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  • Author or Editor: W. Carroll Johnson III x
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Timely cultivation with a tine weeder and hand weeding are the primary tools for successful weed control in organic sweet onion (Allium cepa), but conditions frequently arise that delay the initial cultivation. Weeds that emerge during the delay are not effectively controlled by cultivation and herbicides derived from natural products may have a role to control the emerged weeds. It has been reported that clove oil herbicide was more effective when sprayers were calibrated for higher output (>50 gal/acre) compared with sprayers calibrated at ≈25 gal/acre. However, when clove oil was applied at the recommended rate of 10% by volume, herbicide cost was doubled when sprayer output volume was doubled. It was theorized that herbicide adjuvants might improve clove oil efficacy and reduce weed control cost by not needing to increase sprayer output volume. Trials were conducted from 2010 to 2012 to evaluate all possible combinations of two sprayer output volumes and five herbicide adjuvants used with clove oil (10% by volume) for cool season weed control. Sprayer output volumes evaluated were 25 and 50 gal/acre, using spray tips of differing orifice size. Adjuvants evaluated were a material composed of saponins, citric acid plus garlic extract, an emulsified petroleum oil (EPO) insecticide, a conventional petroleum oil adjuvant (POA), no adjuvant used with clove oil, and a nontreated control. Weed control was not consistently improved by applying clove oil (10% by volume) with a sprayer calibrated at 50 gal/acre compared with sprayer calibrated at 25 gal/acre. Improvements in weed control that were occasionally seen did not affect onion yield. Adjuvants provided minimal improvement in weed control from clove oil and did not consistently improve onion yield. Based on these results, clove oil does not provide suitable levels of weed control in organic Vidalia® sweet onion production to justify the expense.

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Cultivation using a tine weeder is a proven means to manage weeds in organic Vidalia® sweet onion (Allium cepa) production. If the initial cultivation is delayed, emerged weeds are not controlled. In these cases, herbicides derived from natural products could be used to control the emerged weeds before the initial cultivation. Clove oil has been evaluated for this use, but cool-season weed control is inconsistent during the winter season when Vidalia® sweet onion are grown. Pelargonic acid is a herbicide that can be derived from natural sources or synthesized. Field trials were conducted from 2011 through 2013 to determine the efficacy of pelargonic acid for cool-season weed control in organic Vidalia® sweet onion. All possible combinations of four herbicides and three cultivation regimes using a tine weeder were evaluated. Herbicides evaluated were pelargonic acid (3% and 5% by vol.), clove oil [10% by vol. (2011 and 2012)], d-limonene [14% (2013 only)], and a nontreated control. Cultivation regimes were twice (2×) and four times (4×) at 2-week intervals, and a noncultivated control. Main effects of cultivation and herbicides were independent for all parameters, with no improvement when used in combination. Cultivation 2× and 4× controlled cool-season weeds and improved onion yields, which is consistent with previous research. Pelargonic acid (5%) controlled weeds similar to clove oil (2011 and 2012) and d-limonene (2013), with cool-season weed control efficacy being inconsistent among all herbicides. Onion yield response to weed control from any of the herbicides, including pelargonic acid, also was inconsistent. In organic onion production, inconsistent cool-season performance using pelargonic acid is similar to other herbicides derived from natural sources.

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The southeastern United States produces 50% of U.S. conventional watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) but only 7% of U.S. organic watermelon. Weeds are a major threat to watermelon yield in the southeastern United States, and organic weed control is estimated to cost 20-times more than conventional herbicide programs. The objectives of this study were to determine the optimal weed control regime to reduce hand-weeding costs while maintaining yield and to compare the weed suppression of two watermelon types with differing growth habits in an organic system. In 2014 and 2015, watermelon plots were randomly assigned to the following treatments in a factorial arrangement: vine or compact growth habit; 1.0- or 0.5-m in-row spacing; and weekly weed control (kept weed-free by hoeing and hand-pulling weeds) for 0, 4, or 8 weeks after transplanting (WAT). At the time of the watermelon harvest, not weeding resulted in average total weed densities of 86.6 and 87.0 weeds/m2, and weeding for 4 WAT resulted in average total weed densities of 26.4 and 7.0 weeds/m2 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Nonetheless, weeding for 4 WAT resulted in watermelon yields and fruit counts comparable to those of weeding for 8 WAT during both years. This partial-season weeding regime resulted in 67% and 63% weeding cost reductions for vine and compact plants, respectively, in 2014, and a 43% reduction for both growth habit types in 2015. In 2015, a separate experiment that evaluated weeding regimes that lasted 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 8 WAT found that yields resulting from weeding for 3 WAT were greater than those resulting from weeding for 2 WAT. However, the yields did not differ when weeding was performed for 4 WAT and 8 WAT.

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Field experiments were conducted from 2008 through 2010 near Lyons, GA, to develop integrated weed management systems for organic Vidalia® sweet onion (Allium cepa) production. Treatments were a factorial arrangement of summer solarization, cultivation with a tine weeder, and a clove oil herbicide. Plots were solarized with clear plastic mulch during the summer fallow period before transplanting onion. Cultivation treatments were twice at 2-week intervals, four times at 2-week intervals, and a noncultivated control. Herbicide treatments were clove oil plus vinegar, clove oil plus an emulsified petroleum oil (EPO) insecticide used as an adjuvant, and a nontreated control. ‘Savannah Sweet’ onions were transplanted in early-December each year, with cultivation and herbicide applications events occurring the following January and February. Onions were harvested the following spring. In addition to yield measurement, a subsample of harvested onion was stored in a controlled atmospheric (CA) storage facility to evaluate treatment effects on diseases of stored onion. Summer fallow solarization did not control the cool-season weeds present in these trials. Cultivating transplanted onion with a tine weeder effectively managed cutleaf eveningprimrose (Oenothera laciniata) and swinecress (Coronopus didymus) and improved onion yields in 2 of 3 years. There was little difference in overall performance between two cultivations and four cultivations with the tine weeder. The 1 year of marginal weed control with the tine weeder was due to persistently wet soils during winter months that inhibited optimum performance of the implement. Clove oil, combined with vinegar or an EPO insecticide, provided marginal weed control and had no effect on onion yield. Diseases of stored onion were unaffected by any of the treatment combinations, although overall incidence of diseases of stored onion was higher in 2010 compared with other years. This corresponds with the 1 year of marginal weed control with the tine weeder, suggesting that the presence of weeds may be a factor related to disease incidence during storage.

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