Setting out biodegradable plastic mulch by hand

Pulling the roll of biodegradable mulch. Credit Wren Vile
Unrolling the biodegradable mulch and setting it out by hand.
Credit Wren Vile

Last week I wrote about the chemistry of various biodegradable plastic mulches, and how much we like using them. I promised to write about how we go about setting the mulch out without using tractors or mulching machines. We use maybe 8,000-9,000 feet each year, so we buy whole rolls, one at a time.

Pulling the biomulch roll using the special hand-made tool. Credit Wren Vile

The first year we used the biodegradable plastic mulch, we had two people pushing the roll over the ground, as others shoveled soil onto the edges behind them. It was a bit of an Olympic sport, so we had to be in the right mood. If we saw it as a challenge, we did well. Then one of the crew invented a simple tool, a stick that goes inside the roll and has rope attached, so the roll can be pulled by one person, standing upright. Much better than bending to push a roll on the ground! A snag was that the rope would sometimes get twisted up with the stick. This year’s refinement of the tool is to have the rope attached to the ends of the stick with swivel clips. This allows us to unclip to take the roll off the stick, rather than use our teeth to untie the knotted rope!  We’ve also added a length of bicycle inner tube over the rope as a more comfortable handle.

Following closely behind the person pulling the roll we have two energetic “Forward Shovelers” whose job is to get a shovelful of soil on each edge of the plastic about every yard. We don’t want the Puller to get too far ahead, especially if it’s breezy! We want to “tack” the mulch safely down on the ground. Here we are mulching for sweet potatoes, so we have ridged the soil and run out drip-tape.

The Forward Shovelers follow close behind the person unrolling the plastic. Credit Wren VIle

Behind the Forward Shovelers are the Rear Shovelers, usually at least four of them. This day, one was taking the photos, and others have mysteriously disappeared into the shade, so we don’t really have a good photo of this part.

About four Rear Shovelers complete the team. Here they are in the distance. Credit Wren Vile
About four Rear Shovelers complete the team. Here they are in the distance. Credit Wren Vile


A Rear Shoveler completes the line of soil holding down the edge of the biodegradable mulch. Credit Wren VIle
A Rear Shoveler completes the line of soil holding down the edges of the biodegradable mulch. Credit Wren VIle

It is possible to successfully store a roll of biodegradable mulch from one year to the next. The keys to success are to carefully wrap the plastic to exclude light, and store the roll on end, fairly vertical. If laid flat, the layers of plastic could stick to each other and not be rollable. Of course, you also need to keep mice away, and protect the roll from sharp implements. So if you need 4,00 feet per year, you could buy a roll every other year. This is generally a better deal than buying short lengths. As I said last week, I buy from Nolt’s Produce Supplies in Leola, PA (717) 656-9764. They sell Bio360 BTB645 4′ x 5000′ for $345 plus shipping, and Eco-One E1B548 4′ x 8000′ for $243 plus shipping. They don’t use email or websites, and they’re closed on major Christian holidays, so don’t call then! Johnny’s Seeds sells 32′ lengths for $17.95. Robert Marvel sells whole rolls of Eco-One and Bio360 (call for prices).

So this week, our mornings have been spent laying drip tape and rolling mulch, and our late afternoons transplanting. We have done really well this week, and we’ve transplanted all our watermelons and sweet potatoes. This brings to an end our intensive spring transplanting. Now we just have the leeks, the weekly planting of 120 lettuces, and a check on all the existing transplants about a week after planting, to replace casualties. We’ve also got all our T-posts in for our Roma paste tomatoes and started our string-weaving.

6 thoughts on “Setting out biodegradable plastic mulch by hand”

    1. Frederic, I tried emailing you directly but didn’t hear back. I was not sure, but it sounds like you are offering to give us one of the manual mulch layers. This would be wonderful!! Almost too good to hope for, so I wondered if I misunderstood. May I call you to discuss this, or email?


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