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Marco Fontanelli, Luisa Martelloni, Michele Raffaelli, Christian Frasconi, Marco Ginanni and Andrea Peruzzi

Physical rather than chemical treatments are preferred for integrated production and are required for organic production to ensure a sustainable production. Weed management in many horticultural crops is heavily constrained by the limited number of herbicides available. Physical weed control strategies, on the other hand, are essential to organic vegetable production and greatly assist conventional vegetable farmers. A physical weed control strategy was developed and compared with a standard chemical strategy within an integrated farming system in fresh market spinach (Spinacia oleracea). The experiment was conducted on a farm in the Serchio Valley (Tuscany, central Italy) in 2004 and 2005, where spinach is one of the most important crops. The physical weed control strategy consisted of a stale seedbed technique and postemergence treatments using various mechanical and thermal machines. The chemical weed control strategy consisted of a single postemergence herbicide treatment using phenmedipham at 15.8% in compliance with integrated production norms in Italy. Strategy performance was assessed in terms of weed density and biomass, total labor requirement, and crop yield. Compared with the chemical system, the physical system required a substantially larger labor input (19 vs. 6 h·ha−1), but like the chemical system, did not require hand weeding. In addition, the physical system reduced weed dry biomass at harvest by 50% and increased spinach fresh yield by 35%. Physical strategies therefore are a valid alternative to the use of herbicides in fresh market spinach and may be especially desirable given the increasing importance of nonchemical weed control in integrated, organic, and conventional farming systems in Europe and the United States.

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Lara Abou Chehade, Marco Fontanelli, Luisa Martelloni, Christian Frasconi, Michele Raffaelli and Andrea Peruzzi

A lack of efficient machines and strategies for cropping practices are still problems on small farms and in difficult landscapes, especially in organic crop production. The aim of this study was to develop a new weed control strategy for a typical organic garlic (Allium sativum) grown in Liguria, Italy. Flaming was proposed as an additional tool for the physical weed control program. A field experiment was conducted to test the effects of different flaming doses and timing on weed control and garlic production. The treatments consisted of a broadcast flaming at 16, 22, 37, and 112 kg·ha−1 of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) at three different crop growth stages—emergence (BBCH 9), three to four leaves (BBCH 13) and six to seven leaves (BBCH 16)—once (at each growth stage separately), twice (at BBCH 9 and BBCH 13, BBCH 9 and BBCH 16, and BBCH 13 and BBCH 16 stages) or three times (all stages combined). Treatments were compared with a weedy control and hand weeding. One flaming treatment was effective in controlling weeds during the growing season. Frequent flaming treatments did not further reduce the weed biomass measured at harvest. A higher production than the weedy control, in terms of the number of marketable bulbs and yield, was obtained for all the flaming interventions carried out at more than 16-kg·ha−1 LPG dose. Garlic flamed once at BBCH 13 at any LPG dose or three times at more than 16 kg·ha−1 led to a comparable number of bulbs as hand weeding. Three flamings at an LPG dose of 22 kg·ha−1 also gave a statistically similar yield to hand weeding. In general, garlic was shown to tolerate up to three flaming treatments without a decline in the production. The decline in yield compared with hand weeding could be offset by the economical savings of the mechanization process and by integrating flaming with other mechanical tools used for weed management.

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Luisa Martelloni, Lisa Caturegli, Christian Frasconi, Monica Gaetani, Nicola Grossi, Simone Magni, Andrea Peruzzi, Michel Pirchio, Michele Raffaelli, Marco Volterrani and Marco Fontanelli

Flaming could be an alternative to the use of chemical herbicides for controlling weeds in turfgrass. In fact, the European Union has stipulated that chemical herbicides should be minimized or prohibited in public parks and gardens, sports and recreational areas, school gardens, and children’s playgrounds. The aim of this research was to test different doses of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to find the optimal flaming dose that keeps a ‘Patriot’ hybrid bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon × Cynodon transvaalensis) turf free of weeds during spring green-up, but also avoids damaging the grass. Five LPG doses (0, 29, 48, 71, and 100 kg·ha–1) were applied in a broadcast manner over the turf experimental units using a self-propelled flaming machine. This equipment is commercially available and usable by turfgrass managers. Treatments were applied three times during the spring to allow the maximum removal of weeds from the turfgrass. Data on weed coverage, density, biomass, and turfgrass green-up were collected and analyzed. Results showed that 3 weeks after the last flaming, the greatest LPG doses used (i.e., 71 and 100 kg·ha–1) ensured the least amount of weeds (range, 5–16 weeds/m2) of low weight (range, 7–60 g·m–2) and a low weed cover percentage (range, 1% to 5%), whereas the green turfgrass coverage was high (range, 82% to 94%). At the end of the experiment, the main weed species were horseweed (Conyza canadensis), field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), narrow-leaved aster (Aster squamatus), and black medic (Medicago lupulina). Flame weed control is a promising technique to conduct weed control in turfgrass. Further studies could be conducted to investigate the use of flaming in other species of warm-season turfgrasses.

