People I have met in my avatar as a farmer have time and again advised me on the importance of mulching. But it was a casual talk with the veteran organic farmer Vasant Futane which made me realize the importance of mulching.
He went on to say that he has come across many incidences of agriculture universities burning agricultural waste and not use the same for mulching.
If P Sainath (referring to Everyone Loves a Drought, the book which brought the nation’s attention to farmers’ suicides) wrote a book on the importance of mulching his contribution to the debate would be much immense than focusing on the suicide, said Phutane.
Why is leaf litter important for a farm?
Leaf litter is dead plant material, such as leaves, bark, needles, and twigs, that has fallen to the ground. This detritus or dead organic material and its constituent nutrients are added to the top layer of soil, commonly known as the litter.
Litter aids in soil moisture retention by cooling the ground surface and holding moisture in decaying organic matter. The flora and fauna working to decompose soil litter also aid in soil respiration. A litter layer of decomposing biomass provides a continuous energy source for macro- and micro-organisms. As litter decomposes, nutrients are released into the environment.
Leaf litter provides food and shelter for earthworms, pill bugs, millipedes and a multitude of smaller life such as eggs and larvae of insects and spiders of many kinds. These creatures are all essential components of the food web providing sustenance to toads, frogs, lizards, and countless other animals. Nearly all backyard birds require protein from insects to feed their young.
Good. Argument taken.
But how does one indulge in mulching if one doesn’t have enough leaf litter? has been my problem. I have tried collecting vegetable waste and sugarcane thrush and transporting it to my farm. However, I have discarded it as a viable option to build leaf litter or organic mass, as it has proved a costly proposition.
And then suddenly researching on the subject I came across two plants, namely Kadamb and Jungli Badam, famous for producing leaf litter in big volume.
Suitable for reforestation programs, Kadamb sheds large amounts of leaf and non-leaf litter which on decomposition improves some physical and chemical properties of soil under its canopy. This reflects an increase in the level of soil organic carbon, available plant nutrients and exchangeable bases.
I got the idea of Kadamb having observed it in my neighbourhood and impressed by its litter.
This monsoon I plan to plant dozens of kadamb and jungle badam, and I’m sure that in coming years I will be able to follow Vasant Phutane’s advice.
I’m looking for more such leaf litter-rich plants, do suggest if you know one.