Friday, January 22, 2010

Week of January 11, 2010 : Mulch.

(Here is a file photo of neatly formed raised beds protected by plastic mulch. Weed free without herbicides. That is what we all want, right? I usually laugh when I read extension articles about giant hogweed. Here I have giant purslane, giant velvet leaf, ... )

Another purchase arrived at the front door: black plastic mulch.

Deciding to switch to plasticulture was a difficult decision for me to make.

Sweet Peat is great. It does everything it is intended to do: prevents weeds, adds organic matter and so on. When I had a personal sized garden, this was the perfect mulch. I exchanged $35 for 1 cubic yard of mulch; considering the quality and results, I was satisfied with my purchase.

Unfortunately this solution does not scale to market sized fields. Consider a 50' dual row of peppers: 18" between rows and 24" between each plants allows ~50 plants per row. 1.2 cubic yards is needed to properly mulch one row (50' x 2.5' x 3"); thus the cost is $40.51 per row. As I learned, any attempt to skimp on coverage just shortens the time to weed domination.

By comparison, plastic mulch costs $1.61 per row.

Over the years, I have tried various methods and combinations of methods of weed control such as newspaper mulch, hoeing and critical weed free period. Last year my minimized Sweet Peat and newspaper combination failed; a little too much wind and soon the mulch was a little too gone ... weed domination.

This year, feeling significant pressure to reduce my labor, I reconsidered plasticulture. I already demonstrated how plasticulture is a 96% cost savings. Last year I averaged 4 hours per week (for 8 weeks until the wind storm) on weed management and still lost battle. I can easily discover 96% labor savings too.

Wait, there is more. There is a chance the plastic mulch will work.

So why was the decision to switch to plasticulture difficult? After all, plastic mulch is accepted by organic certifying agencies (provided the mulch is lifted at the end of the season).

Is plasticulture sustainable agriculture?

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