Biodegradable Mulch Update

Posted: September 12, 2011

Seven farms laid biodegradable mulch this year as part of a demonstration project with Penn State Extension. The following are the initial experiences of two cooperating farms. For more information join us this week for biodegradable mulch walks in Schuylkill, Northampton and Montgomery Counties.
Biotelo biodegradable mulch with eggplant August 30, 2011. The mulch is starting to break down, a good sign that it will degrade this winter.

Biotelo biodegradable mulch with eggplant August 30, 2011. The mulch is starting to break down, a good sign that it will degrade this winter.

Eric and Linda Vander Hyde run Barefoot Gardens in Doylestown, PA. They laid Biotelo and Eco-1 starch based mulches on May 3rd for summer squash, cukes, melons, tomato, and peppers.  Eric said that, “[Eco-1] laid down really well and was great to work with.” Biotelo was just slightly more difficult to lay. He also tried a paper mulch from Sunshine Paper. He said he could not lay it without help.

Over the course of the season Eric says there were few differences between Eco-1 and Biotelo. No weeds broke through the mulch. They were only in the pathways up through Mid-Aug . Bottom line: Biotelo and Eco-1 both performed  fine. Biotelo was more fragile than Eco-1. Paper mulch was difficult to lay and liked to tear.

Harold Weaver runs Meadow View Farm in Bowers, PA. He grows tomatoes, pumpkins, sweet corn and other vegetable crops working with his father James Weaver. Between Harold and his father they have up to 25 acres in plastic mulch in a year. This year Harold tried biodegradable mulches – Biotelo and Eco-1 for early sweet corn and tomatoes. Harold felt that, “[Biotelo  and Eco-1 ] laid similar to plastic mulch.” Next time he might adjust the tension, as beds seemed a bit loose. Even though the wind picked it up in the middle a little, “it did not blow up and once plants were in seemed fine.”

Harold lays a thick layer of straw mulch down in his pathways. This seemed to protect the biodegradable mulch from tearing where it meets the soil and cushion it to foot traffic which tends to destroy the mulch. He was concerned that with early sweet corn the ground would not warm up as well. But Harold said if it did he, “Did not notice any differences, sweet corn planted the same day [into plastic] looked identical.” On September 1st, when I asked him when the weeds started to break through he said , “With all the wet weather in last few weeks, no weeds yet.”

One thing Harold warned us about is that the biodegradable mulches tend to be looser and flop around a little bit. He worries that with small transplants they will get battered. They did not have a problem since their transplants were large, but I did have a similar problem with small hot peppers.

They are interested in the biodegradable mulches to save labor in the fall. Picking up plastic is not a fun job. On the acre close to his house Harold estimates that it takes about 1 day/ Acre/ person; about $80-100 in labor. This could be a big savings if it breaks down like it is supposed to.