Use of Reclaimed Land for
     Horticultural Crop Production

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Donna Ballard, Bradford Bearce, and Jeff Skousen
West Virginia University

Abstract

A reclaimed surface mine soil near Welch, WV, was amended with sewage sludge, hardwood bark, sorghum-sudan green manure crop, or unamended to demonstrate production of crops on minesoils in southern West Virginia. In a concurrent greenhouse trial at WVU, minesoils from three WV sites were each similarly amended and placed in containers. A selection of horticultural crops including forsythia, zinnia, tomato, strawberry, and raspberry were planted and grown at the Welch site and in the greenhouse. Flower growth and fruit production were enhanced by sludge, but were generally reduced where green manure and hardwood bark amendments were used. Sludge increased minesoil pH, Ca, P, and Mg levels above the other treatments. The Welch minesoil showed better flower and fruit production than the other two minesoils. Based on this study, minesoils with amendments show good potential for horticultural crop production.

Introduction

In the state of West Virginia and much of the eastern United States, reclaimed minesoils are a resource that has been used mainly for pasture or forest lands. If the mining method produces a topography of gentle slopes, these areas have potential for more intensive development, and may be used for the production of horticultural crops.

Research on reclamation of surface mine sites has been on-going for many years, generating many research papers and review articles (Bondurant, 1971; Schaller and Sutton, 1978; Sutton and Dick, 1987). Soil amendments like lime, fertilizer, fly ash, sewage sludge, papermill sludge, and sawmill residues have all been used to improve plant growth. Waste materials used as amendments may cause problems as well as ameliorate the soil. Minesoils have been amended for improved pasture and agronomic crop growth, and certain trees and shrubs have also shown some success in providing cover on abandoned mine lands (Sutton and Dick, 1987). However little research has been reported on the production of horticultural crops. Small fruit growth on unamended reclaimed mine land is reported, but no fruit production is recorded (Chaplin, 1978; Hensley and Brown, 1981; Hensley and Sparks, 1980). Vegetable production has been researched (Morse and O'Dell, 1983), but production of ornamental horticultural plants, other than Christmas trees, is notably lacking.

Soil treatments selected for a particular site vary based on the physical and chemical properties of the minesoil. By-products of local industries or municipalities can be used to aid reclamation and improve both chemical and physical properties of southern WV minesoils, as well as provide an opportunity to beneficially use and dispose of these by-products. West Virginia's timber industry produces a variety of wastes including shredded bark and sawdust. All populated areas have municipal wastewater treatment systems, which produce sewage sludge. Green manure crops have also been used for revegetation of mine sites. All of these treatments improve the physical and chemical characteristics of minesoils, which may support intensive horticultural crop production. The objectives of this study were to demonstrate production of horticultural crops in minesoils amended with three different organic materials.

Materials and Methods

A mountain top removal surface mine, located near Welch, WV and owned by the Pocahontas Land Corporation, was selected for a field demonstration site. Pocahontas Land Corporation provided financial support to the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences at West Virginia University to conduct field and greenhouse studies.

During March 1991, a 1-acre area was cleared near the Mt. View High School (Picture 1) in McDowell County, West Virginia, and plots laid out (Figure 1). All plots were fertilized in May 1991 with a 10-44-9 (N-P-K) granular fertilizer at a rate of 400 lbs/acre. Also in May, a green manure crop (sudan-sorghum hybrid FFR201) was sown in designated plots at a rate of 22 lbs/acre. The resulting cover crop was tilled into the soil on 1 July 1991. On July 10, sewage sludge from Bluefield, WV, and hardwood bark from Gilbert Lumber Co., Gilbert, WV, were spread at a rate of 27 tons/ac dry weight. Crops planted on 11 July were 'Better Boy' tomatoes, 'Red Oak' leaf lettuce, 'Inca yellow' marigolds, 'Scarlet Splendor' zinnia, and 'Basket of Gold' yarrow.

During April 1992, the site was plowed and disked, more large rocks were removed, and electricity was extended to the site (Picture 2). On 17-18 April, 32 white pines, 23 blue spruce, 23 white birch, 32 'Lynwood Gold' forsythia, 48 'Heritage' raspberries, 48 'Blue Chip' junipers, and 32 'Blue Crop' blueberries were planted. A 5-strand Kiwi electric fence was installed to enclose the site and repel deer and small animals. A Trickel-Eez irrigation system was installed to supply water.

