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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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Nicole E. Burkhard, Derek H. Lynch and David C. Percival

Within-row weed management of highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) is reliant upon herbicide applications. However, in organic production, herbicides are typically not permitted and alternative methods must be used. The impact of thick (25-cm) mulch applications on weed pressure in an organic production system was initiated at a commercial operation in Nova Scotia, Canada, during 2005. A split-plot experimental design was used with five blocks (replications), six treatments, and five plants per split plot (cv. Duke). The whole-plot factor consisted of mulch/fertility treatments and included: i) control (no amendment); ii) ammonium sulphate fertilizer (30 kg·ha-1 N); iii) pelletized poultry manure (60 kg·ha-1 N); iv) pine needles (80 t·ha-1); v) horse manure and sawdust compost (550 t·ha-1); and vi) seafood waste compost (360 t·ha-1). The split-plot factor consisted of level of hand weeding (–/+). Weed control was assessed by sampling percent ground cover and weed shoot biomass in three 0.25-m2 quadrats in nonweeded subplots. Blueberry leaf N content, plant canopy volume, and berry yield (fresh weight and number) were recorded. The manure/sawdust compost and pine needle treatments had the lowest weed biomass and percent ground cover values, thereby providing the best weed control. Weed shoot biomass, blueberry leaf N, plant canopy volume, and berry yield were greatest in the seafood waste compost treatment. Results from this preliminary study indicate the potential of using these groundcover treatments to improve organic cultural management practices.