Developing methods of strip cropping cucumbers with rye/vetch

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this research carried out in 1998 and 1999 was to develop methods for strip cropping of cucumbers with rye/vetch and black plastic mulch. Effects of planting methods, weed control measures, and cover crop management techniques on pest and beneficial insects, petiole sap nitrate-nitrogen, soil moisture, yields and economic viability were assessed. Four treatments, namely cucumber direct seeded in black plastic mulch on tilled bare ground (conventional); cucumber direct seeded in black plastic mulch laid over incorporated rye/vetch residue; cucumber direct seeded into no-till rolled rye/vetch; and seedlings transplanted into no- till rolled rye/vetch, were evaluated in a randomized complete block design. Weeds were controlled in half the plot by critical manual weeding and pre-emergence herbicides applied in the other half in all treatments except the conventional system. Three-week interval staggered plantings of buckwheat to provide flowers for adult beneficial insects were also evaluated.

Results obtained indicate that rye/vetch habitat is more attractive to beneficial insects than cucumber beetles before rolling or flail mowing. There were higher densities of adult Diptera (an indicator for Tachinid parasitoids) in both years and of Pennsylvania leatherwings in 1999 in plots with rye/vetch than in plots with rye only before planting. Preferential attraction to adult Diptera was not found after planting with no differences in cumulative densities between no-till and black plastic mulch plots after rolling or flail mowing. However, adult Diptera densities were positively correlated with cucumber yield, higher densities of cucumber beetles occurred in black plastic mulch than in no-till plots in both years, and bacterial wilt, transmitted by cucumber beetles, was reduced in no-till in 1999. Similarly, rye/vetch habitat plots had a higher diversity of Carabidae species (in both habitat areas and crop rows) before rolling or flail mowing, and higher densities of Carabidae (in habitat areas), Staphylinidae (in both habitat areas and crop rows) and spiders (in crop rows) after rolling or flail mowing. Black plastic mulch plots with flail mowed, incorporated rye/vetch residues had higher petiole sap nitrate-nitrogen and higher early season cucumber plant dry weights than in conventional plots; later in the season, the highest petiole sap nitrate-nitrogen occurred in no-till plots. No-till had higher marketable cucumber yield than plastic systems. The profitability of these production systems depended more on differences in marketable yield than on cost differences. The plastic with incorporated rye/vetch and no-till transplant systems were more profitable during early harvests in late July, while no- till direct seeded and transplant systems were more profitable from early August onwards. The three-week interval staggered planting of buckwheat led to conservation of beneficial insects, and the second and third seeded buckwheat flowering periods coincided with the period vetch had lost flowers.

no-till, soil moisture, cover crops, economic analysis, cucumber beetles, natural enemies