In May 1992, 72 'Allstar' strawberries, 96 'Pink damask' daylilies, 48 'Red Splendor' gladiolus corms, 32 'Centennial' tomatoes, 64 'Inca Yellow' marigolds, and 64 'Red Sails' lettuce plants were planted. Several 'Blue Crop' blueberry plants in each plot were mulched 3 inches deep with well rotted sawdust and others were mulched with wood chips donated by Asplundh Tree Service. Half the raspberries were mulched with 0.25 bale of straw and the other half with 3 inches of wood chips. Soil samples for analysis were taken from each of the 8 plots.

By June, the gladiolus sprouted to about 6 inches. However, the tomatoes were yellow and losing leaves in all but the sludge-treated plots. New growth on all crops was slow due to cold wet weather that predominated through the spring of 1992. Ammonium nitrate was sidedressed on all crops at the rate of 13 lbs/acre. In July, the 32 'Centennial' tomato plants were replaced with new healthy transplants.

Annual crops were planted in the springs of 1992 through 1995 and growth and production rates were recorded until the first killing frost each year (Picture 3). The strawberry and raspberry production rates were recorded the third season after planting. The woody ornamentals crops were measured at the end of 1995, the fourth growing season.

A greenhouse study included three minesoils (from Mt. View site in McDowell, Barbour, and Monongalia Counties, WV) with each minesoil representing one of the three surface mining provinces. Each minesoil was amended with sewage sludge, hardwood residues, sudan-sorghum grass, or unamended. The sewage sludge and hardwood residues were applied at rates equivalent to that applied at the Mt. View site. The sewage sludge came from the Morgantown Municipal Sewage Treatment Plant, while the hardwood residues came from the Gilbert Lumber Company, Gilbert, WV. The sudan-sorghum grass was grown and incorporated into the minesoils at the WVU greenhouse in the fall of 1991. All treatments received 10-44-9 (N-P-K) granular fertilizer at a rate comparable to field applications at the Mt. View site (0.5 grams per six inch standard pot). Lime (CaCO3) was applied at rates of 0.78 g/pot for McDowell soil, 6.22 g/pot for Barbour soil, and 24.88 g/pot for Monongalia soil. These rates were determined by lime tests, which adjusted the pH to between 6.0 and 6.5 in all three soils.

Horticultural crops were transplanted into the minesoil/amendment mixtures during the month of March 1992. The crops planted were 'Better Boy' tomato, 'Inca Yellow' marigolds, 'Tribute' strawberry plants, 'Cloth of Gold' yarrow, and rooted cuttings of forsythia. There were five replications per plant/minesoil amendment combination. After planting, they were placed on greenhouse benches in randomized complete blocks by species.

Results

Mt. View Site

The amendments applied in 1991 raised pH in the Mt. View minesoil (Table 1), with the sewage sludge causing the highest pH. Some of the increase in soil pH is due to the high alkalinity of the irrigation water, which was determined to be 450 mg/L. Macronutrients were high or very high in all plots. Sewage sludge caused a two-fold increase in Ca over all other treatments and the sewage sludge plots were higher in P and Mg than the other plots. Hardwood bark plots were lower in P, but higher in K than the other plots. Sewage sludge plots had cation exchange capacities at least twice that of all other plots.

Forsythia plants in the hardwood bark plots tended to be shorter than those in the sludge and green manure plots (Table 2). Zinnas in the sludge plots were also taller and had more flowers per plant than the other treatments (Table 2). Tomato plant height was similar for all amendments, but the number of fruits was higher in sludge-treated plots (Table 3).

The third year yields for 'Allstar' strawberries showed fruit numbers similar for all plots. The results in this field study were different from the greenhouse study where fruit production and berry weight were highest in the sludge treatment (Coffindaffer-Ballard, 1994). This infers that residual fertilizer effects from the 1991 amendments had ceased to exist. However, overall lb/A yield was about one tenth of the expected 6000 lbs/A, and was very close to the economic break even point (Table 4). In the third year after planting 'Heritage' raspberries, the control plots produced the highest yield. That yield was approximately one half the expected 5000 lb/A. However, this level of production still showed a positive net return (Table 4).

