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  • Author or Editor: Mathieu Ngouajio x
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In temperate regions, the vegetable growing season is short and plastic mulches are usually left in the field for an entire year when used for double cropping. This work was conducted to study the effect of weathering on the physical, optical, and thermal properties of plastic mulches during double cropping. The design was a randomized complete block with four replications. The mulches were black, grey, infrared transmitting brown (IRT-brown), IRT-green, white, and white-on-black (co-extruded white/black). Tomato was grown the first year and cucumber the following year. The grey mulch degraded substantially during double cropping (only 40% of bed was covered the second year) and showed an increase in light transmission and a decrease in heat accumulation (degree-days). The black, whiteon-black, white, IRT-brown, and IRT green mulches showed less degradation with 93%, 91%, 85%, 75%, and 61% soil cover, respectively. However, their soil warming ability was significantly reduced. These mulches could be used for double cropping to suppress weeds and to reduce inputs associated with plastic purchase, laying, and disposal. However, they may not provide adequate soil warming early in the season for the second crop.

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The inclusion of cover crops into cropping systems may influence soil microbial activity which is crucial to sustained crop production. A study was conducted to measure short term effects of summer and winter cover crops on soil microbial biomass carbon (MBC) in a cucumber-tomato rotation system. The experiment was established in Summer 2002 as a factorial of summer cover crops (planted either as fallow or after harvest of cucumbers) and winter cover crops (planted in September). The design was a split-block with four replications. The main plot factor was summer cover crop and consisted of five treatments; sorghum sudangrass fallow (SGF), cowpea fallow (CPF), sorghum sudangrass after cucumber (SGC), cowpea after cucumber (CPC) and bareground fallow (BGF). The sub-plot factor was winter cover crop and consisted of three treatments including cereal rye (CR), hairy vetch (HV) and bareground (BG). In spring of 2003, soil samples were collected in each treatment at 30 days before (30 DBI), 2 days after (2 DAI) and 30 days after (30 DAI) cover crop incorporation. MBC was measured using the chloroform fumigation-incubation method. Both summer and winter cover crops affected soil microbial activity. MBC in the summer cover crop treatments at 30 DBI was 47.7, 51.4, 49.2, 43.7 and 42.5 μg·g-1 soil for SGF, CPF, SGC, CPC and BGF, respectively. At 30 DAI, 113.1, 88.9, 138.5, 105.6, and 109.3 μg·g-1 soil was obtained in SGF, CPF, SGC, CPC, and BGF plots, respectively. Soil MBC was similar at 2 DAI in the summer cover crop treatments. Among winter treatments MBC was similar at 30 DBI and 30 DAI, but significant at 2 DAI with values of 62.8, 53.3, 59.3 μg·g-1 soil for CR, BG, and HV, respectively.

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The area of organic production has registered a steady increase over past recent years. Transitioning to organic production is not straightforward and often includes a steep learning curve. Organic growers have to develop strategies to best manage nutrients, pests, and crop growth and yield. Additionally, in regions with temperate climate like the Great Lakes region, weather (especially temperature and solar radiation) plays an important role in crop productivity. Growers routinely use compost for nutrient provisioning and rowcovers for insect exclusion and growth enhancement. The objective of this work was to study the combined effect of rowcovers (with different light transmission) and compost organic cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.) growth and microclimate. Plots were assigned to three rowcover treatments (60% light transmission, 85% light transmission, and uncovered) and two amendment treatments (compost and no compost) in a split-plot factorial design. Data were collected for ambient air and soil temperature, photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), relative humidity, plant growth characteristics, and yield. Rowcovers modified crop microclimate by increasing air and soil temperature and decreasing PAR. There was a marked increase in the growing degree-day accumulations under rowcovers when compared with uncovered treatment. The impact of rowcovers on plant growth was significant. Use of rowcovers increased vine length, flower count, leaf area, leaf count, plant biomass, and total marketable yield. Use of compost in conjunction with rowcovers enhanced the rowcover effect. With the use of compost, there were not many significant differences in plant growth characteristics between rowcover materials; however, as expected, rowcover with 60% transmission was able to trap more heat and reduce light transmission when compared with rowcover with 85% transmission. This study clearly shows the importance of organic amendments, especially compost, in organic vegetable production. Applications of compost enhanced crop growth and also led to higher marketable yields. Results of this study suggest additive effects of rowcover and compost application on organic cucumber production.

