Author: Stacey Stearns

Meet Emilie Caron, our 4-H Intern in Hartford County

Emilie Caron holding a rabbit

Hey! My name is Emilie Caron, and I am so thrilled to be telling you all about the Hartford County 4-H Extension Program this summer! I work at the office in Farmington as the 4-H Summer Intern and work on the county programming closely with Jen Cushman. We work mainly in office on projects pertaining to the youth development of 4-Her’s in our county, out in the field doing youth outreach, and on the recruitment of volunteers to help inspire and develop these youth! One of the biggest projects I am helping her work on is the Pollinator Project! This program is designed with the help of the National 4-H Council and Corteva Agriscience. Its main goal is to equip young leaders with the tools and experiences needed to deepen their understanding of pollinator habitats, their populations, and the integral role they play in food production.  Through this program, these individuals are expanding their knowledge, and by the end are saving a population. Our program was fortunate enough to get funding for this program and a group of diverse youth were formed that are passionate about saving the pollinators. Through my internship I was able to help them build their pollinator garden at Auerfarm in Bloomfield, CT and will be attending their Blueberry Jam educational event where they will be advocating for the pollinators and teaching their peers about all the amazing aspects of the pollinator. If you are interested in ever helping blossom today’s youth through 4-H I highly recommend becoming a 4-H volunteer in Hartford County! If interested visit the UConn extension website to learn more!

Nutrition Education in the Community Through SNAP-Ed

Brooke BoscoHello everyone! My name is Brooke Bosco, and I am a rising senior majoring in Dietetics. This summer I am an extension intern working with the UConn School and Family Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education Program (SNAP-Ed). UConn Healthy Family CT SNAP-Ed works towards accomplishing Connecticut’s goals and objectives to deliver nutrition education and physical activity messages to SNAP-Ed recipients and those who are eligible. We focus on delivering fact-based, tailored nutrition education to our target population of income-challenged adults, families, and children who may be experiencing food insecurity. We reach these groups in different towns including East Hartford, New Britain, Manchester, Willimantic, Enfield, and Hartford.

Part of my work is delivering direct and indirect nutrition education in different areas of the community, including elementary schools, senior centers, public libraries, community events, food pantries, and Foodshare mobile. I am also working with other SNAP-Ed team members to enhance the material on Healthy Family CT’s website and social media accounts, which also focuses on reaching our target audience with nutrition education. We hope that our education increases our audience’s knowledge and skills to achieve healthier diets and access local and affordable healthy food. We also hope that it improves their willingness to consume a healthier diet and increase physical activity.

I developed an interest in community nutrition during my supervised practice training this past spring semester. Nutrition education is so important in low-income communities because it helps to prevent nutrition-related health issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. These health issues can create even more hardship and financial burden for this community. It has been an amazing opportunity to be a part of this effort! I encourage you to check out UConn Healthy Family CT’s website ( and social media accounts with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


CT Trail Finder and GIS with Courtney Andreozzi

Courtney AndreozziGreetings! My name is Courtney Andreozzi and I am honored to be the GIS intern for CT Trailfinder for Summer 2022. I am a rising senior at UConn studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) with a minor in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

During this previous school year I worked in conjunction with UConn’s CLEAR and Joshua’s Land Trust to add local trails to CT Trailfinder, and am excited to continue and expand my work through UConn Extension. In addition to using ArcGIS Pro to edit and analyze trails to be added to the website, the GIS work I am doing is assisting in building Connecticut’s first statewide layer of trails that are collected from a variety of land managers. Besides my interests in conservation, GIS, and finding local opportunities to get outside (especially since being affected by Covid), I am passionate about mental health visibility and advocacy, being active in the UConn chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

CT Trailfinder itself provides accurate, trail manager approved information on publicly accessible trail systems that can be quickly updated; increasing awareness and access to outdoor resources to all audiences, especially those that are not traditional trail users. With more than 200 postings and more than 1000 miles of trails already mapped on the website, this opportunity has opened my eyes to just how many opportunities there are across the state for both traditional and nontraditional trail uses (e.g. cross country skiing, bicycling, equestrian, paddling, etc.). I hope to also contribute to the site’s development of trailside services that will help connect the trail resources to the local communities. I am delighted to be able to contribute my skills in GIS to encourage others in Connecticut to find trail systems appropriate for their interests and explore all of the beautiful publicly accessible land around them.

