Minimum or No Tillage as Alternative Production Practices for Pickling Cucumber Production

Pickling Cucumber Improvement Committee Meeting Abstract

Jonathan Schultheis, Deanna Osmond, Gerald Holmes, and Bill Jester

Departments of Horticultural Science, Soil Science, and Plant Pathology, North Carolina State University

Introduction. North Carolina (NC) is the second leading producer of pickling cucumber in the United States. Most pickling cucumber producers in NC utilize conventional tillage; however, there is substantial interest in being able to grow a crop using minimal or no tillage. Recently, grower incentive has become even higher. A $500 per acre incentive has been offered by the state of NC if a grower adopts these practices over a two-year period. Several benefits have been ascribed to reduced tillage: reduced soil erosion, better moisture retention, seedling protection from wind and sand blasting, and less soil contact by the fruit which might lead to less incidence of disease.

Methods. We evaluated the effects of three tillage treatments (conventional, strip, and none) at five nitrogen (N) rates (0, 40, 80, 120, and 160 lb/acre) for the season. We had the following objectives: 1) determine the best rate of N fertilizer in each tillage system resulting in the best yields; 2) determine the effect of different tillage practices on cucumber yield, quality, and N use efficiency; 3) determine the effects of tillage and fertilizer rate on belly-rot; and 4) determine seasonal crop N uptake and N use efficiency. Three studies were conducted in 1998, 1999, and 2000 at the Cunningham Research Station, Kinston, NC. Direct seeding was with a Monosem air vacuum planter following an early to mid-June wheat harvest. Planting dates were 28 July, 1 July, and 24 in 1998, 1999, and 2000, respectively. Fruit in plots were harvested, graded and weighed twice per week for three to four weeks.

Results. In 1998, there were no statistical differences in yield, incidence of belly rot, prevalence of culled cucumbers or any of the N parameters measured due to tillage treatment. However, marketable and total yields were affected by fertilizer treatment. Equivalent yields were obtained when 80, 120, or 160 lb/N/acre were applied over the season. The 40 lb/N/acre rate and no application of N treatment reduced yield compared with the higher N rates. No difference in belly rot occurred due to N treatment. Plant stands were nearly 100%. Plant N content was statistically different due to fertilizer treatment. Higher N fruit concentrations were associated with higher fertilizer rates. N use efficiency ranged between 16 to 27%, depending on N rate.

In 1999 and 2000, yield response was quite different than in 1998. The best yields were obtained using either 120 or 160 lb/N/acre. Yields were also best using conventional tillage, followed by strip tillage, with no tillage treatments yielding the lowest. One of the reasons for the lower yields in the strip and no tillage systems were likely due to reduced or uneven distribution of plant stands. Plant stands were inferior in these treatments due to the poor seed soil contact which resulted from the greater amount of stubble caused by the more immediate planting after wheat harvest in 1999 and 2000 than in 1998. Belly rot incidence was similar in 1999 and 2000 studies regardless of N rate or tillage treatment.

Conclusions. Better stand establishment is essential regardless of cover crop if a no or minimum tillage system is to be successful, regardless of the crop being produced. Other studies have been proposed to improve stand establishment of cucumbers when planted into a cover crop. Also, planting earlier in the season (May) rather than June or July may offer an additional benefit and result in the availability of additional moisture during the hot, dry periods often experienced in July.

For further information, contact:

  • Dr. Jonathan Schultheis, Associate Professor
    • Department of Horticultural Science
    • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7609
    • Telephone: 919-515-1225; Fax: 919-515-2505
    • E-mail:
  • Dr. Deanna Osmond, Associate Professor
    • Department of Soil Science
    • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7619
    • Telephone: 919-515-7303; Fax: 919-515-2167
    • E-mail:
  • Dr. Gerald Holmes, Assistant Professor
    • Department of Plant Pathology
    • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7616
    • Telephone: 919-515-9779; Fax: 919-515-7716
    • E-mail:
  • Mr. Bill Jester, Extension Associate
    • Department of Horticultural Science
    • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7609
    • Telephone: 252-526-4441
    • E-mail:

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