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Home HortScience Organic Cucumber Production Techniques Prove Effective
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EAST LANSING, MI – Organics are the fastest growing agricultural sector in the United States, but transitioning to organic production presents unique challenges for growers. Cucumber producers who make the shift to organic are seeking effective ways to control crop-damaging pests, particularly the striped cucumber beetle, an invasive insect that causes damage on plant leaves, blossoms, and fruits, and can increase the incidence of powdery mildew and fusarium wilt. Producers in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. must also contend with unpredictable climatic conditions, such as high rainfall, low temperatures, and humid conditions early in the growing season—all of which can delay planting and create conditions likely to generate early, rapid infestation of pest and diseases. The climate and shorter growing season in the region demands innovative crop and insect management strategies.

A new study that deemed the impact of rowcovers on organic cucumber plant growth to be “significant” could provide producers with some solutions to their management dilemmas. Ajay Nair and Mathieu Ngouajio from Michigan State University’s Department of Horticulture published the results of their study of the use of spun-bond polypropylene rowcovers in organic cucumber production and its effects on plant microclimate, growth, and yield in HortScience. The team found that the use of rowcovers increased vine length, flower count, leaf area, leaf count, plant biomass, and total marketable yield in organic cucumbers.

The U.S. National Agricultural Statistics Service recently ranked Michigan third in the nation in fresh-market cucumber production; value of the state’s fresh market cucumber crop has been estimated to reach $14 million annually. To protect valuable cucumber crops from insects, growers increasingly employ the use of rowcovers as barriers against various pests including aphids, cucumber beetles, whiteflies, and pathogens these insects transmit. The rowcovers help to modify environmental factors such as light, humidity, soil and air temperature, and air movement, creating a specific microclimate around plants.

According to Nair and Ngouajio, the objective of the study was to examine the combined effect of rowcovers (with different light transmission levels) and dairy-compost on organic cucumber growth and microclimate. Plots were assigned to three rowcover treatments (60% light transmission, 85% light transmission, and uncovered) and two amendment treatments (compost and no compost) in a split-plot factorial design. Data were collected for ambient air and soil temperature, photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), relative humidity, plant growth characteristics, and yield. “Rowcovers modified crop microclimate by increasing air and soil temperature and decreasing PAR.”, observed Ngouajio. Although PAR was reduced, results proved a marked increase in the growing degree-day accumulations under rowcovers when compared with uncovered treatment. Additionally, use of compost in conjunction with rowcovers enhanced the rowcover effect.

“Applications of compost enhanced crop growth and led to higher marketable yields. This study showed that use of rowcovers under organic cucumber production systems could provide some leverage against unpredictable weather conditions and possibly increase farm sustainability and yield”, summarized the researchers.

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The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site:

Founded in 1903, the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) is the largest organization dedicated to advancing all facets of horticultural research, education, and application. More information at


Original Article:

Integrating Rowcovers and Soil Amendments for Organic Cucumber Production: Implications on Crop Growth, Yield, and Microclimate
Ajay Nair and Mathieu Ngouajio
HortScience 2010 45:566–574. [Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF]

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