Evaluation of Mulches for Organic Cantaloupe Production in Semi-Arid Regions

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,855.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:


  • Fruits: melons


  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Pest Management: field monitoring/scouting, mulching - plastic
  • Soil Management: soil analysis

    Proposal summary:

    The Texas High Plains presents unique and challenging growing conditions. It is hot, dry climate, with an average of 18 inches of rain a year in Lubbock, TX. Gusty winds from 15-30 mph are common. There is also a relatively abundant supply of high quality nonrenewable ground water and very clear skies and an over 200 day growing season. The sandy soils don’t hold water very long and, when dry and bare, blow away in the slightest gusts of wind. Tillage causes the most severe wind erosion but the weeds in our organic fields need cultivation several times during a growing season. For vegetables, many farmers have turned to plastic mulch, but the high (and ever-increasing) price and large amount of waste it produces raises questions as to its sustainability. With winds blowing the soil away, and a dependency on a nonrenewable source of water, a conservation tillage system that leaves high amounts residue on the surface to prevent water evaporation and soil erosion is needed. There has been fairly good results with no-till planting a cash crop into a winter cover crop. A thick stand of winter cover, mechanically killed, provides a weed-suppressive mat, reducing the need for cultivation. Also, the layer of field-grown mulch minimizes evaporation and soil erosion. For our specific situation, organic cantaloupe, a fall planted cover of cereal rye and hairy vetch or cereal rye and Austrian winter pea will be used and planted directly in to. This will suppress weeds for several weeks, hold down the soil, and prevent excessive water loss. I have measured out small research plots adjacent the 23-acre field we will be growing cantaloupe in 2006. Dr. Russ Wallace and I have designed a randomized, complete block design with three treatments and a control. I have already planted the cover crops. Because cantaloupes need a fair amount of nitrogen, we typically grow a leguminous winter cover crop and incorporate it in the spring. This will be our control. The three treatments are an ‘Elbon’ cereal rye and Austrian winter pea mix, an ‘Elbon’ cereal rye and hairy vetch mix, and a black plastic mulch, laid after the cover has been incorporated. As another variable, we will be both transplanting and direct seeding, to see if that affects the success. We will be measuring emergence of the seeds to see if that is affecting yield. Days to first harvest, yield and quality will be measured because these factors drastically effect the marketing of the crop. Soil temperature and moisture will be measured to determine the effectiveness of the different covers to preserve moisture and keep the soil cool. We will measure weed control to determine the effectiveness of the different treatments. Cover crop biomass will be calculated to see if too much or too little biomass is a problem. We will also plant on two different dates to see if the planting dates affect the effectiveness of the systems. We plant cantaloupes every two weeks for several months in Lubbock, so it is possible that the early spring planting may be too early to effectively kill the cover crops and the black plastic would work best to catch the early market. We will conduct this research for two years, making adjustments as needed.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.