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Entries in land restoration (2)


EcoCover: an Organic Alternative to Synthetic Weed Suppressing Textiles

Whenever I treat a garden for a serious weed problem, usually I begin by spreading a roll of weed suppressant fabric over the flowerbed. Although this non-woven, synthetic textile is effective in smothering weeds, it is not my favorite solution. I resort to it only because my clients insist that I use it. However, I detest this procedure because it adds a layer of difficulty to planting perennials. The fabric is so strong that spade and shovel cannot penetrate its surface.

If ever I should want to move a plant or redesign the garden, the impenetrable textile will always be in the way, making it challenging to do any further tweaking. Furthermore, because it is not organic, this synthetic fabric will not decompose over time. It will remain, eternally, a physical obstacle not only to my work but also to future generations of gardeners. No matter how efficient it is in suppressing weeds, it is definitely a frustrating destroyer of enthusiasm.

For that very reason, when the EcoCover people contacted me last summer to ask if I would report upon their biodegradable weed mats, my interest was piqued. I asked them to send me a sample length so that I might examine it and to decide if I should share information about it with my readers. It arrived too late in the season to be tested in my garden; nevertheless, I found that the product has merit.

EcoCover is an organic weed suppressant sheeting first developed in New Zealand. It was created there in response to that government’s legislation blocking contractors, including landscapers, from bidding on public works projects unless they intended to use environmentally friendly materials.

To meet the needs of the North American market, a manufacturing facility was also set up in Huntingdon, California. Because it is paper based, I was concerned about EcoCover's ability to withstand heavy rainfall that seems to accompany current climate change. I raised this matter with the American manufacturer who informed me that the product was made compatible with the climate of New Zealand which experiences rainfall ranging from an annual average of 600-1600 to a high of 10,000 millimeters.

The manufacturing process for EcoCover, aka EcoMulch and EcoCrop, is environmentally friendly because it uses low amounts of energy, and emits only small quantities of water vapor into the atmosphere. In essence, it is shredded paper waste sandwiched in between two layers of sheeting made from recycled paper. It is available in two qualities, Single Season and Extended Life.

The Single Season products have a typical life span of 6-9 months and are used in applications that require the product to last for a single growing season, such as the growing of tomatoes and peppers.

Extended Life products have a useful life of 18-24 months and are typically used with plants that will be around for more than one season, i.e. trees, shrubs and perennials.

Not only are these weed-suppressants available in rolls and mats, but growers and nurseries, and those who garden in pots in tiny spaces, might benefit from the disc-shaped weed mats that are suitable for containers.

This multipurpose product is also applicable to field and row farming, tree and vineyard farming, forestry, commercial landscaping, land restoration, and private gardening. In New Zealand, EcoCover is available impregnated with organic nutrients to help reduce the chore of fertilization.

The manufacturer claims that their product meets the criteria for sustainability, because it

…helps build soil carbon levels, is compostable and biodegradable, conserves water, by reducing evaporation, reduces plant mortality, suppresses weeds with reduced or no herbicides,  promotes plant yield and crop growth, moderates soil temperature, reduces soil erosion, sequesters CO2, reduces plant losses, and complies with organic certification requirements…..

In orchards, EcoCover Mulch Mats suppress weeds at the plant base, reducing or eliminating competition for water and nutrients. Moisture retention is increased by up to 80%, improving soil quality and aeration, and reducing watering requirements. For row crops, in a 2006 Massey University study, EcoCrop outperformed black plastic film, increasing yields 42.3% for bell peppers and 29.4% for tomatoes. EcoCrop also produced the largest peppers and tomatoes.

In vineyards, aside from the benefits to new vines, EcoCrop and EcoCover Mulch Mats reduce field maintenance. Costly and time-consuming hand, chemical and mechanical weeding are nearly eliminated and plants are protected from nutrient-stealing weeds.

In addition, the product may be used effectively on sloped landscapes where mulch or fabric might be disturbed by wind or water-runoff. This biodegradable weed suppressor is kept in place on pitched grades when it is secured with eco-friendly pins.

Hammered in to the ground with a rubber mallet, they prevent the fabric from sliding or flying away in high winds. Since the pins are composed of a biodegradable material, they too are ecologically compatible.

As the product is uniform in color, gardeners who want a more natural look can camouflage it with crushed pebbles coir, or shredded cedar bark.

Readers who have attempted to garden in beds covered with impenetrable, synthetic fabric will appreciate the versatility of this organic, biodegradable product.

Here is a link to the companies product page.  For additional information American and Canadian readers can call this toll-free phone number:-1.877.636-2404


Restoration Ecology in Nature's Second Chance: Book Review for

Natures Second Chance, Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm by Steven I. Apfelbaum, Beacon Press

Urban dwellers, far removed from arable land, are pleased that food is relatively affordable. Many of us are also proud that we grow enough food to feed the world. That this efficient food chain abuses the earth concerns too few people. When we are informed that this process is clearly unfriendly to nature, we cannot imagine why anyone would choose to turn back the clock on successful agricultural history.

 The author of this book leads us to reconsider our position on this subject by describing the toll that agro processing exacts from the earth. In doing so, he politely sets the stage for a controversial debate.

So much time and space has been devoted by the media to the deterioration of our environment. We are continuously being reminded about global warming, pollution, the need to find alternate renewable sources of energy and the importance of securing reliable sources of potable water. Yet, very little attention is paid to the importance of restoring land abused by agricultural overuse, mining, forestry and landfills. The author reminds us that we are the original stewards of our planet and that it is our responsibility to pass on this earth to subsequent generations in good stead.

 Steven Apfelbaum is an ecologist and educator. His specialty is natural resource conservation which is an ecological restorative process of nurturing wild plants and animal communities back to health. Restoration is, in essence, the act of putting back into the land what has been taken out of it. This book documents his personal experience in restoring overworked farmland.

 Reading about his successful land restoration, it becomes clear that there is sheer delight to be found in recreating a natural preserve. The sense of accomplishment that he derives from his work is also shared by his family and admirers. The goal of this dedicated ecologist is not only to inspire others to restore parts of their own land but also to see restored patches of reclaimed land interconnected across the mid western U.S.A. in order to create a vast stretch of a renewed ecosystem.

 There is nothing ostensibly controversial in writing about one’s passion. Indeed, advocating the restoration of abused farmland is an admirable endeavor. And yet, this sincere desire to heal parts of our planet is a reminder that we have deliberately chosen to abuse too many portions of it in order to efficiently feed the world. How powerful is the written word that a noble conviction, by its mere publication, can become a veiled but valid critique of an essential part of our food chain. So, no matter what you may have read to the contrary, reading a book still remains a thrilling mind expanding, experience.