Learn more about CT Trailfinder at

Are you a land manager? Learn how you can add your trails at

Learning by Doing with Heather Wirth, Extension Intern

Heather Wirth holding a Jersey heifer with sunshine in the backgroundMy name is Heather Wirth, and I am excited to be an intern this summer through UConn Extension. I am working with UConn 4-H – Tolland County to plan this year’s edition of 4-H Food Revolution. My job is to create a curriculum for a four day youth summer program as well as recruiting participants. During this program youth ages seven to eleven are given the opportunity to experience hands-on learning by partaking in STEM activities relating to preparation of food, gardening, and sustainable living. This program is an important enrichment opportunity for children during the summer, and it creates a foundation for healthy living habits as well as awareness of ecological topics. Food Revolution is a fun way to connect with youth about important environmental matters and to get them out in the field to experience exciting topics.The Food Revolution program also includes lessons and activities to get children started on a Junior Master Gardener certification. I hope to make an impact on the youth of my community by providing an exciting program that sparks curiosity and lifelong learning. 

During this internship, I am working on general recruitment of new members for Tolland County 4-H. By utilizing community based outreach, my goal is to spread awareness about getting involved in 4-H in order to bring in new adult volunteers as well as more youth participants. There are a vast array of ways for people to get involved and I would like to show those who are interested that they can bring valuable knowledge and skills to the 4-H community. I would like to implement educational sessions and resources (such as brochures and social media posts) to a broad audience to spur the interest of newcomers to the organization. Another major component of my internship program is to facilitate the Tolland County 4-H Fair in August. In preparation for the event I will serve as a resource for the youth participants, assist the fair board, and conduct general organization.   

Ian Harrington – Agencia de Acción Comunitaria Access – Vacunarse

Ian Harrington de Access Community Action Agency en Windham explica por qué recibió la vacuna contra el COVID-19.
La financiación de este proyecto fue posible gracias a Extension Foundation, USDA-NIFA, los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades y UConn Extension.

Watch the video in English at

Extension Recognizes Program Volunteers

Carol LeBlanc receiving her volunteer award
Carol LeBlanc receiving her volunteer award.

Volunteers are the heart of UConn Extension Master Gardener Program, UConn CLIR program, and our UConn 4-H program. We were honored to recognize a few of them for their contributions at an event on June 16, 2022. In total, our volunteers donated 156,597 hours (the equivalent of 6,524 days) to our programs in 2021. Thank you all for being a vital part of our Extension work! More information about our volunteer programs is available on our website. The following individuals were recognized for their contributions.

2022 UConn Master Gardener Acorn to Oak Award

Marlene Mayes

Marlene Mayes has been a constant at the Foodshare Garden at Auerfarm for the last two decades. She and the garden both began their Master Gardener relationship in 2004 when then-intern Marlene was one of the initial volunteers who dug, planted and nurtured the first rows of vegetables in a former hayfield at the Bloomfield farm. From those humble beginnings Marlene dreamed, encouraged, cajoled, taught and inspired literally hundreds of volunteers – both Master Gardeners and others – to help build the 50+ bed garden that exists today.

Throughout the years, Marlene has introduced countless would-be gardeners to the skills and satisfaction of growing healthy food, both for themselves and for those in need. The garden has yielded over one ton of food annually for Foodshare in several recent years, and volunteers from all walks of life have discovered the pleasures and the satisfaction of providing for those in need in our communities.

This year, as the garden undergoes a major renovation and upgrade, it is only fitting to honor the person who has been the constant, the rock, the teacher and the inspiration with the Extension Master Gardener Acorn to Oak Award.

