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  • Author or Editor: Qingren Wang x
  • HortScience x
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Summer cover crops can improve soil fertility by adding organic matter, supplying nutrients through mineralization, reducing nutrient leaching, and improving soil water and nutrient holding capacity. Other benefits include weed suppression and reduction of soil parasitic nematodes. A series of field experiments have been conducted at the UF IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida to evaluate several summer cover crops for use in vegetable production in South Florida followed by field demonstrations conducted in the growers' fields. Best performing cover crops were legumes: velvet bean (Macuna deeringiana) and sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea L. `Tropic Sun') providing 13 and 11 Mt of dry matter/ha, respectively. Sunn hemp supplied 330 kg N/ha followed by velvet been with 310 kg N/ha. Traditional summer cover crop sorghum-Sudan produced 4 Mt of dry matter/ha and retained only 36 kg N/ha. In addition Sunn hemp significantly reduced soil parasitic nematodes for successive crops. Limitations in use of Sunn hemp by more vegetable growers in South Florida include cost and availability of seeds.

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Mulching in vegetable cultivation has been widely used to conserve water and improve yield. Field experiments with four treatments, including yard waste compost combined with plastic mulches in raised beds for winter fresh market bell peppers (Capsicum annuum L.), were conducted at two experimental sites [Pine Island Farm (PIF) and Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC)] in Miami-Dade county for two different years each. The treatments were: 1) control (PM): plastic mulch alone; 2) MC33: fumigation of the soil with a mixture of methyl bromide and chloropicrin and covered with plastic mulch; 3) herbicide/OM: organic mulch sprayed with herbicides (S-metolachlor and napropamide) without plastic mulch; and 4) PM/OM: organic mulch covered by plastic mulch. The treatment of PM/OM at both experimental sites in 2 years each increased the total marketable yields of bell pepper by 1.5- to 3.2-fold, total extra large fruit yields by 2.0- to 5.7-fold, and total large fruit yields by 1.4- to 2.6-fold, respectively, on average compared with the control, although some exceptions occurred between the two years at the TREC site. Under most circumstances at both experimental sites in two different years each, the PM/OM treatment also improved the total marketable yield and fruit quality (such as extra large fruits) for the first two harvests, which shows a preference to provide winter fresh market vegetables to meet a high demand. The economic benefit by PM/OM was the greatest among all the treatments. The results suggest that the application of organic mulch combined with plastic mulch can improve bell pepper yield and quality as a result of the improvement of soil fertility, especially the early harvests of winter fresh market fruits, which has shown a potential in the development of sustainable agriculture.

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Intensive rainfall during summer causes substantial nutrient leaching in a subtropical region, where most vegetable lands lay fallow during this period. Also, an excessive amount of irrigation water supplied during the winter vegetable growing season leads to soil nutrient loss, which greatly impacts vegetable yields, especially in soils that possess a low capacity to retain soil water and nutrients. A 2-year field experiment was carried out to evaluate the effects of various summer cover crops and irrigation rates on tomato yields and quality, and on soil fertility in a subtropical region of Florida. The cover crops were sunn hemp [Crotalaria juncea (L.) `Tropic Sun'], cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp, `Iron Clay'], velvetbean [Mucuna deeringiana (Bort.) Merr.], and sorghum sudangrass [Sorghum bicolor × S. bicolor var. sudanense (Piper) Stapf.], with a weed-free fallow as a control. The cover crops were planted during late Spring 2001 and 2002, incorporated into the soil in the fall, and tomatoes [Lycopersicon esculentum (Mill.) `Sanibel'] were grown on raised beds during Winter 2001–02 and 2002–03, respectively. Irrigation in various treatments was controlled when tensiometer readings reached –5, –10, –20, or –30 kPa. The cover crops produced from 5.2 to 12.5 Mg·ha–1 of above ground dry biomass and 48 to 356 Mg·ha–1 of N during 2001–02 and from 3.6 to 9.7 Mg·ha–1 of dry biomass and 35 to 277 kg·ha–1 of N during 2002–03. The highest N contribution was made by sunn hemp and the lowest by sorghum sudangrass. Based on 2-year data, tomato marketable yields were increased from 14% to 27% (p ≤ 0.05) by growing cover crops, and the greatest increase occurred in the sunn hemp treatment followed by the cowpea treatment. Irrigation at –10, –20, and –30 kPa significantly improved marketable yields by 14%, 12%, and 25% (p ≤ 0.05) for 2001–02, and 18%, 31%, and 34% (p ≤ 0.05) for 2002–03, respectively, compared to yields at the commonly applied rate, –5 kPa (control). Irrigation at –30 kPa used about 85% less water than at –5 kPa. Yields of extra-large fruit in the sunn hemp and cowpea treatments from the first harvest in both years averaged 12.6 to 15.2 Mg·ha–1, and they were significantly higher than yields in the fallow treatment (10.2 to 11.3 Mg·ha–1). Likewise at –30 kPa yields of extra-large fruit from the first harvest for both years were 13.0 to 15.3 Mg·ha–1 compared to 9.8 to 10.7 Mg·ha–1 at –5 kPa. Soil NO3-N and total N contents in sunn hemp and cowpea treatments were significantly higher than those in fallow. The results indicate that growing legume summer cover crops in a subtropical region, especially sunn hemp and cowpea, and reducing irrigation rates are valuable approaches to conserve soil nutrients and water, and to improve soil fertility and tomato yields and quality.

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