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Kayla Snyder, Amanda Grant, Christopher Murray, and Bryon Wolff

The impact of polyolefin-based agricultural mulch films (including clear, black, and white-on-black films) on soil temperature and moisture content was studied, using a bare plot as a control, over a 4-month period in central Ontario, Canada. Data indicate a negative correlation between the change in soil temperature under the films relative to bare soil and the absolute value of bare soil temperature. Additionally, a negative correlation between the effect of films on soil moisture and the moisture level of bare soil was indicated. All mulch films demonstrated qualitatively similar ability to insulate the soil from extremes in both temperature and moisture, suggesting a potentially reduced need for irrigation and protecting against early frost, high temperatures, overwatering, and drought.

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Juan C. Díaz-Pérez and K. Dean Batal

Soil warming is one of the benefits associated with use of plastic film mulches. However, under high temperature conditions during the summer, especially in the southeastern United States, some mulches warm the soil to temperatures that might be deleterious to plant growth. Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) plants grown in the field were exposed to a range of root-zone temperatures (RZTs), resulting from growing the plants in different seasons and by using colored mulches that differed in their soil-warming ability. The objective was to determine the relationship of mean seasonal RZT, as affected by different colored plastic film mulches, with plant growth and fruit yield. The study consisted of experiments carried out in three seasons: Fall 1999 (five mulches, one cultivar), Spring 2000 (eight mulches and three cultivars), and Fall 2000 (four mulches and three cultivars). Treatments were black (n = 2), gray, red, silver (n = 3), and white (n = 2) mulches, and bare soil. Over the season, mean RZT decreased in the fall (from 32 to 24 °C) and increased in the spring (from 20 to 29 °C). Daily mean values of RZT over the season under plastic mulches were higher (1 to 5 °C) than those of air temperature. The highest RZT at midday occurred under black mulch, and the lowest under bare soil and white mulch. Bare soil showed the largest diurnal RZT fluctuation. RZT at midday was up to 4 °C higher under black or gray mulch compared to the other mulches or bare soil. The degree of soil warming was correlated with reflectivity of the mulch. Black mulch had the lowest light reflectance [10% photosynthetically active radiation (PAR)] while silver mulch had the highest (55% PAR). There were, however, differences in reflectance among mulches of the same color depending on the manufacturer. RZT affected vegetative top fresh weight (FW), fruit yield, fruit number, and individual fruit FW. All these growth attributes fitted a quadratic relationship with mean RZT for the season, with an optimal that ranged between 25.4 and 26.3 °C. The effects of colored mulches on plant response depended on the impact of the mulch on RZT. Plant growth and yield were highest as RZT approached the optimal RZT for the plants.

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Fahrurrozi Aziz, Katrine A. Stewart, and Sylvie Jenni

Temperature modification is the most investigated environmental factor considered to affect muskmelon (Cucumis melo L. Reticulatus Group) growth in a mulched minitunnel production system. Until now, effects on CO2 concentrations within the tunnel have been ignored. Experiments on production of `Earligold' netted muskmelon were conducted in 1997, 1998, and 1999 to determine daily CO2 concentrations for 10 mulched minitunnel and thermal water tube combinations. Carbon dioxide concentrations under nonperforated (clear or infrared-blocking polyethylene) tunnels were significantly higher (three to four times) than that of ambient air. Soil respiration under the plastic mulch was primarily responsible for increased CO2 levels in the tunnel. Daily CO2 concentrations in the tunnels varied little during early muskmelon growth, but fluctuated widely as the plants developed. Ventilation significantly decreased CO2 concentrations in the tunnels but levels remained significantly above the control and perforated tunnel treatments. When using mulched minitunnels for muskmelon production, daily CO2 concentrations should be recognized as a significant factor influencing growth.

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Fumiomi Takeda, Stan C. Hokanson, and John M. Enns

Strawberry (`Chandler') plants were grown in a greenhouse hydroponic culture system from 28 Apr. to 20 July to produce runners (stolons) with several daughter plants. By mid-July, each `Chandler' plant had developed about 30 daughter plants on 12 runners with 1 to 6 daughter plants on each runner. Daughter plants varied in weight from <0.9 to >10 g. Daughter plant weight and position on the runner affected new root development on plug plants during the first 7 days under mist irrigation. At 3 weeks, 87% of daughter plants that weighed <0.9 g and at least 96% of daughter plants that weighed >1.0 g were rated acceptable for field transplanting, respectively. The percentage of daughter plants from second to tenth node position that were rated acceptable for field planting ranged from 98% to 88%, respectively. Runner production in the fall was not affected by either position on the runner or weight at the time of daughter plant harvest. But, larger daughter plants produced more branch crowns than did smaller daughter plants in the fall. Transplant survival in the field was 100%. In the spring, `Chandler' plants produced a 10% greater yield from daughter plants that weighed 9.9 g compared to those that weighed only 0.9 g.

