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Effect of organic mulches on the growth of tomato plants and quality of fruits in organic cultivation

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Abstract

Organic mulch covers are easily available and cheap in Estonia. Therefore, investigations into their suitability for tomato cultivation in organic conditions were carried out. The trial was set up in unheated plastic greenhouse in the soil. The influence of mulches made of tree leaves, red clover green mass and grass green mass on plant growth height and fruit cracking was studied. The mulches were spread one month after the planting of tomatoes in a 10 cm thick layer. The treatment without mulch cover was used as control. The height of the plants was measured once a week and a total of five times before harvesting. To find relationship between treatment and root parameters, soil samples were taken from depth of 0-10 cm and 11-20 cm. From the trial data, it can be concluded that the share of cracked fruits was significantly (P=0.05) lower only in red clover treatment of one variety among five. Grass mulch caused significantly negative effect on cracking of 4 varieties probably because of lower covering ability of this material. There were bigger differences between varieties than mulch treatments in the height of tomato plants. In all the mulch treatments the roots located more in upper soil layers compared with control. Differences in root parameters were discovered depending on the mulch type.
Effect of Organic Mulches on the Growth of Tomato Plants and Quality
of Fruits in Organic Cultivation
I. Bender and M. Raudseping S.Vabrit
Jõgeva Plant Breeding Institute Institute of Agricultural and Environmental
Jõgeva, Estonia Sciences
Estonian University of Life Sciences, Estonia
Keywords: cracking,
length of roots, soil-root sample, unheated greenhouse, vegetative
growth
Abstract
Organic mulch covers are easily available and cheap in Estonia. Therefore
investigations into their suitability for tomato cultivation in organic conditions were
carried out. The trial was set up in unheated plastic greenhouse in the soil. The
influence of mulches made of tree leaves, red clover green mass and grass green
mass on plant growth height and fruit cracking was studied. The mulches were
spread one month after the planting of tomatoes in ca 10 cm thick layer. The
treatment without mulch cover was used as control. The height of the plants was
measured once a week and a total of five times before harvesting. To find
relationship between treatment and root parameters, soil samples were taken from
depth of 0-10 cm and 11-20 cm. From the trial data it can be concluded that the
share of cracked fruits was significantly (P=0,05) lower only in red clover treatment
of one variety among five. Grass mulch caused significantly negative effect on
cracking of 4 varieties probably because of lower covering ability of this material.
There were bigger differences between varieties than mulch treatments in the height
of tomato plants. In all the mulch treatments the roots located more in upper soil
layers compared with control. Differences in root parameters were discovered
depending on the mulch type.
INTRODUCTION
Tomato cultivation among the other vegetables faces challenges in producing
crops without chemicals for weeds control. Use of several kinds of mulches gives the
opportunity effectively control weeds, regulate soil temperature and also evaporation
from the soil (Schonbeck and Evanylo, 1998; Bleyaert, 1990; Kristiansen et al., 2003;
Guerineau et al., 2004; Radics and Bognar, 2004).
Organic mulching materials may be a viable option for vegetable growing
(Grassbaugh et al., 2004). Several studies have described how mulches influence tomato
vegetative top growth (Wien et al., 1993; Agele et al., 1999; Hudu et al., 2002; Guerineau
et al., 2004; Parris et al., 2004). Mulching may improve quality of fruits by decreasing of
cracking (Bleyaert, 1990; Schonbeck et al., 1995). Mulch cover facilitates root
proliferation and root length (Gutal et al., 1992; Agele et al., 1999).
Use of organic mulches as moisture retainers and temperature regulators in tomato
organic cultivation have been studied in low level in Estonia. Therefore the topic of the
study is necessary. Herbal material and tree leaves are easily available and cheap for use
as mulches in unheated greenhouses for weed control. The objective of the present
research was finding out influence of several kinds of organic mulch covers on growth,
share of cracked fruits, root parameters and distribution of roots in the soil.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Data was collected from organic cultivation in unheated plastic greenhouse (9x26
m) at Jõgeva, Estonia, in 2004. Soil was fertilized with cattle manure. Tomato plants were
irrigated through the tubes in the soil once or twice per week. Tomatoes were planted in
double rows (90x40 cm) at spacing of 40 cm, 6 plants per plot in the middle of May.
Tomatoes were grown without any mineral fertilizers and pesticides.
