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Shuresh Ghimire, Arnold M. Saxton, Annette L. Wszelaki, Jenny C. Moore and Carol A. Miles

Biodegradable mulches (BDMs) provide a unique advantage to growers in that they can be tilled into the soil after use, eliminating disposal costs that include time, labor, and equipment needs. Biodegradation of BDMs in the soil can be assessed by the presence of visible mulch fragments; although this is not a direct measure of biodegradation, it provides an initial estimation of mulch biodegradation. We carried out three field experiments to develop a protocol for quantifying BDM fragments in the soil after soil incorporation of mulch. Expt. 1 was done at Mount Vernon, WA, and Knoxville, TN, using five BDMs in four replications, including a polyethylene (PE) mulch reference treatment (three replications and at Mount Vernon only), and a ʽCinnamon Girl’ pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) test crop. At the end of the growing season, mulches were tilled into the soil to a depth of 6 inches and within 16 days, five soil samples were collected with a golf hole cutter (4 inches diameter and 6 inches deep). Fifty-nine percent of the PE mulch fragments were recovered from the reference treatment. Among the remaining treatments, there was a high plot-to-plot variation as to the percent of the BDM recovered (3% to 95% at Mount Vernon, 2% to 88% at Knoxville). To exclude the possibility of mulch degradation impacting mulch recovery, in Expts. 2 and 3 (at Mount Vernon only), one BDM was laid, then tilled into the soil and sampled using the same sampling core as in Expt. 1, but all in 1 day. In Expt. 2, 15 soil samples were collected per plot, which recovered 70% of the mulch, and in Expt. 3, the entire plot was sampled by collecting 128 soil samples per plot, which recovered 62% of the mulch. In summary, sampling with a relatively large core recovered less than 70% of tilled-in mulch, there was high variability between plots within each treatment because of uneven distribution of the mulch fragments in the plot, and even 50 samples per plot did not provide an accurate estimate of the amount of mulch remaining in the field. Thus, soil sampling with a large core was ineffective, and new sampling methods are needed to assess the amount of BDM remaining in the field after soil incorporation.

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Andrew J. Price, Craig S. Charron, Arnold M. Saxton and Carl E. Sams

A study was conducted to quantify volatiles generated from Indian mustard (Brassica juncea L. Czerniak) tissue incorporated into soils under controlled conditions. Mustard residues were incorporated into noncovered and covered soils that varied by texture, temperature, moisture, pH, or sterility (autoclaved or nonautoclaved). Sandy loam soil had 38% more allyl isothiocyanate (AITC) than clay loam soil. AITC concentration in 45 °C soil was 81% higher than in soil at 15 °C, and 56% higher in covered compared to noncovered treatments. The microbial catabolism of AITC was suggested by the result that AITC concentration in autoclaved soils was over three times that measured in nonautoclaved soils. The highest AITC level detected (1.71 μmol·L–1) occurred in the autoclaved covered soil. Several factors also influenced CO2 evolution. At 30 or 45 °C, CO2 concentration was at least 64% higher than at 15°C. The covered soil had over twice the CO2 found in the noncovered soil, and the nonautoclaved soil treatment yielded twice the CO2 measured in the autoclaved soil. There were no main effect differences among soil moisture, soil pH, and soil texture treatments for CO2 concentrations. This information could be helpful in defining ideal soil conditions for field scale experiments. Additionally, this study demonstrates a sampling technique for testing fumigation potential of biofumigation and solarization systems that may have the potential to replace methyl bromide.

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Jeremy S. Cowan, Arnold M. Saxton, Hang Liu, Karen K. Leonas, Debra Inglis and Carol A. Miles

The functionality of biodegradable mulch can be evaluated in agricultural field settings by visually assessing mulch intactness over time (a measure of deterioration), but it is unclear if mulch deterioration is indicative of mulch degradation as measured by mechanical properties (like breaking force and elongation). This 3-year study (2010–12) examined mulch percent visual deterioration (PVD) during the summer growing season in open-field and high tunnel production systems, and compared these to mulch mechanical properties at mulch installation (12–30 May), midseason (22 July–9 Aug.), and season end (6–25 Oct.), to determine if the field-based measures reliably predict degradation as revealed by changes in mulch mechanical properties. Four different types of biodegradable mulches [two plastic film mulches marketed as biodegradable (BioAgri and BioTelo); one fully biodegradable paper mulch (WeedGuardPlus); and, one experimental spunbonded plastic mulch designed to biodegrade (SBPLA)] were evaluated against a standard nonbiodegradable polyethylene (PE) mulch where tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L. cv. Celebrity) was planted as the model crop. Each year for the 3 years, PVD increased earlier for WeedGuardPlus than the other mulches in both the high tunnel and open field, and WeedGuardPlus had the greatest PVD in both high tunnels and the open field (6% and 48%, respectively). Mechanical strength of WeedGuardPlus also declined by the end of the season both in the high tunnel (up to 46% reduction) and in the open field (up to 81% reduction). PVD of BioAgri and BioTelo reached a maximum of 3% in the high tunnel and 28% in the open field by the end of the season. Mechanical strength of BioAgri and BioTelo did not change over the course of the season in either the open field or high tunnel, even though the ability of these mulches to elongate or stretch declined 89% in the open field and 82% in the high tunnel. SBPLA and PE mulches did not show a change in PVD or mechanical properties in either the high tunnel or the open field. Overall, PVD was three to six times greater by midseason in the open field than in the high tunnels. Although there were significant relationships between visual assessments and various mechanical properties for each mulch except SBPLA, the relationships differed for each mulch when evaluated separately and had coefficients of determination (R 2) below 30%. Furthermore, PVD overestimated mechanical deterioration of BioAgri and BioTelo. Results of this study indicate that mulch visual assessments may reflect general trends in changes in certain mechanical properties of the mulch; however, visual assessment and mechanical properties provide different information on deterioration. Each should be used as needed, but not as a substitute for each other.