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Nicole Burkhard, Derek Lynch, David Percival and Mehdi Sharifi

A 2-year study in Nova Scotia examined the effectiveness of thickly applied organic mulches as a method of weed control in highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum L.), and assessed weed and mulch impact on crop growth, leaf nutrient concentration, yield, and quality under organic production management. Mulches, applied in-row at 20-cm depth, included pine needles (PN), manure–sawdust compost (MC), and seafood waste compost (SC). Competition from weeds negatively affected crop growth and productivity, reducing canopy volume (16% to 38%), leaf nitrogen concentration and berry yields (up to 92%), number (up to 91%), and specific weight (up to 21%). Among mulches, PN proved to be the most effective in suppressing weed growth with 55% less and 73% less aboveground weed biomass compared with the control in 2005 and 2006, respectively, although PN productivity effects were much more modest. One year after application, PN lost some efficacy at suppressing weeds but was still superior to both composts. Distribution of weed species was substantially altered by mulch treatment. Both composts prevented some weed emergence (i.e., sheep sorrel), but weed seeds germinating in composts, especially SC, experienced prolific growth likely as a result of available nutrients in composts. No detrimental effects on short-term plant productivity were noted despite high C:N ratios of PN and MC (72:1 and 48:1, respectively). Plant vigor and yield were typically higher for compost mulch treatments, especially in weed-free subplots, and composts provided more complete fertilization reflected in increased leaf tissue elemental (NPK) composition. Fruit soluble solid (sugar) content was found to be significantly lower in PN and MC compared with SC, whereas total phenolic content was unaffected by mulches. Mulch application can improve organic highbush blueberry productivity by improving soil properties, nutrient availability, and weed suppression; however, precautions should be taken to avoid excess nutrient loading and weed seed contamination of mulches.

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Mehdi Sharifi, Julia Reekie, Andrew Hammermeister, Mohammed Zahidul Alam and Taylor MacKey

There is an increasing interest for use of cover crops in orchards; however, the species that are most likely to be successfully implemented and their impact on yield and soil productivity have not been fully explored under Maritimes climate. This study investigated the effect of various cover crops treatments on organic apple (Malus domestica Borkh cv. Honeycrisp) yield and leaf nutrient concentrations in Nova Scotia over 3 years. Various cover crop mixtures including legumes, cereals, and grasses were planted using a modified Swiss Sandwich System (SSS). The cover crops treatments did not affect apple yield. In 2012, the input of biomass to the soil was 89% and 144% greater for alfalfa (ALF) and other cover crop treatments than unseeded (CON) treatment, respectively. The pea, oats, vetch mixture (POVM) contributed 24% higher biomass N to soil compared with average of other cover crops in 2012. Soil available K concentration in the tilled strip was increased in the 3rd year of the study compared with the initial values across cover crop treatments. The red clover oats mixture (RCOM), POVM, and Triple Mix (TM) treatments appeared to add the greatest amount of available K to the soil among treatments. The CON, TM, and ALF treatments resulted in higher leaf Mn concentration in only 2012 and CON, sweet clover and oats mixture (SCOM), and ALF resulted in higher leaf P concentration in 2014, compared with other treatments. Cover crops did not compete with apple trees and their most beneficial and consistent contribution was to total C, total N, and K input to the soil.