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Huan Zhang, Lisa Wasko DeVetter, Edward Scheenstra, and Carol Miles

A soil-biodegradable mulch (BDM) is designed to be tilled into the soil at the end of the growing season, and is a successful alternative to polyethylene (PE) mulch if it suppresses weeds and improves soil temperature and moisture, crop yield, and fruit quality. This study compared one clear plastic BDM (COX), two black plastic BDMs (BOX and BFO), and two paper BDMs (WGP and AMX) to clear and black plastic PE mulch (CPE and BPE, respectively) for weed control, yield, and mulch adhesion of ‘Cinnamon Girl’ pie pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) in a Mediterranean climate where increased soil temperature from mulch is desirable. BDMs in this study are advertised as soil-biodegradable, and we tested functionality but not biodegradability. Mulch deterioration during the growing season was measured as percent soil exposure (PSE), and remained low at the end of the growing season for all BDM and PE treatments both years (5% on average) except COX (68%). Weed number and biomass were low early, mid, and late season for all treatments except COX in 2018 and COX and CPE in 2019. Soil temperature with PE mulches (20.7 °C on average) was similar or slightly higher than with plastic BDMs (19.8 °C on average), which was higher than with paper BDMs (18.9 °C on average). Total fruit number and yield were similar for PE mulches (19.3 and 24.5 kg, respectively) and black plastic BDMs (17.3 and 21.2 kg, respectively), which were higher than COX and paper BDMs (15.7 and 19.8 kg, respectively). Mulch adhesion occurred on fruit in all BDM treatments, with more mulch adhesion in BFO in 2018 and WGP in 2019 than in other BDM treatments each year. The number of wipes is a proxy for the impact on harvest labor and can influence overall on-farm profitability. The number of wipes to remove adhered mulch (1.2 wipes on average) was similar for fruit harvested at four times of day (0800, 1000, 1200, and 1400 hr), but more wipes were needed to remove adhered mulch when fruit were stored up to 4 hours postharvest (5.4 wipes). Number of wipes to remove adhered mulch was negatively correlated to the amount of moisture on the fruit surface (R 2 = 0.31). Overall, these findings demonstrate that all black plastic and paper BDMs remained intact throughout the growing season and controlled weeds as well as black PE mulch, while clear BDM had higher weed pressure because it degraded during the growing season. Pumpkin yield was similar for black plastic BDMs and PE mulches and lower for clear and paper BDMs. However, all BDMs in this study adhered to the fruit surface and their removal became more difficult as the fruit surface dried.

Open access

Suzanne O’Connell

This study evaluated the yield of eight miniature lettuce (Lactuca sativa) cultivars (i.e., mini-lettuce) grown under organically managed high tunnels compared with a field system during two spring seasons in Georgia. Mini-lettuce required an average of 36 to 40 days to harvest in both systems with a 86% to 97% marketability rate. The high tunnels provided a heat gain on the coldest days, decreased leaf wetness, and resulted in a lower daily light integral compared with the field. In 2015, mini-lettuce yields were similar between the high tunnel and field, but in 2016, yields were greater under the high tunnels. In 2016 only, there was a significant system by cultivar interaction for yield, suggesting that the high tunnels provided a yield increase for ‘Baby Green Oakleaf’ and ‘Spretnak’ mini-lettuce. Differences in the daily light integral between the high tunnels and field appeared to affect the accumulation of anthocyanins in red-pigmented mini-lettuce. Anthocyanin concentrations were 26% to 194% greater in mini-lettuce grown in the field compared with under high tunnels. The cultivar Rhazes had the greatest anthocyanin concentrations of all red-pigmented mini-lettuce evaluated but also lower yields.

