing also in ecological terms. The inefficiency of grass and coverage is an insane condition for the soil fertility.
Mulching film is a very comfortable instrument, especially for professional gardeners, or people who have big extensions.
It is sold as refolded sheets or more frequently as rolls. Film rolls are available in different widhts and they could have signed on the measures suitable for the vegetables to plant, this can help the realization of a tidy field. Film rolls are simpler to get rather than organic material. The film can be easily lie down and it’s an operation can be mechanized with specific agricultural machines.
When resistant materials are choosen, they can be used again the following years, otherwise we can choose disposable mulching that remain in the soil like biodegradable film. In this case we avoid to remove the film at the end of the cultivation, even if it’d be necessary to buy it again every year. The worst material instead is the thin plastic film, a disposable product that often breaks in polluting pieces that remain in the field.
Types of film:
- Materbi film, biodegradable after use.
- Natural juta film, biodegradable and traspirant.
- Film resistant to algae made in polyethylene and reusable for many years.
- Disposable plastic film (to avoid for ecological reasons).
Which vegetables requires mulching
Mulching is really useful for almost all vegetables in the garden. Some plants benefit more from a soil coverage, since they don’t have a big grow in height and so they have to match with weeds.
Mulching is perfect for salads and strawberries that compete a little with weeds, precious for vegetables where the fruit touches the ground (like water melons, melons, pumpkins and zucchini) because it protect from soil humidity. Bulbs and roots, like onion and garlic, benefit because it keeps the soil soft. For summer vegetables like peppers, eggplants, tomatoes is important to keep the soil damp, for cabbage and radicchio the biggest benefit lies in freeze protection. In short, practically all vegetables benefit from this kind of soil coverage.
The only inconvenient of mulching is obviously the impossibility of prop up the plants, for some vegetables like potatoes and fennels can be useful mulching, choosing for a periodic weeding and prop up.
Choice of materials: what shall I use to mulching?
To mulching the garden, natural materials can be used such as straw, cut grass or leaves. It’s important that the organic matter doesn’t contain weeds’ seeds and that it’s well-dry to avoid growth of molds and fungi disease. For this reason, mulching with cut grass could be counterproductive considering the weeds’ control. In some cases, it’s useful mulching with compost, paying attention it is mature.
Alternatively, Materbi or Juta mulching films can be used, completely biodegradable. Also, plastic films, less ecological, can be used, paying attention they don’t remain into the soil. In this case, it’s better to choose the thicker ones, trying to use it many times. Using the film again for the same kind of crop it’s easier to set up the planting. If you want to use again the mulching film it’s necessary to clean it well and let it dry, to prevent the spread of fungi diseases.
Mulching with a black film has the effect to better intercept sunlight and to heat the soil around vegetables, this can be useful in some situations but also damaging when heat is excessive.
Natural mulching is done spreading straw or leaves around garden plants, for this reason it is suitable both for direct seeding and for transplantation.
On the other side, the film is spread and then perforated at transplantation, in correspondence of plants we want to cultivate, if we want to sow the field directly it is less practical to use the film.
Source (adapted and translated: https://www.ortodacoltivare.it/coltivare/pacciamatura.html
img1 @VitaminGreen FlickrCC
img2: @Water Alternatives FlickrCC