The effects of organic and inorganic mulches on the yield and fruit quality of ‘Cripps’ Pink’ apple trees

Van der Merwe, Johannes Dawid Prins (2012-12)

Thesis (MScAgric)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Limited research is available on the effect of mulches on established orchards. Most of the information available stems from research conducted in newly planted orchards or on annual crops such as green peppers and strawberries under greenhouse conditions. To increase the current knowledge on the effect of mulches in established orchards, two field trials were conducted on 14 year old „Cripps‟ Pink‟ orchards. The one trial concentrated on the influence of mulches on the root environment and the other trial on the effect of mulches on growth, yield and fruit quality. Both trials were conducted at Lourensford Estate near Somerset West, but the sites differed in soil texture between lighter soil (Tukulu) and heavier soil (Clovelly). Four different mulches were used viz. compost, wood chips, vermi-castings (topped with thin layer of woodchips) and a woven geotextile fabric. These four treatments were compared to an un-mulched control, managed according to industry norms. After reducing irrigation volume in the 2010/2011 season, with a further reduction in the 2011/2012 season, more significant differences were obtained in nutrient levels of fruit and leaves compared to the 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 seasons of the trial. Leaf and fruit nutrients showed significant differences in both sites, but the differences were more pronounced on the lighter soil. At the heavier soil site, the vermi-castings, woodchips and compost treatments increased fruit phosphorus (P) during 2010/2011 and the control treatment increased fruit boron (B) during 2011/2012. Only leaf magnesium (Mg) was increased by woodchips and vermi-castings in 2011/2012 at this site. In the lighter soil site, the control treatment had the highest fruit B levels in 2010/2011 while the vermi-castings and the woodchips treatments had the highest fruit P levels in 2011/2012. For the same site, vermi-casting and compost treatments improved leaf potassium (K) uptake in 2010/2011 and 2011/2012, whereas woodchips and geotextile significantly improved leaf copper (Cu) uptake in 2010/2011 compared to the control. To determine if applied nutrients were trapped in the organic mulches over time, leading to a deficiency in the soil and eventually the tree, a mineral analysis was conducted on the organic mulches at the end of each season. Results of the two seasons indicated that vermi-castings contained higher total nutrient levels than the other two organic mulches, but the difference in nutrient levels were shown not to be directly related to the fertilisers applied during each season. In the case of vermi-castings, nutrient quantities in the original material applied at the beginning of each season were higher than those of the other organic mulches. The higher nutrient levels in organic in comparison to inorganic mulches were however not reflected in the fruit and leaf mineral analysis of these treatments. The overall treatment effect in terms of changes in nutrient levels in the tree became less significant when trees were over irrigated. This became evident as the differences between mulching treatments increased as the irrigation was reduced during the season, indicating the masking effect of irrigation on mulching. Evaluating the effect of mulches on growth, yield and fruit quality showed significant differences only at the heavier soil site. The vermi-casting treatment had significantly higher yield efficiencies than the control for the 2010/2011 season. Compost had the lowest yield efficiency at both sites, also during the previous two seasons that formed part of an earlier study (Kotze 2012). In 2011/2012, the compost treatment also showed significantly higher shoot growth than the control. Compost therefore could increase vegetative growth in established orchards on a heavier soil after application for four seasons. Taking the cost of mulching into account, wood chips are the only treatment that can be recommended without compromising fruit quality. Wood chips will sustain or even improve yield efficiency in an established orchard on especially heavier soil. Future research should study the effect of different amounts of irrigation on the various mulches, as the effect of irrigation was not evaluated in this study.