It may seem incongruous to marry plastic use with gardening, but plasticulture production is a multi-billion dollar industry, utilized worldwide with impressive increases in yield. What is plasticulture and how can you apply plasticulture methods to the home garden? Read on to learn more.
What is Plasticulture?
Plasticulture is the use of lightweight plastic or mulch to cover the seed bed in order to control the soil temperature, retain moisture, and retard weeds and insect invaders. Plasticulture also refers to row covers and greenhouses. Basically, plasticulture practices double or triple the efficiency of the garden while allowing the gardener to harvest weeks earlier than usual. The initial costs of using plasticulture in the garden are definitely an investment, and management of the system may take some time to get down, but it is well worth the effort.
How to Apply Plasticulture Methods
Plasticulture practices involve the use of plastic mulch along with a drip irrigation system via a network of plastic tubing placed beneath the mulch, often in conjunction with raised beds. Using plasticulture in the garden warms the soil, which in turn leads to earlier seedling emergence and lessens the need for a long growing season. This is especially true for commercial gardeners growing such crops as strawberries, tomatoes, and cantaloupes, which can then go to market earlier than with previous conventional growing methods. While plasticulture benefits the commercial farmer, this method yields fabulous results for the home gardener as well. Here are the basics on how to get started:
- Prior to using plasticulture production methods, the site needs to be thoroughly prepared. Soil samples to determine if nematodes are present, and those to determine nutrient content, would be prudent. Fumigate the soil if nematodes are deemed to be present and amend the soil with mulch, lime, or whatever the soil test result indicates is needed. Your county extension office can be of assistance with all of this.
- Next, the soil must be tilled with a rototiller or with good old-fashioned hard work. Either way, it's important to create a bed that has loose, friable soil that is free of stones, clods, etc.
- Now it's time to lay out your drip system. A drip system saves money and is environmentally friendly in comparison to conventional irrigation systems. As the drip system slowly and consistently applies small amounts of water to the plant, the roots absorb what they need, as they need it, without waste. It also prevents leaching the soil of precious nutrients that might otherwise be run off when using a conventional watering system.
- Then it's time to lay the plastic mulch. For large properties, plastic laying machines are an option or for those of us with more modest gardening space, lay the plastic and cut by hand. Yes, a bit time consuming but, again, well worth the effort in the long run.
- Following this step, you are ready for planting.
More comprehensive instructions on how to implement plasticulture practices in your garden are available in detail on the Internet. The process can be very simple or extremely complex depending upon the size of the area, crops grown and for what purpose, as well as the amount of energy you wish to apply to the maintenance of the area.
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Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.