Mustard Seed Meal as a Chemical Fumigation Alternative

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist;

With September strawberry planting season approaching for the annual plasticulture system, growers will be preparing beds and fumigating in the next 2 weeks. While several chemical fumigants are registered for strawberries, new fumigant use restrictions will make their use more of a challenge. In addition, strawberry growers that are organic or are using high tunnels with limited rotation are looking for effective fumigation alternatives.

One natural fumigant alternative that has shown great promise is mustard seed meal. According to researchers Dean Kopsell and Carl E. Sams, “studies conducted at The University of Tennessee showed that mustard seed meal has extremely high concentrations of isothiocyanates (ITCs). The seed meal is also a fertilizer source of nitrogen and other nutrients. When incorporated into the soil, ITCs act as effective biofumigants, reducing populations of pathogenic fungal species (Sclerotium, Rhizoctonia, Phytophthora, and Pythium), nematodes, weeds, and certain insect species.” ITCs are the same compounds found in some commercial chemical fumigants.

Specific studies with strawberries showed yield increases of as much as 50% compared to untreated controls using mustard seed meal. Additional research is going on in the region (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania) with this material.

For mustard seed meal to be effective as a fumigant it has to be thoroughly worked into the bed area and plastic layed immediately after incorporation. The bed must remain evenly moist so the meal can break down (dry pockets will have delayed break down and can cause problems later) so a moist soil is important. A waiting period of 20 days is advised similar to a commercial fumigant before planting.

Current supplies of mustard seed meal come from Tennessee and costs $1.00-1.20 per pound. Recommended rate is 1000 lbs per mulched acre.

Because mustard seed meal is a natural compound, fumigant restrictions do not apply. It is also OMRI certified for organic production.