Strip tillage improves soil biological activity, fruit yield and sugar content of triploid watermelon
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2016 Elsevier B.V. Tillage practices are critical for sustaining soil quality necessary for successful crop growth and productivity. A three-year study (20122014) was carried out to evaluate the influence of strip and conventional tillage practices and three water status levels [T1=100% of evapotranspiration (ET) demands, T2=0.75T1and T3=0.5T1] on plant morphology, physiology, yield and quality of triploid (seedless) watermelon (Citrullus lanatus cv. Magestic). Soil chemical and biological properties were also assessed at the end of the experimental study. Tillage practices (strip or ST and conventional or CT) started in 2009 and are being carried out to the present date of 2016. Irrigation was established using a center pivot system. Photosynthesis rate (Pn), stomatal conductance (gs), and chlorophyll content index (SPAD) were measured at flowering, fruit development and harvest stage and vine length measured at the harvest stage. Total marketable yield and fruit quality (firmness and sugar content) were determined during the harvest period. Soil chemical and microbial analysis were conducted at the end of the experimental period (March 2015). No significant differences (P=0.05) were found between water deficit treatments in vine length, SPAD, Pn, gs, fruit firmness, and sugar content during the three-year study, except for vine length in 2013. But, marketable yield from T1 treatment was significantly higher (P=0.03) than T3 in 2013. Vine length and SPAD measured from the ST plots were higher than CT, especially in 2012. Interestingly, marketable yield from ST was 8.6, 9.7 and 14.9tha1 higher than CT in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. Additionally, fruit sugar content under ST was statistically higher (P=0.05) than those from CT. After 6 years of tillage practices (20092015) in the same site, ST increased total bacteria by 49%, active bacteria by 27%, active and total fungi by 37%, nematodes by 275%, and electrical conductivity by 14% compared to CT. However, ST significantly increased root-feeding nematodes (harmful to plant roots) and reduced phosphorus and nitrate-N compared to CT. Although long-term studies aimed at assessing soil quality and cumulative yield are required to further validate our results, yield and fruit quality (sugar content) responses were consistent across three years and with promising abundance of soil microbial activities.