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  • Author or Editor: Michael D. Crandall x
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Sam E. Wortman, Ignatius Kadoma and Michael D. Crandall

Polyethylene mulch use is common in vegetable production, but disposal of mulch is problematic for growers and of significant environmental concern. Biodegradable fabrics and plastic films are compostable and can be incorporated into the soil at the end of the growing season, but questions remain about the durability, performance, and rate of decomposition of these products after soil incorporation. Three trials were conducted in field and high tunnel cucumber (Cucumis sativus) cropping systems to compare performance and decomposition after use among two bioplastic films and four experimental spunbond, nonwoven biofabrics. Soil temperature and moisture, mulch durability and deterioration, weed suppression, and crop yield data were collected in each growing season. All biomulches were soil incorporated after the growing season and recovered up to 11 months after incorporation to estimate relative rates of decomposition. One bioplastic film increased field soil temperature by 2 °C in 2013, but temperatures under the biofabrics were not different from bare soil. Bioplastics and biofabrics increased soil moisture relative to bare soil. Bioplastic films were less durable and deteriorated sooner than biofabrics, especially in the field environment (as early as 34 days after transplanting). All biomulches suppressed weed emergence relative to bare soil, but weeds were visibly growing beneath the most translucent biofabric. Marketable yield of cucumber was trending highest in the most durable and opaque biofabric (1827 g·m−2), but was not significantly different from weed-free bare soil (1251 g·m−2). Relative rate of mulch decomposition up to 11 months after soil incorporation was not different among bioplastic and biofabric products. Results suggest that the tested biofabrics will be most useful to growers when soil warming is not necessary (e.g., warm climates), but moisture conservation and weed control are critical (e.g., organic cropping systems). Moreover, biofabrics are permeable and may be useful to growers dependent on sprinkler irrigation or rainfall to meet crop water demands.