A pot experiment with summer cover crops and soil amendments was conducted in two consecutive years to elucidate the effects of these cover crops and soil amendments on `Clemson Spineless 80' okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) yields and biomass production, and the uptake and distribution of soil nutrients and trace elements. The cover crops were sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), velvetbean (Mucuna deeringiana), and sorghum sudangrass (Sorghum bicolor × S. bicolor var. sudanense) with fallow as the control. The organic soil amendments were biosolids (sediment from wastewater plants), N-Viro Soil (a mixture of biosolids and coal ash, coal ash (a combustion by-product from power plants), co-compost (a mixture of 3 biosolids: 7 yard waste), and yard waste compost (mainly from leaves and branches of trees and shrubs, and grass clippings) with a soil-incorporated cover crop as the control. As a subsequent vegetable crop, okra was grown after the cover crops, alone or together with the organic soil amendments, had been incorporated. All of the cover crops, except sorghum sudangrass in 2002-03, significantly improved okra fruit yields and the total biomass production (i.e., fruit yields were enhanced by 53% to 62% in 2002-03 and by 28% to 70% in 2003-04). Soil amendments enhanced okra fruit yields from 38.3 to 81.0 g/pot vs. 27.4 g/pot in the control in 2002-03, and from 59.9 to 124.3 g/pot vs. 52.3 g/pot in the control in 2003-04. Both cover crops and soil amendments can substantially improve nutrient uptake and distribution. Among cover crop treatments, sunn hemp showed promising improvement in concentrations of calcium (Ca), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), boron (B), and molybdenum (Mo) in fruit; magnesium (Mg), Zn, Cu, and Mo in shoots; and Mo in roots of okra. Among soil amendments, biosolids had a significant influence on most nutrients by increasing the concentrations of Zn, Cu, Fe, and Mo in the fruit; Mg, Zn, Cu, and Mo in the shoot; and Mg, Zn, and Mo in the root. Concentrations of the trace metal cadmium (Cd) were not increased significantly in either okra fruit, shoot, or root by application of these cover crops or soil amendments, but the lead (Pb) concentration was increased in the fruit by application of a high rate (205 g/pot) of biosolids. These results suggest that cover crops and appropriate amounts of soil amendments can be used to improve soil fertility and okra yield without adverse environmental effects or risk of contamination of the fruit. Further field studies will be required to confirm these findings.
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