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Michel Pirchio, Marco Fontanelli, Christian Frasconi, Luisa Martelloni, Michele Raffaelli, Andrea Peruzzi, Lisa Caturegli, Monica Gaetani, Simone Magni, Marco Volterrani and Nicola Grossi

High-quality sports turfs often require low mowing and frequent maintenance. Sports turfs often consist of hard-to-mow warm season turfgrasses, such as zoysiagrass (Zoysia sp.) or bermudagrass (Cynodon sp.). Although autonomous mowers have several advantages over manually operated mowers, they are not designed to mow lower than 2.0 cm and are consequently not used on high-quality sports turfs. All autonomous mowers are only equipped with rotary mowing devices and do not perform clipping removal. An ordinary autonomous mower was modified to obtain a prototype autonomous mower cutting at a low height. The prototype autonomous mower was tested on a manila grass (Zoysia matrella) turf and compared its performance in terms of turf quality and energy consumption with an ordinary autonomous mower and with a gasoline reel mower. A three-way factor experimental design with three replications was adopted. Factor A consisted of four nitrogen rates (0, 50, 100, and 150 kg·ha−1), factor B consisted of two mowing systems (autonomous mower vs. walk-behind gasoline reel mower with no clipping removal), and factor C consisted of two mowing heights (1.2 and 3.6 cm). Prototype autonomous mower performed mowing at 1.2-cm mowing height whereas ordinary autonomous mower mowed at 3.6-cm mowing height. The interaction between the mowing system and mowing height showed that the turf quality was higher when the turf was mowed by the autonomous mower and at 1.2 cm than at 3.6 cm. Autonomous mowing not only reduced the mowing quality, but also reduced the leaf width. Lower mowing height induced thinner leaves. Nitrogen fertilization not only increased the overall turf quality, reduced weed cover percentage, but also reduced mowing quality. Autonomous mowers also had a lower energy consumption if compared with the reel mower (1.86 vs. 5.37 kWh/week at 1.2-cm mowing height and 1.79 vs. 2.32 kWh/week at 3.6-cm mowing height, respectively). These results show that autonomous mowers can perform low mowing even on tough-to-mow turfgrass species. They could also be used on high-quality sports turfs, thus saving time as well as reducing noise and pollution.

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Marco Fontanelli, Michel Pirchio, Christian Frasconi, Luisa Martelloni, Michele Raffaelli, Andrea Peruzzi, Nicola Grossi, Lisa Caturegli, Simone Magni, Monica Gaetani and Marco Volterrani

Turfgrass species can be classified into two main groups: cool-season and warm-season species. Warm-season species are more suited to a Mediterranean climate. Transplanting is a possible method to convert a cool-season to a warm-season turfgrass in untilled soil. It generally requires the chemical desiccation of the cool-season turfgrass. However, alternative physical methods, like flaming and steaming, are also available. This paper compares flaming, steaming, and herbicide application to desiccate cool-season turfgrass, for conversion to hybrid bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon x C. transvaalensis) in untilled soil, using transplanting. Two prototype machines were used, a self-propelled steaming machine and a tractor-mounted liquefied petroleum gas flaming machine. Treatments compared in this work were two flaming treatments and two steaming treatments performed at four different doses together with two chemical treatments with glufosinate-ammonium herbicide applications. The cool-season turfgrass species were tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne). The desiccation effect of the various treatments on cool-season turf was assessed by photographic survey 15 days after treatment. The percentage cover of hybrid bermudagrass was visually assessed at 43 weeks after planting. Steaming and flaming effects on both parameters were described by logistic curves. The highest doses of steaming and flaming almost completely desiccated cool-season turf, and similar hybrid bermudagrass cover was established by both the methods as the chemical application (50% to 60%). Thus both flaming and steaming may be considered as valid alternatives to herbicides aimed at turf conversion.

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Nicola Grossi, Marco Fontanelli, Elisa Garramone, Andrea Peruzzi, Michele Raffaelli, Michel Pirchio, Luisa Martelloni, Christian Frasconi, Lisa Caturegli, Monica Gaetani, Simone Magni, J. Scott McElroy and Marco Volterrani

Battery-powered autonomous mowers are designed to reduce the need of labor for lawn mowing compared with traditional endothermic engine mowers and at the same time to abate local emissions and noise. The aim of this research was to compare autonomous mower with traditional rotary mower on a tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) lawn under different nitrogen (N) rates. A two-way factor experimental design with three replications was adopted. In the study, four N rates (0, 50, 100, and 150 kg·ha−1) and two mowing systems (autonomous mower vs. gasoline-powered walk-behind rotary mower equipped for mulching) were used. As expected, N fertilization increased turf quality. At the end of the trial, the autonomous mower increased turf density (3.2 shoots/cm2) compared with the rotary mower (2.1 shoots/cm2) and decreased average leaf width (2.1 mm) compared with the rotary mower (2.7 mm). Increased density and decreased leaf width with autonomous mowing yielded higher quality turf (7.3) compared with the rotary mower (6.4) and a lower weed incidence (6% and 9% cover for autonomous mower and rotary mower, respectively). Disease incidence and mowing quality were unaffected by the mowing system. The autonomous mower working time was set to 10 hours per day (≈7.8 hours for mowing and 2.2 hours for recharging) for a surface of 1296 m2. The traditional rotary mower working time for the same surface was 1.02 hours per week. The estimated primary energy consumption for autonomous mower was about 4.80 kWh/week compared with 12.60 kWh/week for gasoline-powered rotary mowing. Based on turf quality aspects and energy consumption, the use of autonomous mowers could be a promising alternative to traditional mowers.