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  • Author or Editor: Mathieu Ngouajio x
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Hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) (HV) and cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.] (CP) are two leguminous cover crops used in vegetable production systems. The residues of both species have been shown to suppress weeds via allelopathic interactions; however, they may also carry a risk of crop injury. A laboratory experiment was designed to study the dose response of carrot, sweet corn, cucumber, lettuce, onion, pepper, and tomato germination and radicle elongation to the aqueous extracts of both HV and CP. Aqueous extracts of fresh, whole plants were lyophilized to obtain a dry powder. Treatments of 0.00, 0.25, 0.50, 1.00, 2.00, 4.00, and 8.00 g dry extract/L of distilled water were applied to 10 seeds on filter paper in petri dishes. The petri dishes were then sealed and placed in the dark at 21 °C for 4 to 7 days, depending on the species germination. After the incubation period, germination rates and radicle lengths were recorded. Each treatment had 4 replications and the full experiment was executed twice. Pepper germination was reduced by increasing concentrations of HV extract; however, all other crops were not affected by HV or CP extracts. The HV extract had a significant effect on radicle elongation in carrot, corn, cucumber, lettuce, onion, and tomato. Inhibition of radical growth at 8 g·L-1 ranged from 42% in cucumber to as high as 81% in carrot. The CP extract had a negative effect on the radicle elongation of carrot, corn, lettuce, and tomato. Inhibition at 8 g·L-1 ranged from 42% in carrot to 67% in tomato. This study shows that both HV and CP extracts hold the potential to negatively affect the listed crops. Therefore, studies need to be done on the persistence of these effects in the field to maximize weed control while avoiding crop injury.

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In the last decade, organic production has been the fastest growing segment in U.S. agriculture. With increase in organic acreages there is a strong and growing demand for organically grown transplants. As a result of limited commercial availability of certified vegetable transplants, growers often produce their transplants on-farm. Commercial organic mixes for organic transplant production may not be locally available and are usually expensive. Growers often design their own mixes using compost and other organic amendments. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the incorporation of alfalfa-based amendment in a peat-compost medium for organic tomato transplant production. Growing medium of 2 peat:1 vermiculite:1 compost (by volume) was amended with 0%, 0.6%, 1.2%, 1.8%, or 2.4% weight by weight of alfalfa-based organic amendment and incubated for 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks. Medium pH and electrical conductivity (EC), seed germination (untreated Solanum Lycopersicon L. ‘Mountain Fresh’ seed), transplant dry weight, height, stem diameter, and SPAD values were measured. Medium pH increased with addition of alfalfa-based amendment but remained within the range of 5.5 to 7.0. Germination percentages were less than 50% in amended medium that was either not incubated or incubated for 4 weeks. Germination was greater than 75% if amended media were incubated for 1, 2, or 3 weeks. Seeds grown in peat-compost without any amendments had the highest germination rates; however, severe nutrient deficiency suppressed seedling growth. Relative to growth in medium with no amendments, plants growing in the amended medium had increased stem diameter, height, leaf chlorophyll content, and plant dry weight (90% to 160% more), provided the amended medium was incubated for at least 1 week. Application rate of 0.6% or 1.2% of alfalfa-based amendment produced transplants with suitable growth characteristics and met commercially acceptable standards for transplanting and handling at a reasonable estimated cost.

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Field and laboratory bioassay studies were conducted to determine the impact of Brassicaceae cover crops on cucurbit germination percentages and stand counts. A 2-year field study in southwestern Michigan examined the effect of oilseed radish (Raphanus sativus var. oleiferus), oriental mustard (Brassica juncea), and yellow mustard (Sinapis alba) green manures on muskmelon (Cucumis melo Group reticulatus) stand. All three cover crops reduced direct-seeded muskmelon stand count as well as transplant survival. Stand count for direct- seeded muskmelon was greater than 85% for control and methyl bromide treatments and less than 41% for cover crop treatments. Oilseed radish had the greatest effect with 0% muskmelon stand in both years. The use of transplants improved muskmelon stand establishment. However, stand count (less than 45% to 50%) was still unacceptable. In bioassays, muskmelon, cucumber (Cucumis sativus), and honeydew melon (Cucumis melo Group inodorus) seeds were exposed to either non-lyophilized or lyophilized root and shoot aqueous extracts of oilseed radish. Germination percentages and radicle elongation measurements showed both extracts impacted all three crops to varying degrees. Muskmelon germination was least sensitive to the extracts, followed by cucumber, then honeydew. Cucumber and muskmelon root growth was equally inhibited by non-lyophilized shoot extract, while honeydew growth was mildly stimulated at 5% and 12.5% concentrations. Overall, non-lyophilized root extract showed stronger inhibition on seed germination than non-lyophilized shoot extract, while the reverse was true of lyophilized extracts. In general, non-lyophilized extracts had far greater impact on germination percentages and radicle elongation than lyophilized extracts. These results suggest species and tissue dependent toxicity of the cover crops as well as differential susceptibility of the cucurbit crops tested. Therefore, a plant-back period longer than the 8 days used in this study should be observed after cover crop incorporation before cucurbit seeding or transplanting.

