Soil is one of the most important resources a farmer has to produce crops. It gives them the means to live and to provide the needs of their families. Farming is a way of life that couldn’t be explained better than by George Washington who said:
“I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.”
Soil is not only important to humans but also to plants and animals and unfortunately, it could also be destroyed by not caring for it properly.
Ploughing can make it easier to plant but weakens soil structure by breaking it down to small particles. Repeated ploughing can even lead to soil erosion, and use of fossil fuels to to plough with a tractor contributes to additional environmental issues. A good practice can be implemented to avoid ploughing – mulching.
Mulch is any kind of material used or spread over soil surface. Natural mulches can be anything from leaves, grass, wood chips, and crop residues. Farmers use artificial mulches to protect the soil from being washed away during heavy rains and bad weather. Some of these artificial mulches are plastic sheets and old cloths which are common in strawberry fields and vegetable gardens.
Mulching is not only used to protect soil from erosion but has some important uses including:
- Mulch absorbs water and protects the soil from temperature extremes. It has the ability to insulate soil from hot and cold temperatures. It can also reduce evaporation as much as 35% as studies have shown.
- It protects the soil from forming a hard crust. This happens when the soil is exposed to hot temperature causing it to break and form hard surfaces. With mulch, the soil remains loose and crumbly making it less necessary for ploughing.
- Soils with mulch are found to be rich in organic matter and humus. Natural mulches break down slowly and feed the soil with nutrients thus increasing soil fertility.
- With mulch, light penetration is reduced which means less weeds.
- And lastly, mulch contributes to farming by repelling certain pests such as snails and slugs.
Organic farming is all about utilizing natural methods for pest control. Mulching should be a part of any Integrated pest management (IPM) system to minimize the use of harsh and unnatural chemicals. Even at home and in the backyard we can produce natural mulches to protect our gardens and plants. Shredded leaves, compost, manure, and newspaper are all quality mulch material to naturally get rid of pests.
Insects On A Farm Friends or Foes? Farming Matters. 3(2012-28.1)
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