Randal L. ShogrenPlant Polymer Research Unit, National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, 1815 North University Street, Peoria, IL 61604
Biodegradable mulches made from kraft paper coated with polymerized (cured) vegetable oils were compared to black polyethylene mulches for promoting the growth of watermelon in northern Florida. Data from three spring growing seasons have been collected. Yields of watermelon planted on paper-soy oil and paper-linseed oil mulches were similar to those obtained for the control polyethylene mulches. This was the case where the paper-oil was cured before field application as well as when the paper-oil was applied to the field wet and curing took place in situ. Paper-oil mulches containing carbon black effectively blocked nutsedge growth, while nutsedge pierced and grew through the black polyethylene mulch. Degradation of the buried tucks were more rapid initially for paper-soy oil than paper-linseed oil mulch, but both lasted long enough to hold the mulch in place until spring harvests (≈2.5 months). In conclusion, paper coated with polymerized vegetable oil appears to be an effective substitute for polyethylene mulch for growing watermelon in Florida, although drawbacks include messiness in handling oily paper, slower application speeds, higher initial costs than polyethylene, and variability in rates of curing and degradation depending on soil and weather conditions.