Weeds are a top management concern among organic vegetable growers. Abrasive weeding is a nonchemical tactic using air-propelled abrasive grit to destroy weed seedlings within crop rows. Many grit types are effective, but if organic fertilizers are used, this could integrate weed and nutrient management in a single field pass. Our objective was to quantify the effects of abrasive grit and mulch type on weed suppression, disease severity, soil nitrogen availability, and yield of pepper (Capsicum annuum L. ‘Carmen’). A 2-year experiment was conducted in organic red sweet pepper at Urbana, IL, with four replicates of five abrasive grit treatments (walnut shell grits, soybean meal fertilizer, composted turkey litter fertilizer, a weedy control, and a weed-free control) and four mulch treatments (straw mulch, bioplastic film, polyethylene plastic film, and a bare soil control). Abrasive weeding, regardless of grit type, paired with bioplastic or polyethylene plastic mulch reduced in-row weed density (67 and 87%, respectively) and biomass (81 and 84%); however there was no significant benefit when paired with straw mulch or bare ground. Despite the addition of 6 to 34 kg N/ha/yr through the application of soybean meal and composted turkey litter grits, simulated plant N uptake was most influenced by mulch composition (e.g., plastic vs. straw) and weed abundance. Nitrogen immobilization in straw mulch plots reduced leaf greenness, plant height, and yield. Bacterial spot (Xanthomonas campestris pv. Vesicatoria) was confirmed on peppers in both years, but abrasive weeding did not increase severity of the disease. Pepper yield was always greatest in the weed-free control and lowest in straw mulch and bare soil, but the combination of abrasive weeding (regardless of grit type) and bioplastic or polyethylene plastic mulch increased marketable yield by 47% and 21%, respectively, compared with the weedy control. Overall, results demonstrate that when abrasive weeding is paired with bioplastic or polyethylene mulch, growers can concurrently suppress weeds and increase crop N uptake for greater yields.
This research was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA), Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), award 2014-51300-22233, and the Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station with funding from the Hatch Act (accession 1014303) through the USDA NIFA. We thank Michael Douglass for his excellent field technical support.
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