Mulching is the process of application of a protective covering as of compost, paper, glass, grass, hay, straw, plastic, sawdust, branches of trees, leaves and compost spread or left on the ground or agricultural field to reduce evaporation, maintain even soil temperature, prevent soil erosion, control weeds and therefore enrich the soil.
These above-mentioned materials thus used to form the covering of the top layer of soil are known as “mulches” (singular, Mulch).
Organic Mulching –
An organic mulch is a mulch made of natural substances such as leaves, hay, straw, grass clippings, etc. and the process is termed “organic mulching”. These natural origin materials are biodegradable in nature and can decompose naturally without any chemical agents or potential threat of pollution. The components of organic mulch include – bark, grass clipping, dry leaves, straw, compost/manure, sawdust, newspaper, seaweed and so on.
Importance of organic mulching –
In the present epoch of globalization and rapid unplanned urbanization with a booming explosion of population, there is an ever-increasing demand for food crops. This increasing demand has forced the farmers to produce higher quantities of premium quality food crops, vegetables and fruits for fulfilling the demands of the domestic as well as international markets.
The use of organic mulching is one of the best suitable methods which could help agricultural workers to increase the production of crops and eventually increase the amount of produce. Also, various alarming problems like water scarcity, land scarcity and reduction of other natural resources due to global warming and climate change are also making it inevitable to switch to organic ways of farming as well as mulching for sustainable development and saving our planet for future generations.
The advantages of organic mulching include –
· Mulching with organic materials increases soil nutrient quantity.
· Maintaining optimum soil temperature.
· Restricting the rate of evaporation from the soil surface.
· Restricting weed growth.
· Preventing soil erosion.
· Improving soil health.
· Lower weed prevalence increases water efficiency.
Also, organic mulches are cheap materials and thus the cost of mulching can be reduced.
There are only a very few disadvantages of organic mulching available and those are –
· Can keep the soil too moist on poorly drained soils and thus restricting oxygen in the root zone.
· Trapped moisture within the mulch creates an environment highly favourable for the growth of microorganisms, diseases and pests.
· Many organic mulches serve as the breeding spot for insects and pests.
· Hay and straw are collected from different places and may contain weed seeds which will grow into weeds if used as mulching materials.
· The organic mulches attract soil microflora which might aid in the release of plant nutrients.
Organic mulch over inorganic mulch –
At present, agriculture is facing several threatening challenges. It is becoming more and more heavily dependent on the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, irrigation and several natural agricultural inputs which are degrading steadily and are causing huge concern for pollution of the soil, water and our environment. Continuous use of chemical fertilizers and other inputs over the years is ultimately degrading soil health.
Hence, the call for sustainable agriculture becomes the need of the hour. In order to minimize the degradation of soils, water and other natural resources while protecting the environment, the only alternative available is to adopt conservation practices. Mulching is one such conservation practice by which this goal can be achieved. The important objectives of mulching in agriculture include moisture conservation, temperature control, prevention of surface compaction, reduction of runoff and erosion, improvement in soil structure and weed control. These can be achieved both by organic or inorganic mulching, but for inorganic mulching; waste disposal after the work would be a huge problem. Non-biodegradable wastes like plastic would pose a threat to the environment. On the other hand, organic mulching would generate biodegradable wastes which will decompose in the field itself and eventually will increase the fertility of the field where it has been used.
For sustainable development and a secure future for our planet, organic farming is the best option left for us to save our mother earth. Hence, there is a wide scope for the practice and usage of organic mulching materials in crop production with the conservation of natural resources factors including soil and water. However, disease susceptibility and other disadvantages should be considered before applying organic mulches for better results.