The ornamental crops grew well in all amendments and therefore acceptable monetary returns for such crops were predicted (Table 5 and Picture 4). Zinnia flowers in both the sludge and control plots produced a estimated net profit of almost $12,000 per acre (Table 5). Assuming that 50% of the forsythia plants were ready for sale in two years, the net profit was projected to be $5,400 per acre (Table 5). For White Birch, assuming half were ready for sale in four years, a net profit of over $20,000 was projected (Table 5). Members of the High School Key Club transplanted several forsythia, juniper, white birch, pine, and spruce to the school properties adjacent to the trial plots (Picture 5). The junipers, typical of the ornamentals, showed quality growth in all amendments.

Greenhouse Study

Tomato heights were not much different in amended McDowell minesoils in the greenhouse (Table 6). Green manure and hardwood residues reduced tomato heights in Barbour and Monongalia minesoils. Sludge-treated pots also produced larger strawberry plants in all three minesoils (Table 6).

In general, the McDowell minesoil produced higher plant growth and development parameters than either the Barbour or Monongalia minesoils. The McDowell minesoil occasionally mitigated or nullified the growth inhibitory effects of the green manure and hardwood residue amendments where the other two minesoils did not.

The reduction in crop growth and development in the hardwood residue and green manure treatments may be due to fixation of essential elements (Bollen, 1969) or release of inhibitory substances from the bark (Still et al., 1976) or sudan-sorghum residues (Geneve and Weston, 1988; Iyer et al., 1980) into the soil. Differences in physical and textural characteristics among the three minesoils may have caused the variation in crop responses.

Conclusions

An opportunity exists for minesoils amended with sludge to be used profitably for production of horticultural crops.

Mt. View High School Key Club Activity

The Mt. View High School Key Club, advised by Mr. Edward Evans (Picture 6), began to grow vegetables and flowers at the Horticulture Project in 1993. They grew marigolds, zinnias, snapdragons, and several kinds of vegetables (Picture 7). Many of the flowers were harvested fresh and donated to local rest homes and the Welch hospital. Others were dried in a vacant room at the high school. In September 1994, these students assisted in transplanting forsythia, white birch, and hybrid poplar to the high school grounds. The previous year, they transplanted several hybrid poplar to the edge of the baseball field to form a windbreak.

In July 1994, the Mt. View High School Key Club (Picture 8), sponsored by Kiwanis International, won First Place for Single Service Project at the International Kiwanis Convention in San Antonio, Texas. Seventeen foreign countries, in addition to many places in the United States, competed in the contest.

References

Bollen, W.B. 1969. Properties of tree barks in relation to their agricultural utilization. USDA For. Ser. Res. Paper PNW-77:13-17.

Bondurant, D.M. (ed). 1971. Revegetation and Economic Use of Surface Mined Land and Mine Refuse Symposium. School of Mines, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV.

Chaplin, C.E. 1978. Experiments in grape production on strip mined soils. HortScience 13(3):264 [Abstr.]

Coffindaffer-Ballard, D. 1994. Thesis: Horticultural crop production on minesoils amended with sewage sludge, hardwood residues or a green manure. WVU, Morgantown, WV.

Geneve, R.L. and L.A. Western. 1988. Growth reduction or eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis L.) seedlings caused by interaction with a sorghum-sudangrass hybrid (sudex). J. Environ. Hort. 6(1):24-26.

Hensley, D.L. and G.R. Brown. 1981. Performance of blackberries on disturbed sites. HortScience 16(3):280 [Abstr.].

Hensley, D.L. and H.L. Sparks. 1980. Potential horticulture crops for eastern Kentucky mined lands. HortScience 15(3):399 [Abstr.].

Iyer, J.G., S.A. Wilde and R.B. Corey. 1980. Green manure of sorghum-sudan: its toxicity to pine seedlings. Tree Planters Rotes 11:13.

Morse, R. and C. O'Dell. 1983. Utilization of minesoils for production of vegetable crops. Proceedings, 1983 Symposium on Surface Mining, Hydrology, Sedimentology and Reclamation, Nov. 28 Dec. 2. D.H. graves (ed). p 163-168.

Schaller, F.W. and P. Sutton (eds). 1978. Reclamation of drastically disturbed lands. Am. Soc. Agron., Madison, WI.

Still, S.M., M.A. Dirr and J.B. Gartner. 1976. Phytotoxic effects of several bark extracts on mung bean and cucumber growth. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 101(1):34-37.

Sutton, P. and W.A. Dick. 1987. Reclamation of acidic mined lands in humid areas. Advances in Agronomy 41:377-405.