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Weed control is one of the benefits associated with the use of plastic mulches used for vegetable production. The mulches decrease light transmission and prevent development of most weed species. Plastics chemistry has developed films varying in their ability to reflect, absorb, and transmit light. Laboratory and field experiments were conducted to 1) measure light transmitted through colored mulches, 2) evaluate weed populations under each mulch type, and 3) determine if light transmission could be used as an indicator for weed populations in the field. The polyethylene mulches were black, gray, infrared transmitting brown (IRT-brown), IRT-green, white, and white-on-black (co-extruded white/black). On average, 1%, 2%, 17%, 26%, 42%, and 45% light in the 400 to 1100 nm range was transmitted through the black, white/black, gray, IRT-brown, IRT-green, and white mulches, respectively. In field experiments, density and dry biomass of weeds growing under the mulches were evaluated. The white mulch had the highest weed density with an average of 39.6 and 155.9 plants/m2 in 2001 and 2002, respectively. This was followed by the gray mulch, with 10.4 and 44.1 weed seedlings/m2 in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Weed density was <25 plants/m2 with the other mulches in both years. Weed infestation was correlated with average light transmission for white, black, white/black, and gray mulches. However, both light quantity and quality were necessary to predict weed infestations with the IRT mulches. Weed infestation under the IRT mulches was better estimated when only wave lengths in the photosynthetically active radiation range (PAR; 400 to 700 nm) were considered. Low weed pressure and high light transmission with the IRT mulches would make them appropriate for use in areas where both weed control and soil warming are important factors.

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The effects of two cover crops [cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) and oat (Avena sativa L.)], four tillage systems [no tillage (NT), strip tillage (ST), conventional tillage with cover crops incorporated (CTC), and conventional tillage without cover crop (CTN)], and three pre-emergence herbicide rates (full rate, half rate, and no herbicide) on pickling cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.) growth and production, weed populations, and the incidence of pythium fruit rot were studied. Weed infestations, cucumber establishment, and cucumber leaf chlorophyll content were similar between the rye and oat treatments. However, the oat treatment had higher cucumber fruit number and weight and a lower percentage of cucumber fruit infected with Pythium spp. compared with the rye treatment. The NT and CTC systems reduced cucumber stand and leaf chlorophyll content, but had equivalent cucumber fruit number and weight compared with CTN. The NT and ST had lower weed biomass and weed density than CTN and CTC. The NT also reduced the percentage of cucumber fruit affected with pythium compared with CTN and CTC. Reducing the pre-emergence herbicide rate by half did not affect weed control or cucumber fruit yield compared with the full rate. However, weeds escaping herbicide application were larger in the half-rate treatment. The experiments indicate that with the integration of cover crops and conservation tillage, it is possible to maintain cucumber yield while reducing both herbicide inputs (by 50%) and the incidence of fruit rot caused by Pythium spp. (by 32% to 60%).

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Cover crops are commonly used to improve soil fertility and enhance crop performance. Field experiments were conducted to determine the effects of different cover crops and fertilizer rates on celery growth and development. The experiment was a two-way factorial with a split plot arrangement. The main plot factor was cover crop and included cereal rye (Secale cereale), hairy vetch (Vicia villosa), oilseed radish [Raphanus sativus (L.) var. oleiferus Metzg (Stokes)], and no cover crop. The sub-plot factor was fertilizer rate with three levels: full (160, 80, 400), half (80, 40, 200), and low (80, 0, 0) kg/ha of N, P2 O5, K2 O, respectively. The cover crops were grown during Fall 2002 and incorporated prior to celery transplanting in May 2003. During celery growing season, stalk length, above and below ground biomass were assessed at 23, 43, 64, and 84 days after planting (DAP). The biomass produced by oilseed radish (719 g/m2) exceeded that of cereal rye (284 g/m2) and hairy vetch (181 g/m2). At 23 and 43 DAP, celery fresh root (4.8 and 11.4 g/root) and shoot (6.1 and 53.6 g/shoot) biomass of oilseed radish exceeded the values of all other cover crops. At 84 DAP however, celery shoot fresh weight was similar in all cover crop treatments. Celery plants were tallest in the cereal oilseed radish and rye treatments early in the season; however final plant height at harvest was not affected by type of cover crop. The amount of fertilizer applied had a significant effect on celery growth starting at 64 DAP and continued until harvest. These results suggest that the large biomass produced by oilseed radish played an important role in early season celery growth.

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Nondestructive estimates of fruit volume are used for yield prediction. They are also used to study the relationship between fruit expansion rate and susceptibility to diseases or physiological disorders such as fruit cracking. A model relating bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) fruit diameter and length to its volume was derived using the equation of the volume of a sphere as the starting point. The model has the following formula: VF = KD2 Lπ/6, where VF is fruit volume, K is the shape factor that varies with fruit type, D is fruit diameter, and L is fruit length. The model is simple, easy to use in the field, and may account for variations in fruit shape. Regression analyses using actual fruit volume of bell pepper measured with the water displacement method and the volume estimated using different equations showed that accuracy of the new model is comparable to that of one of the best models previously proposed. However, because the model is less complex than previous models, it is easier to use in the field.

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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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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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