Alternative Orchard Floor Management Practices for Improving Soil Quality and Optimizing Nitrogen Uptake Efficiency

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  • 1 Oregon State Univ., Horticulture, Corvallis, OR 97330
  • 2 Oregon State Univ., Horticulture
  • 3 Oregon State Univ., Horticulture, Corvallis, OR 97330
  • 4 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environmental Health
  • 5 Oregon State Univ., Horticulture

Information about the use of alternative management practices (AOFMP) in perennial systems to manage soil biota and influence the uptake of nutrients is limited. The objectives of this study are to evaluate AOFMP on soil quality, focussing on soil biology, and on nitrogen uptake efficiency. Research plots are located in Lewis-Brown Farm (LB), Corvallis, OR (`Fuji' apple trees) and Mid-Columbia Ag. Research & Extension Cent. (HR), Hood River, OR (`Red Delicious' apple trees). Main plot treatments were weed control methods: herbicide or cultivation. Sub plot treatments were soil amendments: no amendment, bark mulch (BM), compost, and green vetch/barley mulch (VB). A split-plot completely randomized design with 3 replications was used. Depleted NH3 SO4 was applied to single-tree replicates at bud break in 2001, 2002, and 2003. Compost amended plots contained more fungivorous nematodes than other treatments, although this difference was not significant at LB. At both sites there was a significant interaction between main and sub plot treatments in the number of bacterivores. At LB, the interaction between main and sub plot treatments affected the number of enrichment opportunists and the F-ratio was affected by amendment. At HR, the structural index was also affected by amendment. Compost resulted in the most diverse populations. Soil respiration rates in compost and BM plots were consistently higher than in unamended and VB treated plots. Soil P, pH, and organic matter content were increased by compost amendment and bulk density was decreased. At HR mid-season leaves, fruit, and first year growth from compost treated plots contained the least nitrogen derived from fertilizer, followed by bark mulch. The highest nitrogen derived from fertilizer was in unamended plots.

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