2022 UConn Master Gardener Project Pollinator Award

Katherine Kosiba

Look carefully at almost any public garden project in the Colchester area and you will find that Katherine Kosiba was there at the beginning. A Master Gardener since 2007, Katherine has shared her passion for gardening and the environment with anyone and everyone who has shown an interest. Both as president of the Colchester Club and as a Colchester resident, her enthusiasm and inclusive attitude is on display throughout the area. Town parks, senior centers public road medians and the library are all beautified and ecologically healthier sites with diverse gardens and plantings spearheaded by Katherine.

Master Gardeners interns in the Haddam office are also the beneficiaries of Katherine’s energy and generosity as she guides many of them through their first outreach projects, demonstrating not only the nitty-gritty gardening details, but also the organizational and planning skills that are crucial to a successful endeavor. Additionally, she has provided many a nervous Master Gardener with a welcoming venue for their first public talk!

For her tireless efforts developing so many projects and moving from one to the next, and the next, we are delighted to present Katherine Kosiba with the Extension Master Gardener Project Pollinator Award.

2022 CLIR (Center for Learning in Retirement) Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Award

Compton Rees

Compton passed away on March 14 shortly after being told of his recognition for his longtime service to CLIR.  Compton is a charter member of CLIR joining immediately after his retirement as a UConn English professor.  Over almost 30 years as a member of CLIR, he has presented many classes on Shakespeare’s works and served for years as a member of the CLIR Executive Council including as vice-president several times.

Howard Raphaelson

Howard has been a CLIR member for 25 years, serving on the CLIR Executive Council as Treasurer for several terms where he worked tirelessly to coordinate CLIR’s bookkeeping with UConn and State of Connecticut accounting practices.

Erika Kares

Erika has been a CLIR member for 24 years with more than a decade of service on the CLIR Executive Council.

2020 UConn 4-H Rising Star Award

Stephanie Bicknell

As a 4-H member Stephanie participated in many of the local, state and regional activities which support the 4-H dairy project.  She became a volunteer shortly after aging out as a member and has taken on major leadership with her club “Herds ‘R Us” and serves as the organizational leader.  She also continues to work with the Middlesex & New Haven 4-H Fair and serves as a Fair Program Advisor – one of the key volunteers working with the 4-H Fair Association and the Extension 4-H Staff.  She supports all of the tenets of the 4-H program and epitomizes what the experience in the 4-H program provides for a young person.

Stephen Gustafson

Steve helped create and is the leader of the Paca Pals 4-H club.  The Paca Pals are an alpaca club.   Steve found a place for the youth to learn and grow in the Tolland Agricultural Center (TAC) 4-H Children’s Garden.  The garden was established in 2002 and has been maintained by the 4-H club program for many years.  A neighbor of the TAC property is the Creative Living Community of Connecticut (CLCC) greenhouse and vocational program.   The work of CLCC is to create opportunities for people with and without disabilities to work and learn together.  Steve has been instrumental in fostering a partnership between the 4-H club and CLCC.  Working with CLCC the 4-H club members learn vocational skills and working with diverse populations.  Steve is able to weave science, healthy living and civic engagement into all aspects of the 4- H program through his dedication and hard work.

Megan Hatt

Megan has been a leader of the Happy Hoofbeats 4-H club since 2015.  She is passionate about 4-H and horses.   She is a positive influence on both the county horse program as well as the public speaking program.  Megan is always ready to put teams together and arrange practice for the state horse contests and has served as the coach for 4-H teams participating in the Eastern National 4-H Horse Roundup.  She is very involved in the New London County 4-H Fair and has helped to create a Horse Exhibition at the fair which includes clinics and games and leadership opportunities for the youth involved.  She is generous with her own horses, time and equipment and believes that 4-H helped her become a successful adult and wants to help others find these benefits as they grow.

