#1) Gardening/Planting with Mulches–Soil First

It’s winter in Saudi and the perfect time to grow things! Not only will you have more success during fall/winter/spring, as the temperature here is milder, but you can eat tomatoes, carrots, etc. if put into the ground in fall and tended in winter. Let’s begin gardening…starting with soil!

When I was researching mulches and the practice of using mulch, what I found interesting, is that it has been sustainable throughout our history as farmers. Some of the oldest mulch used was stones and wood, and plants. I took that model and made it work, I think, effectively here in Saudi, where the rapid evaporation of water from the ground is probably the number one problem in growing plants in an arid region. Since we have plenty of sand in the soil where we live, I use wood mulch, but not the kind that is shredded up. Trees are not plentiful, so shredded wood mulch is not readily available. Here the gardeners prune many of the trees multiple times during the year. Instead of throwing them in the dumpster, and perhaps being made into mulch somewhere else, I use cut lengths of wood sticks.

This does an excellent job of covering the ground around plantings, and provides homes for bugs as well as shade for the soil. As the sticks break down, they add valuable natural fertilizer to the soil, which enhances it’s micronutrient composition. Your soil will be enlivened when microorganisms multiply. Congratulations, now you are feeding your soil!

Arranging sticks or logs around your garden will give you a sense of balance. You can create designs like chevrons, outlines, etc. that also provide an attractive ground from which your plants shoot forth. As wood is scare here in the Eastern Province, I welcome the use of it into my garden landscape. Give it a try!

Following is a small article I wrote about mulches. Hope you enjoy it!

“Horticulture and Mulching: A Net Positive Effect”

Mulching as a horticultural practice has been in use for at least a thousand years.  We use it today for a variety of reasons.  To maintain moisture in the soil, provide nutrients to the soil biome and enrich the soil as well as a weed cover.  Various types of mulch are used depending on what crop is being grown, what is available in the area, the climate or the region and technological advances in mulch science.

According to Masabni (2020), there are two types of mulch types.  “Inorganic mulches include plastic, rocks, rock chips, and other nonplant materials. Plastic is the only inorganic mulch used in vegetable gardens.  Organic mulches include straw, compost, newspaper, sawdust, and similar materials.”  Organic mulches do not have many negative impacts and in fact are traditionally a way of recycling waste back to the environment as a sustainable practice.

The benefits of mulching also include according to Masabni (2020) to “keep water from washing away soil particles. Mulches also prevent raindrops from splashing on the soil surface and reduce the spread of diseases.”  As well, “Mulches modify the soil temperature in home gardens. Applied in late fall, winter mulch insulates the roots, crowns, and stems of winter crops from extremely low temperatures.  In the summer, proper mulching helps keep the soil cooler.”

Technology has provided growers with a newer mulch of inorganic plastic.  It is a very effective weed barrier and protects soil from moisture loss as well as erosion.  Protecting soil and conserving natural resources is a way that technology can “mitigate the impact of horticultural production on the environment…” (Wainwright, 2014).  However there is some concern in the use of plastic mulch as a negative impact on the environment.  To improve the environmental impact of this conventional polyethylene (PE) mulch, newer mulches are forthcoming.

Biodegradable plastic mulches (BDMs) are a newer form of plastic mulch that can be tilled directly into the land with no negative effects.   “BDMs potentially influence soil microbial communities in two ways: first, as a surface barrier prior to soil incorporation, indirectly affecting soil microclimate and atmosphere (similar to PE films) and second, after soil incorporation, as a direct input of physical fragments, which add carbon, microorganisms, additives, and adherent chemicals.” (Bandopadhyay, 2018) 

Mulches will continue to be used as a net positive horticultural practice in the future and technology can help us lessen our impact on the environment and create more sustainable growing habits. 

by Desert Gardener

References:

Bandopadhyay, Sreejata et al. “Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films: Impacts on Soil Microbial Communities and Ecosystem Functions.”  NCBI, 26 April 2018, 10.3389/fmicb.2018.00819. Accessed 30 August 2020.

Masabni, Joseph. “Mulching.” TexasA&M Agrilife Extension, https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/gardening/mulching. Accessed 31 August 2020.

Wainwright, Henry, et al. Horticulture: Plants for people and places, Volume 1 (pp.503 – 522), Springer, 2014. Researchgate.net, 10.1007/978-94-017-8578-5_15. Accessed 31 August 2020.

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