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  • Author or Editor: S. Kent Harrison x
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Field studies were conducted in 2011 and 2012 to compare mulch treatments of shredded newspaper, a combination of shredded newspaper plus turfgrass clippings (NP + grass), hardwood bark chips, black polyethylene plastic, and bare soil on weeds, insects, soil moisture, and soil temperature in pumpkins. Newspaper mulch or black plastic reduced total weed biomass ≥90%, and woodchip or NP + grass mulch each reduced total weed biomass 78% compared with bare soil under high rainfall conditions in 2011. In 2012, under low rainfall, all mulches reduced weed biomass 97% or more compared with bare soil. In both years, all mulches resulted in higher squash bug infestations than bare soil. The woodchip, newspaper, and NP + grass mulches retained higher soil moistures than bare soil or black plastic over the course of each growing season, and the woodchip and NP + grass mulches caused greatest fluctuations in soil temperature. Pumpkin yields were abnormally low in 2011 and did not differ among treatments. In 2012, all mulches produced greater total marketable pumpkin fruit weights compared with bare soil, but only black plastic, newspaper, and NP + grass mulches resulted in greater total numbers of marketable pumpkins. Overall results indicate that shredded newspaper or NP + grass mulches may be useful for organic and/or small-scale urban crop producers as sustainable alternatives to black plastic mulch; however, their weed suppression efficacy may require higher application rates with increasing moisture conditions, and they may require greater squash bug control measures than under bare soil conditions.

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Zucchini squash (Cucurbita pepo) has a high pollination demand, and the native, ground-nesting squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa) provides the majority of the crop’s pollination requirement in some environments. Squash bees nest directly in crop fields, and nests can be disturbed by tillage and other management operations. Mulches that use municipal waste materials may provide a weed control strategy for squash plantings that is more benign to squash bees than cultivation. Field and greenhouse studies were conducted in 2011 and 2012 to compare the effects of nontillage weed control methods including polyethylene black plastic, woodchips, shredded newspaper, a combination of shredded newspaper plus grass clippings (NP + grass), and bare soil (control) on soil characteristics, squash pollination and fruit production, and squash bee nesting. Woodchips, shredded newspaper, and NP + grass mulch decreased soil temperature, while soils beneath newspaper mulch retained more moisture. Unmarketable, misshapen fruit occurred more frequently in plastic than in the other mulch treatments. No measurable differences in floral resource production or crop pollination were found among treatments, suggesting that misshapen fruit resulted from high soil temperatures in black plastic plots rather than poor pollinator attraction. Squash bee nests were located within bare soil, newspaper, and NP + grass plots, indicating that these mulches did not prevent nesting. NP + grass mulch had a positive effect on plant growth and fruit production, possibly from an addition of plant-available nitrogen or the presence of preferable nesting ground. Shredded newspaper when combined with grass clippings performed as an effective mulch material that improved crop performance with no apparent negative impacts on squash bee nesting or on squash floral resources and pollination.

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