138 Evaluation of Soil Amendments for Certified Organic Pepper Production

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  • 1 Dept. of Horticulture & Agronomy, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011

Organic farming has increased to a $4.2 billion industry in the U.S. and continues to expand ≈20% annually. In Iowa alone, organic acreage for all crops has increased from 13,000 in 1995 to 120,000 in 1998. Organic farmers have requested an unbiased analysis of natural soil amendments/fertilizers and compost products on the market for certified organic vegetable and herb production. In our first-year trials at the ISU Muscatine Island Research Farm in 1998, a total of 1,120 `Hungarian wax' pepper plants were transplanted into rows at 31 × 61-cm spacing. Four replications of seven fertilization treatments were planted within the field. The goal of the fertilization program was to obtain equivalent nitrogen and calcium rates in the organic and conventional systems. Leaf height was not significantly different in plants fertilized with organic compost (poultry litter-based) at 50 and 100 kg/ha N compared with conventional fertilizers (at 100 kg/ha N). All organic and conventional treatments had greater biomass than the organic and conventional controls (no fertilizer), respectively (ANOVA, P = 0.05). First harvest fresh weights were greater in the organic treatments, with the greatest number of peppers and greatest fresh weight in the compost plus Bio-Cal® (a liming industry by-product) treatment. Total pepper fresh weight over the five harvest periods was not significantly different among treatments, demonstrating to organic farmers that comparable yields can be obtained in systems employing alternatives to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

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