Fresh-market Tomato Production in a Low-input Alternative System Using Cover-crop Mulch

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  • 1 Vegetable Laboratory, Plant Sciences Institute, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD 20705
  • | 2 Weed Science Laboratory, Plant Sciences Institute, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD 20705
  • | 3 Fruit Laboratory, Plant Sciences Institute, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD 20705
  • | 4 Nematology Laboratory, Plant Sciences Institute, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD 20705

A low-input sustainable agricultural system for the production of staked, fresh-market field tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) is described. The system uses winter annual cover crops to fix N, recycle leftover nutrients, produce biomass, and prevent soil erosion throughout the winter and spring. Yields of tomato plants grown in hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth), crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum L.), and rye (Secale cereale L.) plus hairy vetch mulches were higher than those grown in the conventional black polyethylene (BP) mulch system in 2 of 3 years. Fruit were heavier with the plant mulches than with BP mulch. Eight weeks after transplanting, N levels in tomato leaves were higher with plant than with BP mulch, although the plant mulch plots received only 50% of the N applied to the BP plots. The cover crops had no effect on populations of five phytoparasitic nematode species.

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