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Analena B. Bruce, Elizabeth T. Maynard, and James R. Farmer

High tunnels are an increasingly popular part of the infrastructure among small and diversified farms that market their products directly to consumers. In addition to extending the growing season, research has strongly indicated that high tunnels can increase yield, enhance shelf life, and improve the quality of crops grown. The objective of this study was to gain a better understanding, from the perspective of farmers, of the challenges and opportunities associated with adopting high tunnels for specialty crops in Indiana. We collected information through a case study that included questionnaires and in-depth interviews with 20 farmers. We found that the additional labor and time requirements of high tunnel production, the increased complexity of high tunnel production, soil fertility, and disease management, and limited winter markets posed the greatest challenges. The ability to differentiate their products based on higher quality and longer shelf life, the ability to obtain a premium price, the ability to have a source of income during the off-season, and the ability to produce complementary crops were the most important opportunities for using high tunnels. This research implied ways to expand opportunities and reduce barriers to maximizing the potential of high tunnels. Understanding the human dimensions of managing high tunnels is important for providing extension educators and Natural Resources Conservation Service field staff with better knowledge of the common difficulties and benefits of this technology so they are better able to advise farmers considering investing in a high tunnel. A focus on the human dimensions is also helpful for identifying research priorities to evaluate new approaches to decreasing problems and increasing benefits. Consequently, this study provided an in-depth understanding of farm-level challenges associated with high tunnel adoption to improve future research in diverse fields.

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C.A. Weber

Adequate weed control in the establishment year of matted-row strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa) is crucial for the long-term viability of plantings. Suppression of weed growth until the new strawberry plants are established and runners rooted is an effective strategy in new plantings. Three biodegradable mulch films were compared to standard weed control for establishing matted-row strawberries. Two films were test products using a biodegradable polymer, either clear or black, covering brown 40-lb kraft paper (IP40 Clear and IP40 Black, respectively). The third material was Planters paper, a black paper mulch. The films were evaluated for weed suppression, rate of degradation and effects on runner production and fruit yield. Additionally, the ability of runners that were formed to root as the film degraded was also observed. The IP40 Black mulch reduced the number of weeds compared to the standard control but did not degrade quickly enough for runners to root. The Planters paper also had fewer weeds, but it degraded quickly along the edges where it was covered by soil. This allowed the wind to tear it and blow large pieces off the plots. The IP40 Clear degraded in a timely manner and allowed runner rooting, but it was not acceptable as a weed suppression material. The IP40 Black and Planters paper mulches were effective for weed control in the establishment year, but rate of degradation was too slow in the former case and too fast in the latter. Runner production and fruit yield were not affected by any of the mulch materials compared to standard control.

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William J. Lamont Jr., Michael D. Orzolek, E. Jay Holcomb, Kathy Demchak, Eric Burkhart, Lisa White, and Bruce Dye

At the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) High Tunnel Research and Education Facility, a system of production of high-value horticultural crops in high tunnels has been developed that uses plastic mulch and drip irrigation. The Penn State system involves small-scale, plastic-application equipment that prepares and applies plastic mulch and drip-irrigation tape to individual raised beds. It differs from the production system developed by researchers at the University of New Hampshire in which drip-irrigation tape is manually applied to the soil surface and then the entire soil surface in the high tunnel is covered with a black plastic sheet. An overview of the production system used in the Penn State high tunnels is presented in this report.

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Juan C. Díaz-Pérez, William M. Randle, George Boyhan, Ronald W. Walcott, David Giddings, Denne Bertrand, Hunt F. Sanders, and Ronald D. Gitaitis

Sweet onions (Allium cepa L.) are typically grown on bare soil and irrigated with high-pressure systems such as sprinklers or center-pivots. The objective of this study was to determine the effects of irrigation system and mulch on bolting, bulb yield and bulb quality over 3 years. The experimental design was a split plot, where the main plot was irrigation system (drip or sprinkler) and the subplot was the type of mulch (bare soil, black plastic film or wheat straw). The results showed that individual bulb weight and bulb yields under drip irrigation were similar to those under sprinkler irrigation. Plants grown on bare soil had the highest total yield during the three seasons and among the highest marketable yield. There were no consistent differences in the bulb number or yield of plants on plastic film mulch compared to those of plants on wheat straw mulch. Plants on wheat straw mulch had reduced foliar nitrogen content. Variability in yields among mulches and seasons was partly explained by changes in seasonal root zone temperature and soil water potential. Total and marketable yields and weight of individual bulbs increased with increasing root zone temperatures up to an optimum at 15.8 °C, followed by reductions in yields and individual bulb weight at >15.8 °C. Onion bolting increased with decreasing foliage nitrogen content, with plants on wheat straw having the highest bolting incidence. Bolting also increased with decreasing root zone temperatures for the season. Total and marketable yields increased with decreasing mean seasonal soil water potential down to -30 kPa. Irrigation system and mulches had no consistent effect on the soluble solids content or pungency of onion bulbs.