Hybrid Mulching Effects on Vegetable Crop Productivity, Weed Dynamics and Soil Quality
It is critical that we reconsider the intensive tillage used in our current cropping systems. Ironically, as farmers work towards more sustainable cropping systems by reducing their reliance on herbicides, the frequency and intensity of tillage often increases and, consequently, soil quality declines. In northern agronomic zones, the surface residues in no-till systems result in cool spring soil temperatures resulting in poor crop emergence and generally unacceptable yields. The “hybrid-mulch” system described by Louis Lego offers a solution to the soil temperature problem by exploiting the thermal properties of black plastic-covered beds.
We propose systems comparison and associated “component” experiments to be conducted at the University of Maine Farms, and commercial farms. These experiments will investigate cash crop performance, selected soil quality parameters and weed seed bank dynamics over the three-year life of a hybrid-mulch system. A 3-year vegetable rotation will be grown in hybrid mulched perennial beds, in hybrid mulched annual beds, and in conventional spring-formed beds.
On-farm and Experiment station research will demonstrate and develop refinements to the hybrid mulch production system tailoring it to Maine and other northern growing conditions.
Three hundred farmers will observe the hybrid mulch cropping system. Thirty-five farmers will use the hybrid mulch system in at least one of their fields resulting in: decreased tillage, improvements in soil health, decreased weed competition, and increased economic returns.
Forty-five mixed vegetable growers viewed the hybrid annual beds established in 2003 and took part in discussions regarding the feasibility of this cultural management practice.
Two experiments were established at Highmoor farm in the fall of 2004. One experiment will compare three crop rotations over a three-year period in hybrid mulched perennial beds (1, tomatoes-cucumbers-pumpkins; 2, pumpkins-cucumbers-tomatoes; 3, pumpkins-tomatoes-cucumbers). The second experiment will compare hybrid mulched perennial beds, hybrid mulched annual beds with the inter-row cover crop managed either by mowing or by herbicides, and conventional spring-formed beds. The beds were established in late October, much later than expected due to the frequent rains experienced during August and September. Fortunately, October and November were milder than usual allowing the inter-row cover crop to get partially established. Our team has some concerns about how well the system may work with such a late planting and will create additional research plots in the fall of 2005. Because of the difficulties due to the weather in the fall of 2004 no grower field plots were set-up.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Our difficulties in getting field plots established in the fall of 2004 indicated the need for through planning by the grower to make beds in the fall. Fall can be a busy time for diverse vegetable growers and this system must clearly offer advantages to the grower in the spring to justify the time involved in the fall to make the beds and plant cover crops.
Director of Technical Services
Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association
PO Box 170
Untiy, ME 04988
Office Phone: 2075684142
50 Pork Point Road
Bowdoinham, ME 04008
Office Phone: 2076663116
1011 North Road
Dixmont, ME 04932
Office Phone: 2072574103
Associate Scientist of Resource Economics and Poli
University of Maine
307 Winslow Hall
Orono, ME 04469
Office Phone: 2075813108
250 River Road
Dresden, ME 04242
Assistant Professor Weed Ecology and Management
Dept. Plant Soil and Enviromental Science
University of Maine
Clapp Greenhouse 205
Orono , ME 04469
Office Phone: 2075813307