Experiments With Plastic Organic Mulch in the Garden

Organic gardener F.P. Hughes writes about his experiments using 1 1/2 mil sheets of black polyethylene plastic mulch to warm the soil, reduce evaporation and prevent weed growth in the garden.

| September/October 1971

Well, folks, we're still not convinced it's a good idea but there's definitely a growing trend (among some otherwise conservative organic gardeners, too).  

Great bunches of onions, carrots and beets hang from the joists in our basement this fall, the freezer is full to the top with peas, beans and corn and Evelyn is beginning to tire of canning tomatoes and making relish. In the garden, several rows of cabbages are waiting to be cut just before first frost and a bountiful harvest of cauliflower will be ready just after. We shan't be buying vegetables in the supermarket for some time.

Although we've gardened for years, this is the first time we reaped such a superabundance of produce. Needless to say, there is a gimmick . . . but a gimmick anyone can use. We've simply learned about black polyethylene mulch.

Mulching, one of nature's oldest processes, has long been used by natural gardeners to control weeds and conserve moisture around fruit, vegetable and flower plants. Traditionally, only hay, grass clippings, leaves and other easily biodegradable matter has been used for this job. Recently, though, a number of gardeners have begun spreading sheets of black poly (a seemingly unlikely mulch) as an organic mulch across their gardens with rather startling results.

We discovered black plastic mulch two years ago in the Canadian Department of Agriculture's book, Growing Vegetable Transplants. The publication said, "Black polyethylene film, usually 1-1/2 mils thick, is spread over the ground and the edges are covered with soil. Slits or holes are made in the film to allow planting through the film. The black film over the soil tends to warm the soil, reduce evaporation and prevent weed growth. Each of these effects is beneficial to crop plants."

That sounded good to us so we checked around and found that black poly is available almost anywhere transparent polyethylene is sold (hardware stores, farmers' supply houses, lumber yards, etc etc.) The black, 1-1/2-mil sheets come in rolls 100 feet long and 36 inches wide and currently costs about $2.50 a roll.

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