Cowpea Cover Crop Mulch for Weed Control in Desert Pepper Production

in HortScience

A 2-year field project was conducted in Thermal, Calif., to investigate cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.] mulch as an alternative weed control option in pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) production. Treatments included: bare ground (BG) with hand weeding, BG with no weeding, cowpea mulch (CM) with hand weeding, and CM with no weeding. Cowpea was seeded in July on 76-cm beds and irrigated with buried drip line. Two weeks prior to transplanting peppers, irrigation water was turned off to desiccate the cowpea plants. In September, cowpea was cut at the soil line, mulch was returned to the top of the bed, and pepper plants were transplanted into the mulch and fertilized through the drip line. Every 2 weeks, the number of weeds emerged and pepper plant height were recorded. Fruit production, pepper plant dry weight, and weed dry weight were recorded at harvest in December. Fewer weeds emerged in CM than in BG. The final weed population in nonweeded CM was reduced 80% and 90% in comparison with nonweeded BG in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Weed dry weights in nonweeded CM were 67% and 90% less than those in nonweeded BG over the same period. In 1997 and 1998, respectively, pepper plants produced 202% and 156% more dry weight, as well as greater fruit weight, in CM than in BG. There were no differences in mean fruit weight. Cowpea mulch provided season-long weed control without herbicides while promoting plant growth and fruit production.

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