Effects of three production systems on muskmelon yield and quality in new England

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Muskmelons (Cucumis melo L.) are routinely grown on black plastic mulch, as the associated increase in soil temperatures, more stable soil moisture, and decreased weed competition result in higher yields than in bare soil production. However, mulch does little to moderate air temperature, which can be below optimum for melon production under New England conditions. One option for increasing air temperature is to grow plants in unheated hoophouses, or high tunnels. Another option is to use low tunnels consisting of ventilated clear plastic rowcovers supported over wire hoops. This study compared low tunnels and high tunnels to open field production for muskmelon production in a peri-urban market farm system in Rhode Island. Five hybrid muskmelon cultivars were grown for 2 years to compare earliness, yield, and fruit quality among the three production systems. Both tunnel systems increased the rate at which growing degree-days (GDD) accumulated relative to open field production, and resulted in statistically significant differences in starting date of first harvest, with fruit in the high tunnel treatment ripening first. The high tunnel production system increased yields per hectare in both years relative to the other production systems due to increased planting density, but not due to increased yields per plant. Marketable yields per hectare from the high tunnel system significantly exceeded those from the open field for four out of the five cultivars in 2011, but for only one out of five cultivars in 2012. Marketable yields from the low tunnel system were ’10% higher than the open field in 2011, and almost double the open field yields in 2012. Fruit from the low tunnels had the highest concentration of soluble solids in both years. The high tunnel production system did not increase yields sufficiently to offset the associated increase in costs of production, suggesting that muskmelon is not a good crop for high tunnel production in New England. In contrast, a yield increase of only 15% would be sufficient to offset the increased costs of employing the low tunnel production system. Low tunnels have the potential to greatly benefit muskmelon production in New England, particularly in years or locations where GDD accumulate slowly.

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