Effects of cover crops-green manure on cabbage yield (Brassica oleracea var.capitata L.) cultivar conquistador.
Mkhathini, Khangelani Maxwell.
MetadataShow full item record
Cabbage is one of the most important and widely grown crops in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). In cabbage production, no clear cropping methods exist (other than succession cropping) to allow the soil to recover its fertility status naturally after the harvested has crop absorbed nutrients from the soil. Succession cropping system is extensively practiced by cabbage farmers. Succession cropping is when a succeeding vegetable crop is planted immediately after harvesting the preceding crop. This does not allow soil fertility status to be balanced by soil microbes in an environmentally friendly approach. Instead, synthetic fertilizers are heavily used to rectify soil fertility status and these have negative impacts on the soil in the long term, followed by yield decline. However, the economic downturns and green environment awareness have caused researchers and some farmers to focus more on developing environmentally healthy crop production technologies. A priority in this study was to elucidate effects of cover crops-green manure as rotational crops in cabbage production. The experimental site is located at Cedara Research Station. In 2009, soil samples were taken from the top 30 cm of the soil profile, in a zigzag pattern in 5 m x 5 m grids for fertility analysis. Results were used to determine nutrient deficiencies, and blanket application of phosphorus and potassium followed according to each grid’s deficiency. The study was divided into two cycles, with each cycle consisting of season one and season two. The study was conducted over a two year period. Cycle one, season one, 2009/2010 (Dec-Mar): four treatments (sunn hemp: planted at 50 kg/ha seeding rate; forage sorghum: planted at 50 kg/ha seeding rate; mixture of sunn hemp-forage sorghum: each planted at 25 kg/ha seeding rate and control: cabbage planted at 30 cm within rows x 60 cm between rows) were used. The statistical design of the study was a 4x4 Latin Square experiment repeated twice in adjacent fields (347 m2 each) 6 m apart, with a total of 32 plots. Each experimental plot was 8.5 m x 9 m. Genstat Package, 9th Edition was used for data analysis. Standard cabbage production recommendations were followed in control treatments. Cabbage yield was determined in all control plots. Weed coverage percentages were determined in all four treatments. Cycle one, season two, 2010, (Apr-Aug): all 32 plots from season one were each split into four, in a Split Plot design, resulting in a total of 128 plots in both fields. Nitrogen was applied at four different levels: 0, 80, 160 and 240 kg N/ha. Standard cabbage production methods were followed again as in the control treatment in season one. Cover crops were replaced by planting cabbage. Cabbage was repeated in the control plots. Cabbage yield, cabbage leaf nutrients, soil nitrate and ammonium nitrate and soil carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio were measured. Cycle two, season one, 2010 (Sep-Dec): The same method in cycle one, season one was repeated. Cycle two, season two, 2010/2011, (Dec-Apr): The same method in cycle one, season two was repeated. Although in this study there was visibly a large amount of residues left over after the trial was harvested, the use of a tractor-drawn slasher was not very effective. The slashed material was not chopped into smaller pieces, as it would if a roll-chopper had been used. A tractor-drawn slasher was used because it is a tool available to many farmers. As a result, it was not a simple process to transplant seedlings mechanically, due to the amount of organic matter that was in the soil after it had been incorporated. The mechanical planter pulled off, removed and became blocked by the residues, and as a result it was not able to operate as it would in normal soils. The residues removed soil from the furrows and that caused seedlings to fall over as all the soil for the root system support had been moved by the planter and stuck residues. The planter had to be assisted by hand planting seedlings that were not properly planted mechanically. Hence, from the operational perspective, the choice of tools for chopping were not effective in this study and this is something to be considered in future studies, where it will be necessary to compare different tools for planting and cover crop incorporation into the soil. During the present study, soil N content in different plots had significant differences (P=0.05). The control showed high levels of total N content, but this was not related to the low yields exhibited by cabbage after cabbage at all levels of N. Since, where there were cover crops, the N content was low, this could mean that N was immobilized, compared to the cabbage treatments where plenty of N was available. Immobilized N is thus not available for leaching, polluting the environment. The yield of cabbage was significantly lowest in controls. The study showed that cover crop-green manure use has a positive effect in terms of yield improvement. The cabbage yields from the sunn hemp plots at a 0 kgN/ha were significantly different from the yield of cabbage planted following cabbage at 240 kgN/ha N. The study also showed that N is not the only yield determinant in cabbage production. Too much N has a tendency to suppress cabbage yields. The cover crop-green manures selected for this study were shown to be ineffective in suppressing weeds. This was true even though the weed coverage percentage in each of the cover crop-green manure plots was above 65%, except for the cabbage crop. This study did not separate different weeds, but the most dominant weeds were Amaranthus hybridus (pigweed), Galinsoga parviflora (gallant soldier), Bidens pilosa (common blackjack) and Cyperus esculentus (yellow nutsedge). These weeds were effectively controlled in the cabbage sole crop by the use of herbicides and mechanical weeding. The result of cover crop-green manures not suppressing weeds was significantly associated with the cover crop-green manure seeding rate. This study has been a starting point in the development of cover crops-green manure as rotational crops in cabbage production. It is concluded that cover crop-green manure (sunn hemp and forage sorghum) used in this study for vegetable (cabbage) production has proven to be successful in improving yields. Yields obtained from cover crop-green manure treatments were better than yields obtained from - conventional tillage methods for cabbage production (control). However, in cabbage, weed suppression and soil N content, failed to improve significantly in response to the cover crop green manures used. The high plant population density under a cover crop, combined with weed population, may lead to high uptake of soil N for plant growth, leaving less N in the soil and in the plant. In the sole cabbage crop, because of low competition, there was adequate uptake of N for plant growth and yet the crop was not exhaustive of soil N. Further research is required in the following areas: comparison of cabbage with other vegetable crops in response to the effect of the selected cover crops; comparison of mechanical weeding and herbicide use as means of controlling weeds during cover crop-green manure growth; identification of dominant weeds in the presence and absence of cover crops, and monitoring of soil water relations and other fertiliser effects.