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  • Author or Editor: James J. Stapleton x
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Soil disinfestation strategies for intensive vegetable crop production, which have relied heavily on chemical fumigants for the past 40 years, are now undergoing rapid change. The principal driving force of change has been governmental regulatory action to phase out chemicals with properties deemed to be hazardous to the environment and/or public health. Softer methods of soil disinfestation, which rely more on physical, cultural, biological, or integrated modes of action, likely will predominate in future vegetable-cropping systems. In conducive (i.e., warm) climates, solarization can be adopted economically in plasticulture systems. Solarization can be combined with other chemical, physical, and biological methods for enhanced management of soil and root pests and diseases.

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Trials were conducted in 2002 and 2003 in California's San Joaquin Valley to determine the efficiency of reflective plastic and wheat straw in managing silverleaf whitefly and aphid-borne virus diseases in late planted cantaloupes. In 2002, the incidence of aphid-borne viruses was lowest in plants growing over reflective plastic followed by those growing over wheat straw and then those growing over bare soil. Wheat straw mulch was as effective as reflective plastic during the early part of the growing season in reducing the incidence of virus disease, but by mid-season, the reflective plastic was superior. The incidence of virus diseases in plants growing over wheat straw was significantly (P < 0.05) lower than that in plants growing over bare soil throughout the season. Whitefly numbers (nymphs per cm2) and aphid numbers were significantly reduced on plants growing over both reflective mulch and wheat straw mulch compared to those growing over bare soil. Yields of all sizes of melons were significantly higher in the reflective mulch plots and yield for the straw mulched and bare soil plots were not significantly different. Results in 2003 were similar to those of 2002. Both whitefly numbers and aphid numbers were significantly lower in plants growing over both mulches than in those growing over bare soil. Virus incidence was initially low but following an aphid flight in late August, the number of infected plants increased rapidly. Both the reflective plastic and straw provided equal protection form aphid-borne viruses throughout the growing season. Yields were highest in the reflective plastic plots, followed by the straw mulch and finally the bare soil. Differences were significant (P < 0.05) among all three treatments.

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A double-tent solarization technique, which accumulates higher soil temperatures than solarization of open fields, was recently approved by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) as a nematicidal treatment for container nurseries. Due to the need for broad-spectrum pest control in container nursery settings, this technique was tested to determine its usefulness as an herbicidal treatment. Laboratory-derived thermal death dosages (temperatur × time) for several weed species important in California, including common purslane (Portulaca oleracea), tumble pigweed (Amaranthus albus), and black nightshade (Solanum nigrum), were previously determined and the data were used as guidelines for devising treatment duration in this study. In two field experiments conducted in 1999 and 2000 to validate the laboratory data, moist soil was placed in black polyethylene planting bags [3.8 L (1 gal) volume], artificially infested with seeds of the three test species, and subjected to 0 to 24 hours of double-tent solarization after reaching a threshold temperature of 60 °C (140 °F) (about 1.5 to 2.0 h after initiation of the experiment). In 1999, samples were removed at 2, 4, 20, and 24 hours after reaching the 60 °C threshold, then incubated to ameliorate possible secondary dormancy effects. Seeds failed to germinate in any of the solarized treatments. In 2000, samples were removed at 0, 1, 2, and 6 h after reaching 60 °C. Again, apart from the nonsolarized control treatment, all weed seeds failed to germinate at any of the sampling periods, in accordance with prior laboratory thermal death results. Reference tests to estimate effects of container size on soil heating showed that soil in smaller container sizes (soil volume) reached higher temperatures, and were maintained at high temperature [above 60 °C (140 °F)] for a longer period of time, than larger container sizes. The double-tent solarization technique can be used by commercial growers and household gardeners to effectively and inexpensively produce weed-free soil and potting mixes in warmer climatic areas.

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