Mulch is usually used as a layer against the decaying organic matter on the ground. In forests mulch occurs naturally. Highly effective technique for protecting and enhancing soil is called Žsheet mulchingŪ.

May 28 - Jun 03, 2007

Our agricultural lands are being brought under cultivation continuously for years and years without any gap or respite. Resultantly yields of crops are declining miserably as fertility of the soil and nutrients are decreasing. To overcome the shortage, chemical fertilizers and organic fertilizers are being applied but both of these types of fertilizers are not being provided in suitable proportion. Thus organic matter of the soil is becoming scarce and scanty, which is leading to deterioration of the soil structure and its composition.

Agriculture scientists, ecologists and environmentalists have been working to devise new methods and technologies to keep our lands and atmosphere ecologically and environmentally safe, sound and productive. Methods to shade soil, seedlings, plants and crops to protect them from environmental stresses and to improve their yield capacity have been tried and tested. Mulch is usually used as a layer of decaying organic matter on the ground. In forests mulch occurs naturally. It is the nutrient-rich, moisture-absorbent body of decaying forest leaves, twigs and branches, teeming with fungal, microbial and insect life. Mulch also protects soil from decomposition by the sun and wind as well as from the erosive effects of rain leading to water and soil run-off. . Highly effective technique for protecting and enhancing soil is called žsheet mulchingÓ.

Side by side providing fertilizers to our lands, mulching is becoming popular in the world for various valid reasons.

It has been observed that if the land remains open uncultivated and uncovered:

- Soil erosion is caused with the flow of water leading to a great loss.

- Weeds and unnecessary herbs grow in a great number which adversely affecting the production of the crop. On the other hand, weeding is a laborious and expensive exercise

- Salinity in the soil increases if the soil is open and no more in use.

- The structure of the soil worsens if the land remains unutilized, resulting in salinity and desertification.

Mulching is one of the simplest and most prospective practices. Mulch is simply a protective layer of material that is spread on top of the soil. Mulch can either be organic such as grass clippings, chopping, stalks of paddy, hay, bark chips, leaves and similar material or un-organic such as stones, bricks and plastic.

Mulching has many benefits of no small significance, a few of which are described below:

AIDS MOISTURE RETENTION: Mulch reduces evaporation from the bed soil surface. It conserves moisture.. As a result, a more uniform soil moisture regime is maintained and the frequency of irrigation is reduced.

INHIBITS WEED GROWTH: Mulching suppresses weed growth and compaction around crops. Microbial activity of organic mulch accelerates the decay of weeds and grass under the mulch. Scope of sprouting of weeds reduces considerably. Mulch gets rid of plowing and the never ending fight with weeds in the garden and the field.

REDUCES FERTILIZER LEACHING: If mulching is opposed for whatever reason, the soil is robbed of its natural nutrient source, becomes leached and often desiccates. On the contrary, mulching helps to reduce fertilizers leaching.

It improves retention of nutrients, fertilizes and water in the soil.

DECREASES SOIL COMPACTION: It serves as a barrier and shelter against the adverse effects of rainfall, which can cause soil crushing, soil run off, compaction, crust and erosion. Naturally less compacted soil provides better environment for seedling emergence and root growth.

INCREASES SOIL FERTILITY AND QUALITY OF SOIL: Mulching encourages favourable soil microbial activity and worms. Thus mulching improves the condition of the soil as with the decomposition of mulches consisting of organic material, soil becomes loose and porous, which increases root growth and infiltration of water. Thus it provides crops with organic matter and nutrients. It enhances the quality of soil structure and improves plants vigour and health, leading to improve resistance to pests and diseases. Mulching promotes multiplication of farmersŪ friendly worms in the soil.

LABOUR SAVING: For years and years successful gardeners, farmers and land scrappers have hailed mulching as a labour saving device. Mulching reduces the need for weeding, hoeing etc. It is thus economical for resource-less farmers.

PROTECTION AGAINST EXTREME WEATHER CONDITIONS: Mulching insulates the soil, by offering protection against frost in the winter and extreme hot weather in the summer. The soil temperature of the mulched crop in the summer comes down from 6 Ů 8 centigrade and in the winter it increases. Mulching also protects the crop from hailstorm and scorching heat of summer.

PROTECTS FRUIT: Mulch reduces rain splashed soil deposits on fruits. In addition mulch lessens fruit rot caused by soil inhibiting organisms because there is a protective barrier between fruit and the organisms. Mulching keeps fruits and vegetables clean, which provides a beautiful look to the garden. .

GENERAL: Generally speaking, mulching is extraordinarily useful in weeding, saving in water, improving the soil structure, protecting the crops from frost and heat respectively in the winter and summer. Wherever farmers mulch bare soil, it žjumps startÓ microbial activity by adding high nutrient material, which stimulates soil life. This material also speeds up the decay and decomposition of weeds under the mulch. Suitable materials are enriched compost, poultry or livestock manure and worm castings. Corncobs are highly recommended mulch. Light and bulky, they help to žfluff upÓ the soil, thus preventing crust formation. Although it does not contain any nutrients, improves the soil aeration and drainage considerably.

The area must be soaked well with water as this is essential to start the natural process of decomposition. Mulching is a considered a boom to the busy or part time gardener/farmer, that eliminates weeding, hoeing or considerably cuts these chores to minimum.

As a precaution, the soil should not be left open. Either there should be crop grown thereon or crop residue and leaves and the leftovers of the harvested crop. After harvesting, roots of the harvested crops must remain in the field, where wheat and maize crops can be grown. Fields should be prepared a few days before being brought under cultivation.

In fruit gardens, paddy stalks, sugarcane residues or bhoosa be spread in between the fruit trees. In the fields where crop is grown in furrows, furrows should be filled by dried grass, twigs etc. before watering. It would help minimizing use of irrigation water by 50 percent.

In vegetable gardening, when seeds are sown, they should be covered with rice stalks, leaves, etc. so as to enable early sowing and growth.