Soil solarization and soil additives as alternatives to preplant fumigation in annual plasticulture strawberry production
Fumigation before strawberry (Fragaria×ananassa Duchesne) planting was a common practice as they are susceptible to numerous pests. Methyl bromide, the colorless, odorless gas, was the chosen fumigant for growers until it was classified as an ozone-depleting substance and its use was gradually restricted and legally phased in 2015. Fumigant use has constraints and thus research on other preplant alternatives for soil sterilization of strawberry annual plasticulture production is necessary. This research focused on soil solarization, products including paper pellets, mustard seed meal, and corn gluten meal. Two studies were conducted at the Virginia Tech Hampton Road AREC (Agricultural Research and Extension Center), and follow-up studies at the Flanagan Farm in Virginia Beach. The first study at the AREC evaluated three-week soil solarization with and without pelleted products. The second study evaluated different rates of paper pellets, paper pellets plus mustard seed meal, mustard seed meal alone and fumigated plots. The purpose of each study was to evaluate the sterilization-mulching effects on weeds, plant health and stand count, yield and fruit parameters (as size and sweetness). A container-grown plant study determined if there was any phytotoxic effect of paper pellets and mustard seed meal on pansies (Viola tricolor). Another study evaluated the effect of paper pellets and mustard seed meal on germination of different weed species. The paper pellet and soil solarization treatments showed decreased early season weeds but season-long weed control was not provided by the same treatment. In the study one, paper pellet improved yield in the first season but not the second season. Paper pellet and mustard seed meal increased yield compared to the black plastic control in the second study. No phytotoxicity was observed on pansies in response to paper pellet and mustard seed meal rates. In the grower farm study, weed biomass was higher under the clear tarp than the black tarp perhaps due to more light transmission under the clear tarp. A new locally available paper pellet product was used at the grower farm and the plants in plots treated with this product, had lower health rating and yield compared to other treatments.