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Beperkte navorsing is beskikbaar oor die effek van deklae op bestaande boorde. Die meeste bestaande inligting is gegrond op proewe wat uitgevoer is op nuut aangeplante boorde of op eenjarige gewasse, soos groenrissies en aarbeie, onder kweekhuis toestande. Om bestaande kennis aan te vul rakende die effek van deklae op vrugproduksie en -kwaliteit in bestaande boorde, is twee veldproewe geloots in 14-jaar-oue „Cripps‟ Pink‟ appelboorde. Die een proef het gekonsentreer op die invloed van deklae op die wortel omgewing en die ander proef, op die effek van deklae op groei, opbrengs en vrugkwaliteit. Beide proewe is uitgevoer op Lourensford Landgoed naby Somerset-Wes en twee verskillende grondtipes is hiervoor gebruik: „n ligte grond (Tukulu) en swaarder grond (Clovelly). Vier verskillende deklaagtipes is gebruik naamlik: kompos, houtspaanders, „vermi-castings‟ (bedek met „n dun lagie houtspaanders) en geweefde geotekstiel materiaal. Hierdie vier behandelings is vergelyk met „n onbedekte kontrole wat volgens industrie norm bestuur is. Nadat die besproeiingsvolume verminder is in 2010/2011 en daarna weer in 2011/2012, het meer betekenisvolle verskille tussen behandelings voorgekom in nutriënt-vlakke van vrugte en blare in vergelyking met die eerste twee jaar van die proef (2008/2009 en 2009/2010). Blaar en vrug nutrient-vlakke het betekenisvolle verskille in beide persele getoon, maar die verskille was meer duidelik in die ligte grondtip. In die swaarder grond perseel het die „vermi-castings‟, houtspaanders- en kompos behandelings die vrug fosfaatvlakke (P) betekenisvol verhoog in 2010/2011. In die kontrole behandeling was vrug boorvlakke (B) betekenisvol hoër as die ander behandelings in 2011/2012. In hierdie perseel is net magnesium-vlakke (Mg) in die blare betekenisvol verhoog deur die houtspaanders- en „vermi-castings‟ behandelings in 2011/2012. In die ligte grond perseel het die kontrole behandeling die hoogste vrug B-vlakke in 2010/2011 gehad en die „vermi-castings‟ en houtspaander-behandelings gesamentlik, die hoogste vrug P-vlakke in 2011/2012. Die „vermi-casting‟ en kompos behandelings het kalium-vlakke (K) opname in die blare in 2010/2011 en 2011/2012 verbeter, terwyl die houtspaanders- en geotekstiel behandelings die koper-vlakke (Cu) in die blare in 2010/2011 verbeter het. Om te bepaal of die toediening van voedingstowwe oor tyd kan lei tot die „vashou‟ daarvan in „n organiese deklaag en dan tekorte van sekere nutriënte in die grond en uiteindelik die boom kan veroorsaak, is „n mineral analise van die organiese deklae uitgevoer aan die einde van beide seisoene. Resultate van die twee seisoene het getoon dat „vermi-castings‟ hoër totale nutrient-vlakke gehad het as die ander organiese deklae, maar die nutrient-vlakke was nie direk verwant aan die toegediende voedingstowwe nie. In die geval van „vermi-castings‟, was nutrient-vlakke van die moedermateriaal, wat toegedien is aan die begin van die seisoen, hoër as die van die ander organiese deklae. Hierdie hoër nutrient-vlakke van die organiese teenoor anorganiese behandelings, is nie gereflekteer in hoër nutrient-vlakke in die vrug- en blaar mineraal analises van die bome nie. Behandelings effekte rakende veranderinge in nutrient-vlakke in die boom, nadat die besproeiing verminder is, het verander in vergelyking met die van die vorige twee seisoene en is „n aanduiding van die verbloemende invloed van besproeiing op die prestasie van deklae. Evaluasie van die effek van deklae op groei, opbrengs en vrugkwaliteit het net betekenisvolle verskille in die swaarder grond perseel getoon. Die „vermi-casting‟-behandeling het „n betekenisvolle hoër opbrengseffektiwiteit as die kontrole getoon in 2010/2011. Kompos het die laagste opbrengseffektiwiteit in beide persele gehad en het resultate van die vorige twee seisoene van Kotze (2012) bevestig. Die betekenisvolle hoër lootgroei van kompos as die ander behandelings het net in 2011/2012 voorgekom. Kompos kan dus groei verhoog in „n gevestigde boord, in „n swaarder grond, indien besproeiing optimaal is. In terme van kostes, word die gebruik van houtspaanders as deklaag voorgestel vir „n gevestigde boord met „n swaar slik leem grond, aangesien daar geen nadelige effek op vrugkwaliteit was met die behandeling nie en die opbrengseffektiwiteit van die bome gehandhaaf en selfs verbeter is. Toekomstige navorsing kan die effek van besproeiing op verskillende deklaag tipes bestudeer, aangesien die bestaande proef dit nie kon aanspreek nie.

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