The production of rape and other leaf vegetables for local and export markets by smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa has been constrained by soil fertility depletion associated with continuous cropping with inadequate addition of major nutrients like Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). Biomass transfer of multipurpose tree prunings (usually legumes) to croplands has been shown to significantly increase the availability of soil N. Nitrogen mineralization of the leguminous biomass provides a major pathway through which the fixed N becomes available for use by other plants. The extent to which a specific type of plant residue influences soil fertility, crop growth and N recovery is in part determined by its biochemical qualities, decomposition patterns and the concurrent timing of nutrient release and crop nutrient demand. Consequently, the main challenge with the use of biomass from leguminous trees is to ensure that the release of N from mineralization is synchronised with the crop‟s demand.
The utilization of multipurpose tree prunings as a source of nitrogen for the production of rape (Brassica napus L.) and spinach (Spinacea olearacea L.) was studied in a series of experiments. Prunings of four leguminous tree prunings commonly found in agroforestry systems namely Leucaena leucocephala, Calliandra calothyrsus, Acacia angustissima and Acacia karoo were used. The objectives of the study were:
i) To determine the effect of chemical composition of the various leguminous tree prunings and their decomposition and N release patterns and
ii) To evaluate the short term nutrient supply of the various leguminous tree prunings with or without supplemental inorganic nitrogen on the growth and yield responses of rape and spinach, respectively.
Results indicated that rates of decomposition and N release decreased in the order: L. leucocephala > A. angustissima > C. calothyrsus > A. karoo. The ratios of lignin-to-N (r = 0.85) and soluble condensed tannins-to-N (r = 0.89) were negatively correlated with N release. The rates of decomposition and nitrogen mineralization of the prunings used as soil ameliorants were best predicted by their (lignin+soluble condensed tannin)-to-N ratios (r = 0.91).
Soil amelioration with the various leguminous prunings significantly increased yields (P < 0.05) relative to the yields of plots that did not receive any amelioration. Total biomass, leaf number, area and size as well as saleable leaf yields increased linearly for all treatments. The quality of the prunings used as soil ameliorants significantly affected (P < 0.05) the efficiency of N recovery. Prunings of L. leucocephala which were the most labile had higher nutrient recovery rates and increased yields compared to the other leguminous amendments. Soil amendment with prunings of A. karoo on the other hand, which were the most recalcitrant, resulted in relatively lower N recovery rates. Supplementation of pruning-N with inorganic fertilizer further increased yields over the 0N treatment, indicating improved N recovery by the leafy vegetables. Crop growth and rates of nitrogen recovery of the leafy vegetables were corroborated by the short term nutrient supply capabilities of the leguminous prunings.
Leguminous tree prunings can be used as a source of N for vegetable production as evidenced by the higher yields realized from amending the soil with the various prunings relative to the unfertilized plants. However, the rate and amount of N mineralized from the prunings and hence the net benefit obtained by the crop determines their suitability for vegetable production.
Dissertation (MSc Agric)--University of Pretoria, 2013.