The trial had 4 treatments. An uncovered control and three mulch treatments were
used: tree leaves, fresh cut red clover (budding stage) and fodder grasses mixture of
timothy and meadow fescue in heading stage. The mulches were spread on the soil one
month after the planting tomatoes as a 10 cm thick layer and additional layer of clover
and grasses two weeks later. As the mulch was used only as cover without water (subsoil
irrigation) the mulch did not decay up to the end of harvest.
Yield ripened on plants (the yield from the middle of July up to the end of
September) and fruits damaged by cracking of 5 fresh-market tomato varieties ‘Bologna’
F
1
, ‘Mato’, ‘Tiraines’, ‘Vilja’ and’ Visa’ F
1
were measured 23 times (twice a week).
There was calculated the average share of cracked fruits from the average total yield of
the variety.
Growth of the plants of 2 varieties ‘Alambra’ F
1
and ‘Tiraines’ were measured
once a week in July, when the influence of mulching already occurred. The measurement
was finished when the tops of the plants were removed to stop the growth (end of July).
Only one fresh-market variety ‘Vilja’ was included in the study of root parameters
and distribution. The total length of roots and length of 5-diameter root classes: <0.25
mm, 0.25-0.50 mm, 0.50-0.75 mm, 0.75-1.0 mm and >1 mm in all the treatments. The
soil-root sample size was 320 cm
3
taken in 4 replications in 2 depths: 0-10 cm (upper) and
10-20 cm (lower). The samples were taken with hand auger at distance of 10 cm from
plant. Samples were taken after the harvesting, before night frosts. The program of Image
Analysis System for Root Measurement WinRHIZO was used.
Data was statistically analysed by ANOVA test and correlation analysis at
significance level of P = 0.05.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The influence of mulches on plant parameters was different. There were some
fluctuations among the varieties.
Cracking of fruits
As the main harvesting time of fruits was without wide fluctuations in temperature
and air humidity caused by rains, cracking of fruits stayed on low level in July and
August. The biggest share of cracking occurred in September because of wide
fluctuations in temperature and rainy period. The total sum of active air temperatures
(>10 °C) and the amount of precipitation in September of 2004 was higher than 80 years
average, respectively 95 °C and 22 mm. The whole month was rainy and humid, only 4
days were without precipitation. The same cracking reasons have mentioned by Bleyaert
(1990) and Rylski et al. (1994).
By the results of trial only red clover mulch had significantly positive influence on
cracking, appearing on fruits of the variety ‘Bologna’ F
1
(Fig.1). The lowest cracking
percentage of fruits (3.6 % of ‘Vilja’ fruits) in trial was found in red clover treatment.
Well-covering airy tree leaves mulch had no influence on cracking. Fodder grasses
mulch caused significant negative effect on cracking of 4 varieties. The highest cracking
of all treatments occurred on variety ‘Visa’ F
1
(50.5 %). Probably by reason that fodder
grasses turned sparser caused by drying and enabled moisture evaporation and soil
temperature fluctuation more than the other mulches.
Vegetative top growth of plants
Mulches caused an increase of top growth of tomato plants depending on the
variety. All the mulches caused significantly higher growth of plants of the variety
‘Tiraines’ since the first measurement (Fig. 3). Top growth of plants of the variety
Alambra’ F
1
was significantly higher on tree leaves and fodder grass treatments only in
the last measurement (Fig. 2). Parris et al. (2004) have been estimated 11 % higher plant
growth under ground cover prepared from corn. Some other scientists have found, that the
effect of grass mulching on plant height was significantly higher in the mulch-treated
plots than in the unmulched control treatment because of keeping soil temperature
optimum level (Hudu et al., 2002).
Root parameters
The influence of mulches on diameter and length of roots was different. The
biggest influence on the length of roots was observed in red clover mulch treatment in all
root diameter classes. The longest thinner roots (<0.25 and 0.25-0.50 mm) were measured
in the both depths of red clover mulch treatment (Fig. 4). Longer roots are precondition
for bigger root volume, higher yield production and bigger average fruit weight
(Janauskiene and Brazaitite, 2003).
In tree leaves mulch treatment roots were significantly longer in the two thicker
root classes (0.75-1.00 and >1 mm) in the both soil depths (Fig. 4 D and E). In 0.25-0.50
and 0.50-0.75 mm classes the roots were significantly longer only in lower layer (Fig. 4 B
and C).
