Raised Bed Plastic Mulch Integrated System

Traditionally, vegetables and small fruits were grown in open beds that made the crops more susceptible to soil-borne diseases, weeds, pests, and fertilizer loss. To combat these problems in the 1960s, researchers at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center began the development and testing of what is now known as the raised bed plastic mulch integrated system, a method that fundamentally changed crop protection and production.

To use the system, farmers start by creating soil beds, fumigating and fertilizing them, and then covering the beds with plastic mulch film. The plastic mulch protects the fertilizer from dispersing, fruit from coming in contact with the soil, and crop roots from being flooded. This system greatly increased yield and quality, transforming the production of crops such as fresh market tomatoes, green peppers, squash, cantaloupes, and strawberries.

The system has morphed over the decades to adapt with new technologies and regulations. One major change was applying water and fertilizer through a drip irrigation tube that is installed at the time of bedding, which increases the control of water and fertilizer applications while decreasing water loss. Other major changes include the development and testing of environmentally friendly alternatives to the fumigant methyl bromide, altering bed widths, testing alternate fertilizer placements and rates, and changing mulch colors, type, and degradability.

As farmers’ needs change and more advanced technologies became available, many UF/IFAS faculty members from varying disciplines are involved with the improvement of this production system, but the basic system developed more than 50 years ago is still the standard practice used today.