Managing teff as a living mulch for organic acorn squash in mesotunnel systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2021: $14,962.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Mark Gleason
Iowa State University

Information Products


  • Vegetables: cucurbits


  • Pest Management: cultural control, disease vectors, mulches - living, mulching - plastic, row covers (for pests)
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Cucumber beetles and squash bugs transmit the pathogens that cause bacterial wilt and cucurbit yellow vine disease (CYVD). This pest-disease complex devastates organic cucurbit crops in the NC Region. Organic growers have tried a range of strategies to combat this complex, but with inconsistent results. A new system called mesotunnels – 3.5-ft-high tunnels with nylon-mesh fabric over steel-conduit hoops that stay in place almost all season – keeps out pest insects and the bacterial diseases they carry. Mesotunnels have exciting potential to reduce – or even replace – reliance on organic insecticides while increasing marketable yield for cucurbit crops.

    However, organic cucurbit growers have stated that weed control is a potential limiting factor to adopting mesotunnels. Suppressing weeds in the alleys between plastic-mulched crop rows is challenging because the tunnels remain in place for almost the entire season. A living mulch could suppress weeds, build soil quality, and minimize soil erosion. After an inconsistent performance by rye-clover mixtures, we seeded a cereal grass called teff in 2020 Iowa field trials. Teff suppressed weeds effectively but also reduced crop yield due to competition.

    I propose to determine whether mid-season mowing of teff in the alleys between crop rows makes it suitable as a living mulch for acorn squash in mesotunnel systems. I hypothesize that mid-season mowing of teff will suppress weeds effectively while minimizing competition with the crop.

    By demonstrating an effective weed control method, my project will provide an economically attractive alternative management strategy for organic cucurbit growers in the North Central Region. My outreach program will share project results with farmers at a summer field day, at the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association annual conference, and through videos, podcasts, and articles in trade and research journals.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    • 80 NC Region cucurbit growers will become aware of mesotunnels’ potential for suppressing pests, reducing insecticide applications, and safeguarding yield.
    • 40 growers will learn to use teff as a living much in mesotunnel systems.
    • 50 farmers will indicate that they understand the trade-offs of using teff as a living mulch in mesotunnel systems.
    • 5 growers will try the proposed system on their farms.

    Our results may have broader impacts by encouraging growers to expand mesotunnel use to other cucurbit and non-cucurbit crops.

    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.