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Intercropping Melon and Cowpea Improves Soil Nutrients and Increases Melon Yields

Intercropping Melon and Cowpea Improves Soil Nutrients and Increases Melon Yields

Intercropping is an agricultural practice that involves growing two or more plant species in the same ground at the same time. This practice enables growers not only to increase crop productivity, but also to improve soil quality. Moreover, it brings advantages such as reduced pests and diseases and a greater diversity of microbes and beneficial insects.

Although intercropping with some traditional crops has shown high degrees of success, such as maize with bean and pumpkin in Mexico, which is known as milpa, not all intercropping systems constitute improvements, since there must be a balance between the crops used.

With the aim of increasing the environmental and economic sustainability of agricultural systems, a team from the European Diverfarming project has studied the possibility of using this technique of intercropping with the main summer crop for export in the Region of Murcia: the .

To deal with the issue of soil and water degradation caused by the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers in intensive melon cropping, researchers from the CEBAS—CSIC, the Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena (UPCT) and the University of Murcia have analyzed the soil nutrients, their physico-chemical properties, the  and the soil microbial community (by means of high performance sequencing) of an intercrop of cowpea and melon using ecological farming practices, different growing patterns, and 30% less fertilization than is usually used in the monocrop.

The results have shown a significant increase in total nitrogen levels, available phosphorus, and total organic carbon, as well as in the melon yield in the first year of intercropping, irrespective of the intercropping patterns followed.

With this combination of crops, the consequences of which had not been studied to date, changes occurred in the bacterial community structure which correlated with an increase in the concentrations of total nitrogen and phosphorus in the  and in the melon crop yield. Additionally, a greater abundance of beneficial microorganisms such as Pseudomonas, Bacillus, Streptomyces and Sphingomonas was found.

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