Strip-tilled Cover Cropping for Managing Nematodes, Soil Mesoarthropods, and Weeds in a Bitter Melon Agroecosystem

Sharadchandra P. Marahatta, Koon-Hui Wang, Brent S. Sipes, Cerruti R. R. Hooks

Abstract


A field trial was conducted to examine whether strip-tilled cover cropping followed by living mulch practice could suppress root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne incognita) and enhance beneficial nematodes and other soil mesofauna, while suppressing weeds throughout two vegetable cropping seasons. Sunn hemp (SH), Crotalaria juncea, and French marigold (MG), Tagetes patula, were grown for three months, strip-tilled, and bitter melon (Momordica charantia) seedlings were transplanted into the tilled strips; the experiment was conducted twice (Season I and II). Strip-tilled cover cropping with SH prolonged M. incognita suppression in Season I but not in Season II where suppression was counteracted with enhanced crop growth. Sunn hemp also consistently enhanced bacterivorous and fungivorous nematode population densities prior to cash crop planting, prolonged enhancement of the Enrichment Index towards the end of both cash crop cycles, and increased numbers of soil mesoarthropods. Strip-tilled cover cropping of SH followed by clipping of the living mulch as surface mulch also reduced broadleaf weed populations up to 3 to 4 weeks after cash crop planting. However, SH failed to reduce soil disturbance as indicated by the Structure Index. Marigold suppressed M. incognita efficiently when planted immediately following a M. incognita-susceptible crop, but did not enhance beneficial soil mesofauna including free-living nematodes and soil mesoarthropods. Strip-tilled cover cropping of MG reduced broadleaf weed populations prior to cash crop planting in Season II, but this weed suppression did not last beyond the initial cash crop cycle.

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