The weakest influence on roots had fodder grass. In this treatment significantly
longer roots were found only in upper layer in thicker root classes (0.75-1 and >1 mm)
(Fig. 4 D and E).
By total length the tomato roots were significantly longer in red clover and tree
leaves mulch treatments in both soil layers (Fig. 4 F).
CONCLUSIONS
By the results of the trial only red clover mulch reduced significantly the cracking
of tomato fruits of one variety (Bologna F
1
). Without influence on cracking was tree
leaves treatment. Fodder grass mulch caused significantly negative effect of on cracking
of 4 varieties. The reason was probably higher evaporation level and wide soil
temperature fluctuation through rather sparse mulch.
There were bigger differences of vegetative top growth between varieties than
between mulch treatments. All treatments caused significantly taller plants since the first
measurement of the variety ‘Tiraines’ than in control. Taller plants of the variety
‘Alambra’ F
1
occurred only in the last measurement of tree leaves and fodder grass
treatment. The cause of big differences between varieties is not clear and the
investigations should be continued to obtain more information.
Longer roots were measured in the red clover mulch treatments in all the root
classes and in the both soil layers (upper and lower) compared to uncovered control. Tree
leaves mulch caused the growth of thicker roots in the both layers. In 0.50-0.75 mm and
0.25-0.50 mm class longer roots were in the lower layer. The influence of fodder grasses
treatment to root growth turned out to be the weakest. By total length of roots red clover
and tree leaves mulch treatments caused the longest roots.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This work was supported by the grant of Estonian Science Foundation No. 6157.
Literature Cited
Agele, S.O., Iremiren, G.O. and Ojeniyi, S.O. 1999. Effects of plant density and mulching
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Nigeria. J. Agr. Sci. 133: 307-402.
Bleyaert, P. 1990. Tomato No. 5. Influence of soil covering on tomato culture in a plastic
greenhouse. Mededeling Provinciaal Onderzoek-en Voorlichtingscentrum voor
Land- en Tuinbouw, Beitem-Roeselare. 310: 4.
Grassbaugh, E.M., Regnier, E.E. and Bennett, M.A. 2004. Comparison of organic and
inorganic mulches for heirloom tomato production. Acta Hort. 638: 171-176.
Guerineau, C., Verpont, F. and Bardet, A. 2004. Organic soil-grown strawberry nurseries:
different weed control techniques. Infos-Ctifl. 200: 40-43.
Gutal, G.B., Bhilare, R.M. and Takte, R.L. 1992. Mulching effect on yield of tomato
crop. Proc. International Agricultural Engineering Conference. Bangkok, Thailand 7-
10 December. p. 883-887.
Hudu, A.I., Futuless, K.N. and Gworgwor, N.A. 2002. Effect of mulching intensity on the
growth and yield of irrigated tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) and weed
infestation in semi-arid zone of Nigeria. J. Sustainable Agri. 21: 37-45.
Janauskiene, J. and Brazaityte, A. 2003. Influence of different root volume on tomato
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Parris, N., Douds, J.D.D., Dickey, L.C., Moreau, R.A. and Philips, J. 2004. Effect of zein
films on the growth of tomato plants and evaporative water loss. J. Hort. Sci. 39: 13-
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Figures
Fig.1. Cracking of fruits of 5 varieties of September yield. Trial treatments are C-control
and mulches: RC - red clover, TL - tree leaves, FG - fodder grasses.
Fig. 2. Dynamics of vegetative top growth of the plants of the variety ‘Alambra’ F
1
in
July. Trial treatments are C-control and mulches: RC - red clover, TL - tree leaves, FG -
fodder grasses.
Fig. 3. Dynamics of vegetative top growth of the plants of the variety ‘Tiraines’ in July.
Trial treatments are C-control and mulches: RC - red clover, TL - tree leaves, FG - fodder
grasses.
0
50
100
150
01.07. 08.07. 15.07. 22.07. 29.07.
Date
Height (cm)
C RC TL FG
0
50
100
150
01.07. 08.07. 15.07. 22.07. 29.07.
