Date of Award

12-2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Plant Sciences

Major Professor

Annette L. Wszelaki

Committee Members

Dennis Deyton, Gary Bates, Jerome Grant

Abstract

Conservation tillage programs have been successfully implemented for many agronomic cropping systems, but adoption of reduced tillage for vegetable crops has been slow. As many conventionally managed conservation tillage programs rely on synthetic herbicides for clean cultivation, alternative methods must be devised to suppress weed pressure and reduce reliance on mechanical cultivation to aid in the development of reduced tillage programs for organic cropping system. Strip tillage is a reduced tillage method that is well suited to vegetable crop production, and the utilization of cover crops and living mulches between rows provides a viable weed management option for organic systems.

The adoption of reduced tillage and the inclusion of cover crops and living mulches have the potential to alter the agroecosystem in ways that impact plant development and crop yield, and augment weed, insect and disease pressure. The current study focuses on the use of strip tillage and the interplanting of spring-seeded living mulches and overwintered cover crops for early-season organic broccoli production. Data were collected on ground cover provided by cover crops and living mulches, crop physiological status (petiole sap nitrate, photosynthetic rate, plant growth and crop biomass) and pest pressure (weed relative abundance, insect density and disease incidence and severity).

Living mulches provided the greatest ground coverage when cover crop establishment was poor; however, when cover crops produced a large amount of biomass, living mulch establishment was suppressed. Decreases in herbivorous pests and suppression of grassy and cool-season weed species were also observed, indicating that strip tillage and the use of spring-seeded living mulches and overwintered cover crops may provide beneficial pest management strategies. Decreases in crop growth and biomass, and decreases in petiole sap nitrate were observed, however, indicating reductions in crop vigor and yield may be expected with the implementation of strip tillage and living mulch crops. It is suggested that the utilization of strip tillage and living mulch crops may provide benefits to pest management which may outweigh declines in yield.

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