2021 UConn 4-H Rising Star Award

Margaret Hall

Peg Hall has been an incredibly active, supportive and positive presence in Litchfield County 4-H since she established the Diggity Dogs 4-H Club 8 years ago.  She has also helped to establish and is serving as a co-leader for a new club, the Grow Getters 4-H club.  This new club, the first horticulture based club in Litchfield County drew over 20 new members to its first meeting.  They exist because of Peg’s hard work and determination to help a local garden center owner who is new to 4-H get this club established.  Peg also serves as a Litchfield County 4-H Fair Association director.  Her involvement includes helping to plan and implement the fair as well as cleaning up the fairgrounds.  Peg has also been instrumental in the success of the Operation Community Impact dairy distribution program which provides milk to over 1400 food insecure familes in Litchfield County.

Lauren Manuck

Lauren is an alum of the Hartford County 4-H Program.  She is currently serving as a club leader of the 4-H Clovers.  She has also jumped into action on the county level as well serving as a Hartford County 4-H Advisory Committee member and as a 4-H Fair advisor since 2013.  Within Advisory, Lauren eagerly steps up and takes the lead on projects, ensuring that youth thougout UConn 4-H have numerous opportunities to participate in activities beyond the club level.   She has been instrumental in the success of the Nutrition and Food Show, Hartford County Teen and Volunteer Banquet and Awards Night to name a few.  She was a recipient of the 2020 Winding Brook Community Service Award for her efforts in assisting with the Operation Community Impact milk and ice cream distribution in Hartford County.  She continues to see opportunities to provide nutrition education and work with youth.

2020 UConn 4-H Hall of Fame Award

Colleen Augur

Colleen is the organizational leader of one of New Haven County’s largest and most active 4-H clubs.  Colleen works with 4-5 registered 4-H volunteers conducting 4-H meetings and teaching the youth how to care and manage their animals which are primarily dairy and beef. The member’s involvement does not stop at the club level.  Yearly, they have 100 percent participation in the 4-H fair ad campaign, showing at the 4-H fair and other county activities.  Her teen members become managers, superintendents and officers in the 4-H fair on a regular basis.  Colleen often provides project animals from her own herd for members without animals of their own, helping the members transport their project animals to and from the fair.  Colleen shares her love of farming, agriculture and 4-H with youth and the general public.  She is a great example of what youth can learn and achieve with hard work and responsibility.

Stephen and Nancy Hayes

Some people choose to join 4-H, other, such as the Hayes family, are born into it.  Stephen and Nancy Hayes have made a lifelong commitment to 4-H.  Both are guiding forces for the Granby 4-H club and have been instrumental in many other aspects of the Hartford County 4-H Program.  Nancy has served the goat program in Hartford County and UConn 4-H extensively.  For 15 years Nancy has been instrumental in the very successful UConn 4-H Goat Day.  In 2017 a robotics team was formed as part of Granby 4-H. Stephen became involved as a mentor to members, sharing his programming knowledge.  Shortly after that Nancy became involved.  Both Stephen and Nancy spend hundreds of hours meeting several times a week with the youth members.  They are both skilled in empowering the youth to make decisions, allowing them to safely ask questions without hesitation, make mistakes, master their skills, then celebrate the successes as a team and individuals.

2021 UConn 4-H Hall of Fame Award

Wendy Kennedy

For over 35 years Wendy has been an active part of the success of the Litchfield County 4-H Program.  She grew up in Litchfield County 4-H and has been the co-leader of the Busy Farmers 4-H Dairy Club for over 20 years.  As a club leader Wendy makes sure her members hold regular meetings, participate in county and state-wide activities and that members are learning something while having fun. She has served as a director on the county 4-H Fair Association for many years.   She serves on the Board of Directors for the Litchfield County 4-H foundation and has held many leadership positions on the foundation board.  She has volunteered to chaperon many county and state-wide 4-H trips and was also involved in the Operation Community Impact dairy distribution project providing over 1400 food insecure families with dairy products.  Wendy embodies the true spirit of 4-H in everything that she does.

