A composting facility in New Milford, Conn. (NMF), utilizes food-processing residuals, including spent tea leaves, coffee grounds, cocoa shell and cleanings, wastewater treatment sludge from a food ingredients manufacturing plant, and past-expiration processed vegetable products. Materials are composted in aerated, frequently turned windrows under cover. The range of inputs, combined with time constraints on the composting process, has resulted in a variable, immature compost product with a high rate of microbial activity. Users have expressed concern about potential phytotoxicity or nutrient immobilization from using NMF compost. Therefore, research was conducted to determine the influence of cured and uncured NMF compost amendments on potentially sensitive crops with high nutrient requirements. Arugula (Eruca vesicaria) and green bibb lettuce (Lactuca sativa) were grown on two Connecticut organic farm research sites in 1998 and 1999. Both sites have soils classified as coarse loamy over sandy or sandy-skeletal, mixed, mesic, typic, Dystraudepts. Farms differed in the length of time under organic farm management. One farm has been an organic farm since 1988 and consequently has high soil fertility, while the other was a first-year organic farm in 1998, and had relatively low soil fertility. Three amendment types were applied: cured compost, uncured compost, and organic fertilizer (5N-3P2O5-4K2O). Amendment application rates were estimated to provide a comparable range of plant-available nutrients for the amendments and a control without fertilizer. Compost application rates were 3.4, 6.8, 20.2, 35.8, and 71.7 Mg·ha-1 (dry-weight basis) in 1998 and 11.2, 22.4, 44.8, and 89.6 Mg·ha-1 (dry-weight basis) in 1999. Organic fertilizer application rates were 1.34, 2.68, 5.36, 10.72, and 21.44 Mg·ha-1 in 1998 and 1.34, 2.68, 5.38, and 10.72 Mg·ha-1 in 1999. Soil organic matter and nutrients increased with amendment application rate at both locations. Crop yields increased with amendment rate at the new, lower-fertility farm, but yields did not respond to amendments at the older, higher-fertility farm. Yield differences were minor between the uncured and cured compost treatments at both locations. This indicates that either cured or uncured NMF food-processing residual compost can be successfully used as an organic soil amendment for salad green production.
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