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Cucumber is an important vegetable in Michigan, where it is grown for slicing (fresh) or processing. Michigan is the top producer of pickling cucumbers in the United States, with over 27% of the total national production. Studies were conducted in 2004 to test the effects of plant density on cucumber fruit quality. Cucumber var. `Vlaspik' was seeded in 30.5, 45.7, 61.0, and 76.2 cm rows with 12.7 cm spacing between plants inside the row, corresponding to final plant populations of 258, 172, 129, and 103 thousand plants/ha, respectively. The experiment used a randomized complete-block design with 4 replications and four rows per plot. At harvest, 10 fruits of grade 2 were randomly selected from each plot for measurement of specific gravity, firmness, soluble solids, color, and seed size. Cucumber fruit specific gravity, soluble solids, and seed size were not affected by plant population size. However, fruit firmness and color varied with plant density. Low plant populations, when compared to high populations, produced darker green fruits, a desired trait in pickling cucumber production. On a scale of 0 (yellowish) to 5 (dark green), plants grown under a population of 258 thousand plants/ha scored an average of 2.8. The score was 4.6 for fruits produced in plots with 103 thousand plants/ha. Low plant populations increased fruit firmness as measured by a puncture test. Fruit firmness was 89, 93, 97, and 95 g·mm-2 for 258, 172, 129, and 103 thousand plants/ha, respectively. Results suggest that cultural practices may affect pickling cucumber fruit quality.

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Field studies were conducted in 2003 and 2004 to determine effects of withholding irrigation on pepper (Capsicum annuum) plant height, leaf chlorophyll content, yield, and irrigation water use efficiency. Irrigation treatments were initiated at pepper transplanting (S0), after transplant establishment (S1), at first flower (S2), at first fruit (S3), or at fruit ripening (S4). The control treatment received only enough water to apply fertigation (FT). Withholding irrigation did not affect pepper plant height except FT treatment, but increased leaf chlorophyll content. Withholding irrigation until S4 saved 50% and 41% of irrigation water in 2003 and 2004, respectively, without affecting fruit yield compared with the treatment where irrigation started at transplanting. However, yield in the FT treatment was significantly reduced. Irrigation water use efficiency (pepper yield per unit area per millimeter of water applied) was maximum at S4 (59.1 kg·ha−1 per millimeter) and S3 (24.1 kg·ha−1 per millimeter) in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Similar trends in response of pepper to the irrigation treatments were observed in 2003 and 2004 even though there were large differences in rainfall, and pepper yield between years. This suggests that withholding irrigation until first fruit may help to maintain pepper yield while reducing irrigation costs. However, it is important to have adequate soil moisture at transplanting to insure adequate transplant establishment.

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How do you teach community supported agriculture (CSA) principles, small-scale organic farming, and local food issues at a major land grant university and develop related small-scale farming research and outreach? You create a place and opportunities for students, staff, and faculty to work together with the soil and plants to raise food in a non-classroom farm setting. After several years of discussion and obtaining funding, the Michigan State University (MSU) Student Organic Farm (SOF) CSA started in May 2003 with 25 memberships and increased to 50 after 1 year. The farm allows experiential learning of CSA management, crop selection, scheduling, maintenance, harvest, and organic farming methods. The CSA helps many MSU students and faculty see the value of supporting local organic food systems. With more than 3 years of experience working with students to run the SOF and the CSA, we are in the process of developing an organic farming certificate program. A total of 40 credits will include 12 months on campus plus a 16-week on-farm internship. The program has three major components: 1) organic farming courses with seven one-credit courses; 2) horticultural crop production courses with eight courses for a total of 15 credits; and 3) approximately 20 credits of experiential course work combined with classroom and independent learning.