Patricia Miele Bianchi

Pat grew up in a home where 4-H was a significant component of daily life and she was an active and enthusiastic 4-Her.  She served as a club leader for 18 years and helped foster an interest in 4-H in many youth including her own children.  Pat served as a Hartford County 4-H Camp Trustee holding numerous officer positions and participating on many committees.  In addition to her work with 4-H camp, Pat is involved as a Director within the Hartford County 4-H Fair Association.   Pat’s county-wide contributions include judging for the Nutrition and Food show, the Fashion Review as well as for the County and State Public Speaking Contests.  Her experience with Toastmasters has contributed to the learning of public speaking contestants.  On a broader level, Pat was active in the College’s Strategic Visioning process.  She uses her first-hand experiences as a 4-H’er and volunteer to champion the positive impact that 4-H has on the lives of young people.

2020 4-H Salute to Excellence – Volunteer of the Year Regional Winner

Stephen Gustafson

Steve helped create and is the leader of the Paca Pals 4-H club.  The Paca Pals are an alpaca club.   Steve found a place for the youth to learn and grow in the Tolland Agricultural Center (TAC) 4-H Children’s Garden.  The garden was established in 2002 and has been maintained by the 4-H club program for many years.  A neighbor of the TAC property is the Creative Living Community of Connecticut (CLCC) greenhouse and vocational program.   The work of CLCC is to create opportunities for people with and without disabilities to work and learn together.  Steve has been instrumental in fostering a partnership between the 4-H club and CLCC.  Working with CLCC the 4-H club members learn vocational skills and working with diverse populations.  Steve is able to weave science, healthy living and civic engagement into all aspects of the 4- H program through his dedication and hard work.

2021 4-H Salute to Excellence – Lifetime Volunteer Regional Winner

June Zoppa

June is a positive and integral part of the 4-H community in Hartford County.  She is the only volunteer who serves or has served simultaneously on the Hartford County 4-H Advisory Board, Hartford County 4-H Fair Association and the Hartford County 4-H Camp, Inc. Board of Trustees along with being a club leader.  Within her 4-H club, June works patiently with club members as they learn to master sewing projects.  Many judges have rewarded the projects submitted by June’s club with ribbons, special honors, and awards.  In addition, a major component of June’s 4-H experience is built upon community service and leadership development.  June’s involvement as Fair Advisor includes helping the Fundraising Committee plan and execute an ambitious fundraising drive.  She supports the youth in assessing decisions required to promote, design and print the premium book, roll out the sponsorship campaign and additional fundraisers.  Her work ethic and compassion for youth has been demonstrated since her initial days in 4-H and has been evident in the relationships she has formed with members, parent, volunteers and mentees.

2021 4-H Salute to Excellence – Volunteer of Year Regional Winner

Rachael Manzer

Rachael Manzer exemplifies science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in 4-H.  She understands the importance and need for STEM and Agricultural Literacy, and she has increased opportunities for STEM learning by establishing the only 4-H Vex Robotics program in New England.  This robotics program has its own “Cinderella” story – big dreams, few resources and the amazing efforts of many to make it a success.  Out of approximately 12,500 teams across the world, about 500 earn a spot to compete in the World Championship.  At VEX World Championship, the largest robot competition in the world, teams from around the world compete. Rachael’s robotics program acheieved this honor three times.  Rachael is also a very accomplished educator, astronaut and STEM teacher.  She uses these experiences, knowledge, skills and networks to enhance the experiences and opportunities for her 4-H club members.

2022 – 4-H Salute to Excellence – Volunteer of the Year State Winner

Margaret Hall

Peg Hall has been an incredibly active, supportive and positive presence in Litchfield County 4-H since she established the Diggity Dogs 4-H Club 8 years ago.  She has also helped to establish and is serving as a co-leader for a new club, the Grow Getters 4-H club.  This new club, the first horticulture based club in Litchfield County drew over 20 new members to its first meeting.  They exist because of Peg’s hard work and determination to help a local garden center owner who is new to 4-H get this club established.  Peg also serves as a Litchfield County 4-H Fair Association director.  Her involvement includes helping to plan and implement the fair as well as cleaning up the fairgrounds.  Peg has also been instrumental in the success of the Operation Community Impact dairy distribution program which provides milk to over 1400 food insecure familes in Litchfield County.

