Mustard Cover Crops for Control Soilborne Disease and Weeds, and Nitrogen Cycling in Cool Season Vegetable Production in the Salinas Valley

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  • 1 Univ. of California, Univ. of California Cooperative Extension, Monterey County, Salinas, CA 93901
  • | 2 Univ. of California, Davis, Dept of Plant Pathology, Salinas, CA 93905
  • | 3 Univ. of California, Univ. of California Cooperative Extension, Monterey County
  • | 4 Univ. of California, Davis, Dept of Vegetable Crops
  • | 5 Univ. of California, Univ. of California Cooperative Extension, Monterey County

Growers in the Salinas Valley are not able to rotate away from lettuce to other crops such as broccoli, as often as would be desirable due to economic pressures such as high land rents and lower economic returns for rotational crops. This aggravates problems with key soilborne diseases such as Sclerotinia minor, Lettuce Drop. Mustard cover crops (Brassica juncea and Sinapis alba) are short-season alternative rotational crops that are being examined in the Salinas Valley for the potential that they have to reduce soilborne disease and weeds. Mustard cover crops have been have been shown to suppress various soilborne diseases and there are also indications that they can provide limited control of some weed species. However, no studies have shown the impact of mustard cover crops under field conditions on S. minor. In 2003 we conducted preliminary studies on the incidence of S. minor and weeds following mustard cover crops in comparison with a bare control or an area cover cropped to Merced Rye (Secale cereale). There was a slight, but significant reduction of S. minor infection in one of three trials following mustard cover crops. Mustard cover crops also reduced emergence of Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) and Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) these studies. Mustard cover crops have distinct nitrogen cycling characteristics. They were shown to reach a peak of release of nitrogen in 30 to 50 days following incorporation into the soil. The levels of nitrogen that are released by mustard cover crops were substantial and could be useful in nitrogen fertilizer programs for subsequent vegetable crops.

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