Organic fertilizer effects on growth, crop yield, and soil microbial biomass indices in sole and intercropped peas and oats under organic farming conditions
Ramia Jannouraa, Rainer Georg Joergensena, Christian Brunsb
Department of Soil Biology and Plant Nutrition, University of Kassel, Nordbahnhofstr. 1a, 37213 Witzenhausen, Germany.
In a field experiment, peas (Pisum sativum L.) and oats (Avena sativa L.) were grown as sole crops and intercrops, fertilized with horse manure and yard-waste compost derived from shrub and garden cuttings at 10 t C ha-1 each. The objectives were to compare the effects of these organic fertilizer and cropping system in organic farming on (a) yield of peas and oats, grown as the sole crop or intercropped, as well as N2 fixation and photosynthetic rates, (b) the yield of wheat as a succeeding crop, (c) microbial biomass indices in soil and roots, and (d) microbial activity estimated by the CO2 evolution rate in the field and the amount of organic fertilizers, recovered as particulate organic matter (POM). In general, organic fertilizer application improved nodule dry weight (DW), photosynthetic rates, N2 fixation, and N accumulation of peas as well as N concentration in oat grain. Averaged across fertilizer treatments, pea/oat intercropping significantly decreased nodule DW, N2 fixation and photosynthetic rate of peas by 14, 17, and 12%, respectively, and significantly increased the photosynthetic rate of oats by 20%. However, the land equivalent ratio (LER) of intercropped peas and oats exceeded 1.0, indicating a yield advantage over sole cropping. Soil microbial biomass was positively correlated with pea dry matter yields both in sole and intercropped systems. Organic fertilizers increased the contents of microbial biomass C, N, P, and fungal ergosterol in soil and CO2 production, whereas the cropping system had no effects on these microbial indices. According to the organic fertilizer recovered as POM, 70% (manure) and 64% (compost) of added C were decomposed, but only 39% (manure) and 13% (compost) could be attributed to CO2–C during a 101-day period. This indicated that horse manure was more readily available to soil microorganisms than compost, leading to increased grain yields of the succeeding winter wheat.