2022 – 4-H Salute to Excellence – Lifetime Volunteer Regional Winner

Carol Ann LeBlanc

Carol’s 52 year 4-H volunteer career began in 1970 when she wanted to expand upon her early 4-H experiences.  She has established three 4-H clubs, including Snoopy’s Pals 4-H Club, serving youth from Connecticut and Massachusetts and she served in numerous other county, state and regional roles.  Members of Carol’s club have earned showmanship championships, AKC certifications, record book awards, leadership medals and county fair fundraising awards.  Club members have served in county Fair Association roles and as delegates for various award trips.  With Carol’s careful guidance and commitment to positive youth development, club members and mentees demonstrate the traits of independence, confidence, leadership and perseverance. Carol’s leadership on the New England 4-H Dog Committee, and her pioneering partnership with the Eastern States Exposition (The Big E), has ensured a three-day, two night 4-H dog program during The Big E.  Carol has been a tireless 4-H volunteer who leads by example.  Her compassion for youth has been demonstrated since her initial days in 4-H.

Junteenth (June 19th) – Jubilee Day, National Independence Day, Black Independence Day

June 19th is Juneteenth!  The word “Juneteenth”, a combination of June and nineteenth, also known as “Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, National Independence Day and Black Independence Day”.   The slaves were freed on January 1, 1863, but it took a long time for word to reach other parts of the United States.  On June 19, 1865, the Union Army informed the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas about the Emancipation Proclamation, making them among the last freed.  First celebrated in Galveston in 1866, Texas made it a state holiday in 1979.  Designated as a federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth focuses on family and joyfulness through parades, music, dance, and delicious Southern Soul Food!  The types and preparation of food also have significant meaning. There are often grilled or barbequed meats, and festive red foods and beverages; red represents the struggle and lost lives as well as resilience of the people.

Here are some recipes that you may want to prepare with your family to celebrate Juneteenth

Hoppin’ John with Okra and Oven Fried Fish


BBQ Chicken, Southern Style Potato Salad, Grilled Corn

Juneteenth flag and spice tea punch

Grandma’s Spice Tea Punch

red velvet cake and Juneteenth flag

Juneteenth Red Velvet Cake

June/2022 Written by and 📷Photo Credit by: U. R. Taylor, MS, RDN, CDN 📷

#UConnEFNEP #UConnExtension #AskUConn  #Juneteenth

What can I do to stay safe during a hurricane? 

trees across power lines
Lake Charles, LA September 25, 2005 – Hurricane Rita blew down trees and power poles all across the city, blocking roads and leaving the city without electricity. Photo by Greg Henshall / FEMA

Hurricanes cause high winds and flooding, and it’s important to know the signs for either situation and take proper precautions. The signs of extreme winds include seeing and hearing wind gusts, trees swaying, sheets of rain or snow, and thunder and lightning. You should seek shelter inside, avoid being outside, avoid down wires, and stay away from trees and potential falling limbs when you identify high winds. 

Roadways and walkways can become flooded during a hurricane. Extreme rain and swift moving water cause life threatening situations including being stranded, swept away and drowning. Pay attention to weather service alerts well in advance of a hurricane. Follow evacuation routes or move to higher ground. Never drive or walk-through flooded areas, standing water, or swift moving water.  

Proper preparation, identification of hurricanes, and appropriate action can reduce the impact of disasters and emergencies. For resources on preparing for and staying safe during storms visit

Soil-biodegradable plastic mulch: Is it right for you?

By Shuresh Ghimire, UConn Cooperative Extension and Andy Radin, URI Cooperative Extension

Something important for you to consider: your use of plastic mulch in vegetable production. This is especially worthy to think about given that plastic mulch isn’t just for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant anymore. Most small-scale growers use it for onions, lettuce, herbs, and more. You’ve no doubt heard about biodegradable mulch, but possibly not so great things. Here are some important questions you may have, and some real answers.

  1. Can plastic mulch actually “degrade?” Yes, and No.

First, the NO.

Degradation caused by sunlight, heat, moisture, and mechanical stress results in ever-smaller fragments of plastic, ultimately becoming what are called “microplastics.” According to a quick search on Google Trends, this word as a topic has increased dramatically over the last 5 years, which corresponds to an increase in our understanding of just how pervasive these pollutants are on land and in the oceans, and the possible and probable effects they have on species richness and diversity. It’s a disturbing and inescapable fact that plastics are changing the planet for the worse.

