Date of Award
Master of Science
The use of tillage and plastic mulch are common practices among cucurbit growers to provide warm, moist, weed-free soil around plants. However, there are environmental drawbacks to the use of plastic mulches, such as the material waste given that these products are used for a single season, and the reduced soil health and stability that can come from frequent and intensive tillage. As an alternative strategy, a biological mulch can be formed by rolling and killing a cover crop stand by using a roller crimper. Narrow, tilled strips can be formed within this mulch for the crop to grow in a strip tillage system. This strategy can retain soil moisture and limit weed growth between rows compared to a non-mulched system, but has a tendency to create cooler soils, which can negatively impact growth for warm season crops, for example cucurbits. However, rowcovers could be used to mitigate this issue, as they can warm the air and soil, and provide protection to plants against insects and wind.
In these studies, two production systems were compared (conventional tillage with black plastic mulch and strip tillage into rolled cereal rye) with and without the use of spunbonded rowcovers in conventionally and organically managed summer squash and muskmelon production. Overall, there were many benefits from using the plastic mulch system for both muskmelon and summer squash production. In general, the soil under plastic mulch was warmer than the soil in strip tillage, though it also tended to be lower in soil moisture. Despite this, the use of rowcovers in conjunction with strip tillage had promising results in squash production, in part due to the increased air temperature provided by the rowcovers. We found more positive outcomes from using rowcovers in organically managed crop than in conventionally managed crops. We saw no consistent effect of production system on soil microbial biomass carbon. A long-term trial would be needed to observe many of the soil health benefits from this conservation tillage system.
Jennifer Louise Tillman
Tillman, Jennifer Louise, "Strip tillage and rowcovers as a potential alternative to black plastic mulch in cucurbit production" (2015). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 14437.