- Fruits: melons
- Crop Production: conservation tillage
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
- Pest Management: mulching - plastic
- Production Systems: agroecosystems
The project here is looking at the use of materials that can be used in place of plastic mulch for growing watermelons (and any other vegetables). The farmer involved with this project grows a rye and clover cover crop during the winter months, beds plastic beds for watermelons in Feb/March and the plants a second crop over the watermelon beds during the summer months.
The purpose of this project was to determine if alternative mulch, which is bio-degradable can be used to replace the HDPE plastic and would naturally degrade over time.
A second and main aspect of the project was also to find an alternative mulch that can retard weed growth until the watermelons can cover the soil surface.
Results indicate that newspaper and craft paper both provide good weed suppression while also allowing water to get to the root system.
Plastic mulch is a generally used type of mulch in large scale production of fruits and vegetables in Georgia. The mulch is used specifically for multiple uses. One of these uses is to warm the soil when air temperatures is below that needed to germinate seed or provide a warm bed for growing transplants. Another reason for using plastic mulch is to retard weeds in the growing beds.
Some farmers interested in conserving soil and water resources employees the use of conservation tillage. Conservation tillage is a system of using cover crops along with reduced tillage to protect soil and water resources. Even when conservation tillage is used, some farmers will “lay” plastic mulch to provide a warmer soil as well as a barrier for weeds. In these systems, the plastic mulch is not usually pulled up before the next crop or if it is pulled then there is some remaining in the field that will not degrade and can cause problems with subsequent crops. One type of plastic mulch is photodegradable. Photodegradable plastic is designed to degrade when the plastic is exposed to sunlight. However, some of the plastic is “tucked” under the edges of the fruit and vegetable beds and is not exposed to sunlight. Some of the plastic, when the next crop is planted, is pushed underground and therefore is not exposed to the sunlight and cannot degrade. When this plastic does not degrade it can cause problems with future crops but it also pollutes the environment. Therefore, the major objective of this project was to explore potentially new mulches that will warm the soil, provide a weed retardant and decompose after the growing season.
1. Develop a system of recycling waste organic materials (i.e. cotton gin trash or compost) to form a thin strip useful for planting transplanted vegetables and fruits,
2. Use the developed hydro-mulching system on operating farm and control research plots to determine if the mulch is a viable alternative mulch especially in conservation tillage systems, and
3. Perform a cost analysis of this system verses traditional mulching practices.