Now for the YES!

Degradation of plastic by microorganisms, known as biodegradation, is very much a real thing, provided the plastic is made of the polymers that microbes can consume. Soil-biodegradable plastic mulch breaks down into CO2, water, and microbial biomass.

But let it be stated right here up front: except for paper-based mulches, there are no biodegradable plastic mulches that are approved for use by certified organic farms in the United States. (See Box with NOP standards for reasons why.) If you are a certified organic grower, you cannot make the switch. You are permitted to use paper-based mulches, as long as they do not contain any synthetic materials. However, as they reduce the soil temperature, these do not perform well in our cold springs and early summers when warmth is desired. Further, our (usually) plentiful rainfall and warm summer weather causes rapid breakdown of these materials.

But if you otherwise do use plastic mulch, please read on as we consider a list of potential issues with the use of soil-biodegradable mulch (BDM.)

  1. How much do BDMs break down during the growing season?

Ghimire et al. (2018) found that among 4 products they tested for pumpkin production for two years in Mount Vernon, WA and Knoxville, TN, by the end of the season, less than 8% of the soil originally covered became exposed in Mount Vernon, and that was less than 25% in Knoxville. At Mount Vernon, the 2-year average daily air temperature for the pumpkin growing season (June–September) was 63 °F, RH was 76%, and total rainfall was 6 inches (4 inches in year 1 and 8 inches in year 2). At Knoxville, the 2-year average daily air temperature was 77 °F, RH was 80%, and total rainfall was 10 inches (14 inches in year 1 and 5 inches in year 2). These mulches really hold up during the season they are applied!

rows of vegetables covered in white biodegradable mulch
A variety of vegetable crops grown on BDM in Gresczyk Farms in Litchfield, CT. Photo: Shuresh Ghimire
  1. How do yields on BDM compare to yields on polyethylene (PE) mulch materials? list of USDA National Organic Program Rules

Our team also looked at that over several years and found relatively similar yield results between BDM and PE mulch. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to state this definitively because in a survey of comparative studies, Martín-Closas et al. (2017) found better performance, worse performance, and equal performance between BDM and PE. But these were in a wide range of soil and climate conditions. The chances of BDM performing better than PE in an exceptionally wet summer in eastern North Carolina are slim- the stuff will break down more rapidly, so you do take something of chance there.

  1. Will last year’s mulch bits disappear by the time I am prepping beds this coming year?

Visual assessments of macroscopic BDM fragments (>2.36 mm) show that after 4 years of annual BDM application from 2015 to 2018 in northwest Washington, mulch recovery from soil in spring 2019 ranged from 23 to 64% of the amount applied (area basis), indicating there was no accumulation of mulch fragments in the soil even after repeated applications (Ghimire et al., 2020). Recovery further decreased to 4-16% (mass basis) 2 years after the final mulch incorporation in fall 2020 (Griffin-LaHue et al., 2022). Only paper BDMs (e.g. Weed Guard Plus) show 100% biodegradation within the timespan of this study, but the conclusion from the study was that BDMs are degrading and do not accumulate in soil after repeated use. The longevity is strongly influenced by soil texture [see footnote], climatic factors (annual rainfall, annual average air temperatures), and product formulations. As you might expect, biodegradation is more rapid in warmer, wetter climates and in medium textured soils which have the benefits of good water-holding capacity as well as decent porosity.

Yes, there is differential breakdown among the products, and some of it remains for up to a few years. Products that perform the best within a season also probably leaves residues for longer. These are often thicker. But that doesn’t mean it leaves behind microplastics. The limits of instrumentation make it nearly impossible to document the final-most end-stage of decomposition of soil biodegradable plastic, whereas microplastics are actually detectable.

