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Integration of High Residue/No-till and Farmscaping Systems in Organic Production of Broccoli
Benson, Gordon Brinkley
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High-biomass cover cropping enhances marketable yields in organic production of vegetables, linked to the improvement of soil quality and weed control. Although, during transition from chemical to organic cover-cropping production, especially with no-till systems, reduction of nitrogen availability to the main crop and increase in weed and pest pressure may occur. In 2004-2005, summer and fall broccoli (Brassica oleraceae L. Botrytis Group) crops were grown in twin rows on permanent (controlled traffic) raised beds (185-cm wide). Before broccoli transplanting, high-biomass cover crops were grown in specific bed areas. Legumes (Vicia villosa, Glycine max L., and Crotolaria juncea L.) on bed tops (grow zones) and grass species (Secale Cereale L., Setaria italica L., and Sorghum bicolor X S. bicolor var. Sudanese) in the alleyways (bed shoulders and bottoms). Experimental treatments were tillage (conventional, CT; and no-tillage, NT), farmscaping (with and without), and nitrogen sidedressing (with and without, applied 3 weeks after transplanting as a mixture of sodium nitrate - 22 kg N ha-1 - and feathermeal - 44 kg N ha-1). Weeds were managed by mechanical cultivation in CT and a spot weeding by hand in NT treatments. High numbers of beneficial insects (Cotesia glomerata, Cotesia orobenae and Diadegma insulare) kept the primary insect pest population (Pieris rapae, Evergestis rimosalis (Guenee), and Plutella xylostella) at a pest to predator ratio below 4:1. Although the excellent insect pest control was attributed to the farmscape plantings, pest level and crop yields were not significantly affected by farmscaping (likely due to the close proximity of the farmscaped plots (10-50m from non-farmscaped)). Broccoli yield averaged 62% higher in fall than summer (12.1 vs. 7.5 t ha-1) likely due to cool weather conditions during broccoli head development (October), increasing head size, uniformity, and marketability. In 2004, broccoli yield in CT plots was either equal or slightly higher than NT (9.5 vs. 9.0 t ha-1). However, in 2005, broccoli yield in CT plots was significantly higher in both spring (8.8 vs. 6.8 t ha-1; p = 0.0258) and fall crops (13.5 vs. 12.3 t ha-1 with p = 0.0484). Nitrogen sidedressing improved yield in all plots (9.8. vs. 12.7 t ha-1) and particularly in NT (8.6 vs. 12.1 t ha-1), indicating that availability and/or synchrony of nitrogen was a limiting factor. Incorporating high-N legume residues in the grow zones resulted in a lesser N response in CT.
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