Paper mulches evaluated for commercial vegetable production

Dec 29, 2010
Paper mulches evaluated for commercial vegetable production
Paper mulches shown in a non-weeded bare ground control (foreground), and in a butcher paper treatment three weeks after transplanting (background). Credit: Photo by Timothy Coolong

Polyethylene mulches, used widely in commercial vegetable production to improve crop yields and produce quality, have distinct disadvantages. Disposal options are limited, and plastic mulches often end up in landfills, being burned, or disposed of illegally. Recycling polyethylene mulches is also a challenge; the mulches used in large-scale vegetable production are contaminated with too much dirt and debris to be recycled directly from the field in most power plants and incinerators. Timothy Coolong from the University of Kentucky's Department of Horticulture published a report on paper mulches in HortTechnology that may give vegetable producers viable alternatives to polyethylene.

The recent trend toward eco-friendly production techniques has resulted in a second look at biodegradable paper mulches, which are manufactured from renewable resources and do not have to be removed from the field after harvest. Paper-based mulches have been used in agriculture since 1914, but some paper mulches deteriorate rapidly under field conditions, reducing their effectiveness. Paper mulches have other limitations; since they are heavier than polyethylene, transportation costs are higher, and paper mulches are inherently more expensive than polyethylene.

Coolong's research evaluated the performance of four readily obtainable papers compared with traditional black plastic using conventional plastic laying equipment and a water wheel transplanter. The experiments were conducted in Lexington, Kentucky, over two growing seasons using yellow squash. Crop yield and quality, weed biomass, soil temperatures under the mulch, and mulch degradation were evaluated. Four paper mulches—50-lb kraft paper, 50-lb polyethylene-coated kraft paper, 40-lb white butcher paper, and 30-lb waxed paper—were compared with 1-mil black mulch in two weeding treatments (bare-ground hand-weeded and bare-ground nonweeded).

In the Fall 2007 experiment, butcher paper and polyethylene-coated kraft paper controlled weeds as well as black plastic mulch. However, in Spring 2008, black plastic mulch provided superior weed control compared with other mulches. Yields among waxed, butcher, and polyethylene-coated kraft papers were similar to black plastic mulch in 2007, though yields in paper mulch plots were significantly less than plastic mulch in Spring 2008. Coolong observed that most of the paper mulches were able to be placed with a plastic mulch layer, but were not well-suited for use with a water wheel transplanter.

"Our results suggest that in some situations, paper mulches may provide a more sustainable alternative to traditional black plastic mulches. Results with the polyethylene-coated kraft paper suggest that efforts to combine paper with biodegradable films to create mulches may prove worthwhile," observed Coolong. He cautioned that although paper mulches can be effective, cropping conditions and the environment will influence effectiveness, adding that "if paper mulches are ever to be used on a large scale, they will have to be used in conjunction with mulch laying equipment and perhaps mechanical transplanters".

Explore further: Smartgels are thicker than water

More information: horttech.ashspublications.org/… nt/abstract/20/2/319

Provided by American Society for Horticultural Science

4 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Black or blue? Mulch color affects okra growth, yield

Apr 19, 2010

Plastic mulches have been used in vegetable production in the United States since the 1950s. Black plastic (polyethylene) mulch, which alters the plant's growing environment by generating warmer soil temperatures and holding ...

Biodegradable mulch films on the horizon

Feb 26, 2009

In 1999, more than 30 million acres of agricultural land worldwide were covered with plastic mulch, and those numbers have been increasing significantly since then. With the recent trend toward "going green", ...

Organic weed control options for highbush blueberry

Nov 04, 2009

Research scientists at Nova Scotia Agricultural College have been working steadily to find effective organic methods to control weeds in cultivated blueberry crops. One resulting study, published in a recent ...

Researchers Getting to the 'Root' of Christmas Tree Problems

Nov 24, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- As Christmas tree farmers prepare for their busiest season, researchers at North Carolina State University are studying how to combat a disease that has killed thousands of North Carolina Christmas trees ...

Cover crop mulches tested for no-till organic onions

Apr 21, 2010

Conservation tillage encompasses a range of techniques for establishing crops in the previous crop's residues, which are purposely left on the soil surface. The principal benefits of conservation tillage are ...

Recommended for you

Smartgels are thicker than water

Sep 19, 2014

Transforming substances from liquids into gels plays an important role across many industries, including cosmetics, medicine, and energy. But the transformation process, called gelation, where manufacturers ...

Separation of para and ortho water

Sep 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Not all water is equal—at least not at the molecular level. There are two versions of the water molecule, para and ortho water, in which the spin states of the hydrogen nuclei are different. ...

User comments : 0