  1. Isn’t BDM more expensive than PE mulch?

Yes, it really is more expensive to purchase the material- two to three times more, depending on thickness. Plan to lay out more cash on the front end of the season. BUT: don’t forget to calculate how much you can save on the back end. There’s an easy to use calculator available for download here. [Note: this link will take you to an Excel spreadsheet on your browser tab. You can download it by clicking on the “File” menu in the upper left-hand corner of the spread sheet and then click on “download.” After doing that, make sure that you enable the macro features.]

Below is what the calculator generated based on using 3- three-thousand-foot rolls of mulch on an acre. There are many assumptions built into this output, and the spreadsheet allows you to adjust all of those. But going with what they filled in for default estimates (labor rates, tractor time, dumping fees, and more), take a look.Per Acre Cost Comparison chart

In this case with all of the default values they started with (again, which you can adjust), it costs 11% more per acre. In case you’re wondering, many of the dollar values they used are on the generous side, so this may be an over-estimate. Over-estimating is always good in enterprise planning, at least to a point.

Other factors not accounted for in the spreadsheet:

  1. Aggravation/Procrastination factor: there’s nothing like an un-fun job to persuade you to do other things that seem less aggravating. But pulling out the drip tape is the only thing stopping you from disking over your plastic-mulched beds.
  2. Interference with timeliness of cover crop planting: getting those beds cleaned up speeds you towards getting your cover crop seed planted. Getting deep into the financial analysis, it’s entirely possible that the earlier cover crop planting recovers more nutrients and increases organic matter in your soil, which are things you can take to the bank.
  3. If you grow into the fall and winter, you have tunnels to clean up but also fall planting deadlines to keep. Deadlines like that can easily cause a delay of field cleanup because every day of waning daylight in mid to late September reduces fall tunnel crop growth.
  4. You are putting less polyethylene mulch onto the land and eventually, into the ocean. Hard to calculate costs associated with that, but they are real.
  5. Can it be applied in the field just like PE mulch?

Yes, more or less BUT three caveats:

  1. It is more delicate than PE so it has to be handled a little more gently.
  2. If it does get damaged while laying it down, decomposition will be accelerated
  3. MOST IMPORTANT- it should not be applied as tightly as PE mulch because it continues to tighten as the weather warms. If it is installed too tightly at first, it will split as it tightens up, and this will allow early summer weeds to take over.
  4. What are the common experiences of the growers using BDM in Connecticut?
  • PE mulch leaves more fragments in the field than BDM
  • The purchasing cost of BDM is greater than PE, so BDM appears to be expensive in the beginning of the growing season, but overall BDM is cheaper after accounting for disposal costs
  • Growers can prepare the field for cover crops at the end of the season when the crop is grown with BDM; the mulch is disked/harrowed in after the drip tape is removed, which does not require much extra field work. But in years with wet Fall, cover crops are delayed or cannot be planted when PE mulch is used
  • Even with mulch deterioration in the later season, no/minimal weed growth occurs
  • Some growers shared experience of mulch adhesion with cantaloupe, but has not affected marketability of crops
  • Removal of PE mulch and picking up fragments at the end of the season is the least liked job of growers
  • Weed control and yield is comparable between BDM and PE mulch
  • They do not have any concern with BDM fragments after incorporation in the field as their observation is that BDM degrades in a couple of years
pepper plants growing in rows covered by white biodegradable mulch
Pepper grown on BDM in Cold Spring Brook Farm, Berlin, Connecticut. Photo: Shuresh Ghimire

Think it over- it could change things for your late summer-into-fall transition… for the better. For a video testimonial from a Connecticut farmer, watch this video.

You still have questions about BDM, this FAQ FAQs about BDM might help.

Footnote: We did not specifically look at the relationship between soil texture and mulch biodegradation rate. However, a study from Brazil (Duarte et al. 2019) reports that the CO2 production was much higher when a biodegradable mulch was tested in sandy-loam textured soil compared to clay and sand-textured soil. In general, degradation rate would be higher in the soil where there are greater populations of microbial communities, the soil is not too dry or not too wet (balance of water and air in the soil pore/capillaries). This probably means greater degradation rate in sandy loam or silty loam soil than clay or sands.

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