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The effects of cover crops on nutrient cycling, weed suppression, and onion (Allium cepa) yield were evaluated under a muck soil with high organic matter in Michigan. Four brassica cover crops, including brown mustard (Brassica juncea ‘Common brown’), oilseed radish (Raphanus sativus ‘Daikon’), oriental mustard (B. juncea ‘Forge’), and yellow mustard (Sinapis alba ‘Tilney’), as well as sorghum sudangrass (Sorghum bicolor × S. sudanense ‘Honey Sweet’) produced similar amount of biomass and recycled similar amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The brassica cover crop biomass contained more calcium, sulfur, and boron, but less magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, and zinc than sorghum sudangrass. However, soil fertility was generally similar regardless of whether a cover crop was used. This was mainly because the soil was sampled when most of the cover crop residue was not yet decomposed. Weed density during onion growth was reduced by all cover crops compared with the control with no cover crop, with yellow mustard treatment having the lowest weed density among the cover crops. Weed species composition was also significantly affected by the cover crops. Yellow mustard treatment had the lowest density of common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus), whereas sorghum sudangrass had the highest yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) density among all the treatments. However, weed suppression was not enough to eliminate normal control strategies. The brassica cover crops, especially oilseed radish and yellow mustard, increased onion stand count and marketable yield. These results suggest that brassica and sorghum sudangrass cover crops could provide multiple benefits if incorporated into short-term onion rotations under Michigan growing conditions.

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Field studies were conducted in Mersin, Turkey, in 2002 and 2003 to determine the critical period for weed control in leek and to investigate the effects of weed interference on weed biomass. The critical period for weed control in leek based on a 5% acceptable yield loss level was calculated by fitting logistic and Gompertz equations to relative yield data. Total fresh biomass of weeds increased as the duration of weed infestation increased. The beginning of the critical period for weed control was 7 days after transplanting in 2002 and 13 days after transplanting in 2003. The end of the critical period for weed control was 85 days after transplanting in 2002 and 60 days after transplanting in 2003. Results of this study suggest that leek should be kept weed free between 7 days after transplanting and 85 days after transplanting to avoid yield losses in excess of 5%.

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Laboratory experiments were conducted to study the effect of aqueous extracts of hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) and cowpea (Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp) cover crops on germination and radicle elongation in seven vegetable and six weed species. Lyophilized aqueous extracts of the cover crops were dissolved in reverse osmosis (RO) water to produce seven concentrations: 0.00, 0.25, 0.50, 1.00, 2.00, 4.00, and 8.00 g·L–1. Each treatment had 4 replications and the full experiment was repeated. Experiment 1 (E1) and Experiment (E2) were conducted under similar conditions. In general, seed germination was not affected by extracts of both cover crops. However, radicle growth of all species tested (except common milkweed exposed to cowpea extract) was affected by the cover crop residue extracts. Low concentrations of hairy vetch extract stimulated the radicle growth of carrot, pepper, barnyardgrass, common milkweed, and velvetleaf. Likewise, low concentrations of cowpea extract stimulated the growth of corn, barnyardgrass, and velvetleaf. At higher concentrations all species tested were negatively affected. The order of species sensitivity to the hairy vetch extract, as determined by the IC50 (concentration required to produce 50% radicle inhibition) values, was common chickweed > redroot pigweed> barnyardgrass E1 > carrot E1 > wild carrot > corn > carrot E2 > lettuce > common milkweed > tomato > onion > barnyardgrass E2 > velvetleaf > pepper > cucumber (most sensitive to least sensitive). For cowpea the order was common chickweed > redroot pigweed > corn > tomato > lettuce > wild carrot > pepper > carrot > cucumber > onion> barnyardgrass and velvetleaf. Results suggest that the susceptibility of weeds and vegetable crops to aqueous extracts of hairy vetch and cowpea is dependent on both species and extract concentration.

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Field experiments were established at the University of California Desert Station in Coachella Valley from 1998 to 2000. The main plot treatments included: 1) summer cowpea used as mulch in the fall; 2) summer cowpea incorporated into soil in the fall; 3) summer sudangrass incorporated into the soil in the fall; and 4) summer fallow (bare-ground). An economic comparison of cover crop treatments and crop management programs vs. the effect on yield, crop value, value of hand weeding, costs of production and net return, and dollar investment from each treatment was determined. Among the cropping systems tested in 1999, lettuce following the incorporation of a cowpea cover crop produced the highest yield (1082.43 boxes/ha), with a net return of $883.04/ha. The return for each dollar invested in the cowpea-incorporated system was an additional $0.65 if cowpea-incorporated was chosen over cowpea mulch. In 2000, the net return from lettuce following cowpea-incorporated was much higher with 1294.23 boxes/ha and a net return of $1698.46/ha. In 1999, cantaloupe grown in the cowpea-incorporated system had the highest net return of $973.34/ha, with 874.58 boxes. An additional $0.93 was made for choosing cowpea-incorporated over sudangrass. In 2000, cantaloupe grown in the cowpea-incorporated system had even higher yields than in 1999, producing 1522.89 boxes/ha and returning over $3000.00. And an additional $0.93 was made for choosing cowpea-incorporated over sudangrass cover crop. Overall, the rate of return on investment favored cowpea-incorporated over all cover crops.

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