How to Lay Biodegradable Plastic Mulch by Hand

| 6/2/2014 3:26:00 PM

Tags: plastic mulch, mulching, Pam Dawling, Virginia,
laying mulch

When we started using biodegradable plastic mulch, we had two people pushing the roll over the soil, while other people behind them shoveled soil onto the edges of the mulch. It was hard work, so we had to be feeling energetic. If we viewed it as a challenge, we rose to the occasion. The next year we invented a simple tool, a stick that goes inside the roll and has rope attached to its ends, so the roll can be pulled by someone standing upright. Much better than bending over pushing a roll down the row! One little issue was that the rope would sometimes get twisted round the ends of the stick. This year's improvement is to have the rope attached to the ends of the stick with swivel clips. This allows us to unclip to take the roll off the stick, rather than struggle to untie the knotted rope!  We also threaded a piece of bicycle inner-tube over the rope to make a more comfortable handle.

The person pulling the roll is closely followed by two energetic "Forward Shovelers" with the task of dropping a shovelful of soil about every yard along each edge of the plastic. We don't want to let the Puller get too far ahead, especially if it's breezy! We need to "tack" the mulch safely down on the ground. 

Behind the Forward Shovelers are the Rear Shovelers, usually at least four of them. Today, one was taking the photos, and others have disappeared into the shade! So we don't really have any good photos of this part.

It is perfectly possible to store a partial roll of biodegradable plastic mulch from one year to another. Important keys to success are to carefully wrap the roll of mulch to exclude light, and store it on end, fairly vertical. If you lay it flat, the layers of plastic could stick to each other and you wouldn't be able to unroll it. You also need to keep rodents away, and protect the roll from sharp tools. If you need 4,00 feet per year, you could buy a roll every other year. This is generally a better deal than buying shorter pieces.

Where to Buy Biodegradable Plastic Mulch

I buy from Nolt's Produce Supplies in Leola, PA (717) 656-9764. They sell Bio360 BTB645 4' x 5000' for $345 plus shipping, and Eco-One E1B548 4' x 8000' for $243 plus shipping. They don't use email or websites, and they're closed on major Christian holidays, so don't call then! Johnny's Seeds sells 32' lengths for $17.95. Robert Marvel sells whole rolls of Eco-One and Bio360 (Call 717-838-0976 or toll-free 1-800-478-2214 for prices).

We like biodegradable plastic mulch because it warms the soil, and we get much earlier crops. It also keeps the weeds down for a few months, and then it falls apart, so we don't have to remove it and cause heaps of agricultural plastic trash. It's particularly good for vining crops like sweet potatoes and watermelons, because by the time the plastic disintegrates, the vines cover the ground and weeds have little chance of growing.

6/4/2014 9:11:19 AM

Oxo-biodegradable plastics do not need sunlight or high heat to degrade (though degradation will be accelerated by those factors) See "The Relevance of Degradable Plastics" at Some of the brands you mention are no oxo-biodegradable see "Enzymatic and Microbiodegradable" Additives Challenged at Bio-based plastic is not really suitable for mulch film because timescale cannot be controlled. Oxo-bio is better because the formulation which causes degradation can be adjusted according to the needs of the farmer. OPA

6/3/2014 11:03:15 PM

Leslie's post is also not entirely correct. While it is true that Oxo-degradable plastic requires light and/or heat to biodegrade, it is not true that biopolymers are more prolific polluters than fossil-fuel plastics. Comprehensive research will show that most biopalstics have significantly lower LCAs than those of traditional plastics. Not all biopolymers are made using corn starch. BiologiQ ( makes a high performance non-GMO biodegradable agricultural mulch film using potato and/or tapioca starch that costs less than Bio360. BiologiQ's mulch film is certified to pass the ASTM-D-6400 Standard which tests to ensure that there are no harmful residual materials in the soil after biodegradation.

6/3/2014 2:33:34 PM

Your data is incorrect. Oxy or oxo-degradables do not degrade below the soil. They need direct sunlight or high heat (140 degrees F) in order to break down. They have an additive of 1-2% load put in them and the rest is polyethylene.They do not fully break down past small pieces. MaterBi as you note is made from corn which uses a huge amount of fossil fuels in in growth and manufacture.The beauty of it is it is not GMO like most US corn.Please read the article "Pitt researchers: Plant-based Plastics not necessarily greener than Oil based."Biopolymers are the most prolific polluters in comparison to regular plastics in Life Cycle Analysis. PLA is the largest contributor to ozone depletion. As for sustainable mulch films, call Imaflex for their films made with crustacean additives.

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