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Swedes 'roll out' a biodegradable mulch

The efficient and enterprising Swedes have come out with a new garden product - a rollout, biodegradable mulch that is performing well under a variety of climates from the fiery plains of the Arab emirates, to cool and comfortable Sweden, to California's San Joaquin Valley.

Given the task of upgrading local vegetable production in the often-hostile climates of the arid Gulf area of the Mideast, the Swedes turned to peat moss and waste paper, combining them on a roughly 50-50 basis to produce a thick, brown paper.

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The resulting product boasts all the convenience and ease of application of other man-made mulches, but it has one great advantage. The mulch readily breaks down biologically when plowed into the soil at the end of the growing season, combining with and improving soil structure in the process.

Called Hortopaper, it was introduced at a Garden Industries of America trade show and symposium held here recently.

In a California test a year ago, two quarter-acre plots were plowed, fertilized, and planted to Royal Flush tomatoes. One plot was mulched with Hortopaper; the other plot remained unmulched.

At the conclusion of the season the mulched plot had outyielded the unmulched plot by 80 percent in total production - and by more than 100 percent in marketable fruit.

The mulched plot also required one-third less water.

It should be pointed out that neither plot was weeded, because part of the test was to see how effectively the paper-peat mulch suppressed weeds. It did so most efficiently, the high yields reflecting a lack of competition from weeds, as well as the improved soil conditions (moderated soil temperatures, more even moisture content, and reduced compaction) generally present in mulched soil.

There is, of course, little that Hortopaper can do that plain sheets of newspaper won't do equally well. But it is a much nicer-looking product and much more convenient to apply. The garden that has been mulched with Hortopaper is neat and pleasing in appearance, even while the growing plants are still small.

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It is recommended that the 32-inch-wide mulch be rolled out over slightly mounded beds and the edges covered with a little soil. The planting holes can then be cut out with a knife by using a sawing action.

As the mulch sheds, rather than absorbs, water (that way there is no loss of soil moisture by evaporation), arrangements must be made to get water to the plant roots. This can be done by making a water furrow lengthwise down each side of the bed, by making periodic slits in the paper where the nozzle of a hose can go, or by using drip-irrigation hose placed under the mulch.

Another option is to place upturned plastic bottles, with the bottoms cut off , through holes in the mulch, using these to funnel water to the roots.

Another plus for the new product is that it will be sold in garden centers just as yard goods are sold at a fabric store. There will be no need to buy Hortopaper by the roll. If your garden bed is 11 feet long, that is all you will need to buy.

It is expected that the product will be available at garden centers around the country next year.

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