Project Leader: Wyatt Barnes, Red Wagon Organic Farm, Lafayette, CO
Technical Advisor: Kerri Badertscher, Boulder County Extension Office, Longmont, CO
Project Year: 2004
The goal of this project is to determine whether earlier harvests and greater yields could be achieved by planting early using row covers and plasticulture to protect plants and enhance growth. This research tested heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, melons, peppers, and eggplant.
The effects of red and black plastic mulch with and without row cover were compared to soil without row cover for tomatoes, melons, peppers, and eggplant. Three cultivars of tomato, eggplant, and pepper were used and two cultivars of melons. The crops were transplanted in mid-May, after putting down the red and black plastic mulch. Five 365 foot rows of tomatoes and melons were planted and ninety-one feet of peppers and eggplant each were planted. Each cultivar of each crop was trialed on red mulch, red mulch with row cover, black mulch, and black mulch with row cover. Bare soil was used as a control for comparison. Once the transplants were in the ground, the row covers were put over the plants that required that treatment.
The highest yields of crops were found in the red mulch with row cover and the black mulch with row cover. In some cases, these treatments produced yields double and triple the amount produced on soil. Some plants had more vigorous growth with these treatments, as well. The tomatoes grew so large and close together that it was difficult to find a place to step while harvesting. The summer of 2004 was cooler and wetter than regular summers, which may have affected the yield of the hot weather crops that were used in the experiment. The plastic mulch also reduced costs associated with weeding by over 30%. A lot of the melons cracked on the red mulch, however, this may have been due to the irrigation in the final stages of ripening. The best treatments to use will vary for each user depending on the importance placed on factors such as earliness, overall yield, or cost of materials.