Effects of vermicomposted spent mushroom compost on growing medium characteristics, plant growth, yield and abiotic stress tolerance

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Duggan, Tara
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University College Cork
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Treatment of agricultural biodegradable wastes and by-products can be carried out using composting or vermicomposting, or a combination of both treatment methods, to create a growing medium amendment suitable for horticultural use. When compared to traditional compost-maturation, vermicompost-maturation resulted in a more mature growing medium amendment i.e. lower C/N and pH, with increased nutrient content and improved plant growth response, increasing lettuce shoot fresh and dry weight by an average of 15% and 14%, respectively. Vermicomposted horse manure compost was used as a growing medium amendment for lettuce and was found to significantly increase lettuce shoot and root growth, and chlorophyll content. When used as a growing medium amendment for tomato fruit production, vermicomposted spent mushroom compost increased shoot growth and marketable yield, and reduced blossom end rot in two independent studies. Vermicompost addition to peat-based growing media increased marketable yield by an average of 21%. Vermicompost also improved tomato fruit quality parameters such as acidity and sweetness. Fruit sweetness, as measured using Brix value, was significantly increased in fruits grown with 10% or 20% vermicompost addition by 0.2 in truss one and 0.3 in truss two. Fruit acidity (% citric acid) was significantly increased in plants grown with vermicompost by an average of 0.65% in truss one and 0.68% in truss two. These changes in fruit chemical parameters resulted in a higher tomato fruit overall acceptability rating as determined by a consumer acceptance panel. When incorporated into soil, vermicomposted spent mushroom compost increased plant growth and reduced plant stress under conditions of cold stress, but not salinity or heat stress. The addition of 20% vermicompost to cold-stressed plants increased plant growth by an average of 30% and increased chlorophyll fluorescence by an average of 21%. Compared to peat-based growing medium, vermicompost had consistently higher nutrient content, pH, electrical conductivity and bulk density, and when added to a peat-based growing medium, vermicomposted spent mushroom compost altered the microbial community. Vermicompost amendment increased the microbial activity of the growing medium when incorporated initially, and this increased microbial activity was observed for up to four months after incorporation when plants were grown in it. Vermicomposting was shown to be a suitable treatment method for agricultural biodegradable wastes and by-products, with the resulting vermicompost having suitable physical, chemical and biological properties, and resulting in increased plant growth, marketable yield and yield quality, when used as an amendment in peat-based growing medium.
Vermicomposting , Composting , Spent mushroom compost , Biostimulant , Growing medium , Phytotoxicity , Lettuce , Tomatoes , Sensory analysis , Fruit quality , Microbial activity , Abiotic stress
Duggan, T. 2015. Effects of vermicomposted spent mushroom compost on growing medium characteristics, plant growth, yield and abiotic stress tolerance. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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