Date
Height (cm)
C RC TL FG
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
Bologna F1 Mato Tiraines Vilja Visa F1
Varieties
Cracking (%)
C RC TL FG
Fig. 4. The length of different diameter roots in two depths in soil-root samples (A-E) and
total length of roots in two depths (F). Trial treatments are C-control and mulches:
RC - red clover, TL - tree leaves, FG - fodder grasses.
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
C RC TL FG
Length (cm)
0-10 cm
10-20 cm
<0.25 mmA
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
C RC TL FG
Length (cm)
0-10 cm 10-20 cm
B 0.25-0.50 mm
0
5
10
15
20
C RC TL FG
Length (cm)
0-10 cm 10-20 cm
C 0.50-0.75 mm
0
2
4
6
8
C RC TL FG
Length (cm)
0-10 cm 10-20 cm
D 0.75-1.0 mm
0
2
4
6
8
10
12
14
C RC TL FG
Length (cm)
0-10 cm 10-20 cm
E >1 mm Total length mm
0
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80
100
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160
C RC TL FG
Length (cm)
0-10 cm
10-20 cm
F
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Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) plants grown on polyethylene (PE) mulch in New York State frequently have more branches and increased mineral nutrient uptake and yield than plants not mulched. In four field experiments conducted on a silt loam soil, clear PE mulch stimulated root extension shortly after transplanting. One week after transplanting, roots were significantly longer for mulched than for unmulched plants in all four experiments, whereas above ground dry matter differences did not become significant until 14 days after transplanting in two of four trials. Mulching increased branching, hastened flowering on basal branches, and increased concentration of major nutrients in the above ground parts. In the field, stimulation of above ground growth due to mulch might be brought about by warming of the stem by air escaping from the planting hole in the mulch. However, an experiment with black, white, or clear mulch, in which the planting hole was either left uncovered or covered with soil, showed no effect of hole closure on branching even though air temperature near the stem was increased when holes were left uncovered. The results taken together imply that the increased above ground growth observed with mulching is a consequence of enhanced root growth and nutrient uptake.
Article
Cover crops add organic matter, improve soil fertility, prevent soil erosion and compaction and suppress weeds, but they can be difficult to manage at the home garden scale. Because incorporating the entire cover crop into the soil with garden tools can be problematic, two alternative strategies were explored: 1. clipping and removing aboveground vegetation before spading. 2. killing winter annual cover crops by mowing after they flower. Seven winter annual grasses and one legume [hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth.)] were evaluated. Roots + stubble of winter rye (Secale cereale L.) were easy to spade in late spring once the top growth was removed. Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum Lam.), field brome (Bromus arvensis L.) and 'Blando' Brome (Bromus mollis L.) gave better ground cover than rye but their roots + stubble were much more difficult to spade. Rye could be controlled by clipping close to the ground after it began to shed pollen in late May, whereas ryegrass, field brome, Blando brome and annual bluegrass all regrew. Triticale (Triticum X Secale) and five early varieties of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) all shed pollen later than rye, which suggests that they could not be mow-killed as early in the season. Rye + hairy vetch mowed just prior to transplanting tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) in May or early June provided a moisture-consering, weed-suppressing mulch through the growing season. Additional mowing between plants was needed to control rye regrowth, but a single late-spring cutting to a low (2-in) stubble height has prevented regrowth of rye + vetch in other studies at the same location. Early-season tomato yields were lower in mowed than in soil-incorporated rye + vetch, possibly because the mulch cooled the soil and delayed mineralization of nitrogen. However, the mulch did not significantly lower total yields, and it saved labor on weeding, conserved soil moisture, and possibly reduced fruit cracking.
Article
Field experiments were carried out in the 1995/96 and 1996/97 cool dry seasons to determine the effect of grass mulching intensities on soil temperature, weed infestation and growth and yield of irrigated tomato at Maiduguri in the semi-arid zone of Nigeria. In these trials, soil temperature difference between 0700 hours and 1300 hours was two times lower in mulched treatments than unmulched control treatment, thus keeping the day time soil temperature below supra-optimum levels. Furthermore, plant height, number of flowers/plant, fruit sets/plant, number of fruits/plant and harvested total marketable fruit yield/ha were significantly (P = 0.05) higher in the mulched treated plots than the unmulched control treatment. It was observed, also that the optimum mulch thickness is at 7.5 t/ha of grass material in this area in terms of effective weed suppression, better crop growth, optimum root temperatures and ultimate high yield of tomato.