Taylor, R.D., H.H. Kneen, D.E. Hahn, E.M. Smith, and S. Uchida. 1986. Calculating field nursery costs. American Nurseryman. Feb. 15.

 

Table 1. Nutrient, cation exchange capacity and pH status in May 1992 of the Mt. View minesoil amended in July 1991 with sewage sludge, hardwood bark, a sudan grass green manure crop or unamended.

Amendment pH P Macronutrients

K

Ca Mg CEC

(meq/100g)

Sludge 7.7 233VHIZ

162 HI

16370VHI 775VHI 44
Hardwood 7.3 99VHI 260 VHI 5160VHI 628VHI 16
Green Manure 7.3 170VHI 215 HI 5990VHI 625VHI 18
Control 6.9 148VHI 191 HI 4830VHI 632VHI 15

Z VHI, HI; levels of macronutrients very high or high, respectively

 

Table 2. Flower growth after 16 weeks in 1992 at the Mt. View minesoil site in McDowell County in response to soil amendments.

Amendment

Forsythia plant height (in)

Zinnia plant height (in)

Zinnia flowers per plant

Sludge

33

31

16

Hardwood

13

26

6

Green Manure

36

24

7

Control

23

26

8

 

Table 3. Tomato growth and production in 1992 at the Mt. View minesoil site in McDowell county in response to soil amendments.

Amendment Plant height

(in)

Number of fruit

per plant

Sludge 38 43
Hardwood 30 20
Green Manure 34 20
Control 35 25

 

Table 4. Projected returns for fruit production from 'Allstar' strawberries and 'Heritage' raspberries in the third year after planting in Mt. View minesoil with sewage sludge, hardwood residues, a green manure crop, or no amendment.

'Allstar' strawberries

Amendment berry weight

(oz)

projected yield

(lb/A)

projected gross

($/A)

Sludge 24 687 343.50
Hardwood 24 687 343.50
Green Manure 27 785 392.50
Control 31 900 450.00

'Heritage' raspberries

Amendment berry weight

(oz)

projected yield

(lb/A)

projected gross

($/A)

Sludge 48 1650 4291.00
Hardwood 47 1616 4202.00
Green Manure 54 1855 4822.00
Control 62 2127 5530.00

 

Table 5. Production and economic projectionsz for selected ornamental crops planted in 1992 and harvested in 1995 at the Mt. View horticultural demonstration plot, Welch, WV.

crop projected yieldy

(no./A)

unit pricex

($/unit)

gross profit

($/A)

production costs

($/A)

net profit

($/A)

Zinnia 152,460 flws $2/10 fls 30,492 18,519 11,973
Forsythia 1800 plants $13/plant 23,400 18,000 5,400
White Birch 1298 $50 64,900 43,782 21,118

z profits and costs are calculated from data given in Taylor et al., 1986.
y Yields are actual plot yields projected to an acre.
x Prices are from a 1995 commercial nursery catalogue.

 

Table 6. Tomato and 'Tribute' strawberry growth in greenhouse study of minesoils from McDowell, Barbour, and Monongalia Counties of West Virginia. Each minesoil was amended with municipal sewage sludge, hardwood bark, a sudan grass green manure or was unamended. The crops were planted 30 March 1992 and data were taken 20 May 1992.

Soil:Amendment

Tomato Plant height (in)

Strawberry Plant area (in2)

McDowell

Sludge

24

73

Hardwood

21

25

Green Manure

16

54

Control

22

62

Barbour

Sludge

24

73

Hardwood

15

16

Green Manure

10

19

Control

21

44

Monongalia

Sludge

23

64

Hardwood

16

11

Green Manure

13

20

Control

20

31

PICTURE CAPTIONS

Picture 1. Overview of Mt. View High School and location of horticultural demonstration plots in center of photo.

Picture 2. Minesoil conditions after clearing and plowing the soil.

Picture 3. Growth of horticulture crops after the first year.

Picture 4. Growth of horticulture crops after the third year.

Picture 5. Several members of the High School Key Club transplant trees on school grounds.

Picture 6. Edward Evans (standing left) is advisor of the Key Club, Brad Bearce (standing right) is a WVU Horticulture Professor, and Corey Larkin and Alan Felt are two members of the Key Club.

Picture 7. The Mt. View High School Key Club planting horticultural crops at the demonstration site.

Picture 8. Some of the members of the Key Club.