Trench Depth and Mulch Materials for Late Season Plantain Production in Owerri South-Eastern Nigeria.
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The major challenge in late season plantain production is poor field establishment followed by poor ratooning and high mat phenomenon. Proposed solutions include deep planting and mulching for soil microclimate moderation prior to the onset of early rains . Th e experiment evaluated the effect of three trench (planting) depths (60x60x60cm, 60x60x80cm and 60x60x100cm) and six mulch materials (trash, wood shavings, palm frond, saw dust, black polythene sheet and cont rol) on late s eason plantain productivity in S out heastern Nigeria. The 3x6 factori al experiment was fitted into a Randomized Complete Block Design (RCBD) with three replications. The land was cleared manually. Planting depths were prepared, manured with po ultry manure at 10 tha - 1 . The trenches received 4 tha - 1 of appropriate mulch except black polythene. Two weeks later, plantain sword suckers were planted in December 2010. Core soil samples were collected at each trench depth for pre and post soil physico - chemical analyses, soil macro biological life count and percentage soil moisture determination. Soil temperature was monitored at each depth using soil thermometers. Growth and yield parameters for plantain were collected and analys e d using Genstat. M ean s eparation was done using the least significant differences (LSD) at 5% level of probabili ty . P lanting depths and mulches significantly (P<0.05) reduced soil temperature and enhanced soil moisture content and sucker sprout. Plantain g rowth parameters (plant ain height, girth, lea ves, LA, LAI and sucker production) were significantly (P<0.05) enhanced by most mulch materials and trenc h depth/ mulch sources interaction at 6, 9 MAP and at harvest respectively. Plantains planted in 80cm trenches and mulched with w ood shavings fruited and matured significantly (P<0.05) early for both plant and first ratoon crops (308.80 and 650.00 days), produced heavy bunch weights (20.88 tha - 1 , 16.63 t ha - 1 ), highest number of marketable hands/bunch (7.10 and 5.44) and marketable fin gers/bunch (47.84, 32.23) respectively. Mulching plantains with wood shavings and sawdust in 60 - 80cm trenches s ignificantly suppressed weeds and minimized black s igatoka severity for plant and first ratoon crops respectively. Deepest trenches mulched wi th black polythene stimulated most rapid mat rise (1.89cm/month ). Input output cost analysis indicated that all plantains grown in mulched and unmulched trenches were all profitable enterpri ses with benefit cost ratio greater than unity. However plantains planted in 60 - 80cm trenches and mulched with wood shavings generated the highest economic returns to the farmer. At 6MAP, plantain growth parameters showed variable but significant positive and negative correlations with yield parameters (plantain bunch weight and number of fingers/bunch). However, at harvest, plantain growth parameters correlated positively and significantly (P=0.05) with plantain bunch weight and number of fingers/bunch, wh ile correlating negatively and significantly (P=0.05) with days to 50% flowering and weed dry weight. The residual soil fertility after plantain first ratoon harvest for mulched and manured plantains was high. Late season plantains planted in 80cm trenches and mulched with wood shavings exhibited 81.90% establishment, proliferated the highest number of suckers, matured early and produced highest bunch yield (38.45 tons), gave the highest benefit/ cost ratio (5.06) per hectare and is therefore recommended to the farmers in Southeastern Nigeria. The implications for follow up cro ps in late season plantain production and further research work were dis c us s ed.