An Evaluation of Summer Cover Crops for Use in Vegetable Production Systems in North Carolina

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  • 1 Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Box 7609, Raleigh, NC 27695
  • | 2 Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Box 7609, Raleigh, NC 27695

Summer cover crops can produce biomass, contribute nitrogen to cropping systems, increase soil organic matter, and suppress weeds. Through fixation of atmospheric N2 and uptake of soil residual N, they also contribute to the N requirement of subsequent vegetable crops. Six legumes {cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L.), sesbania (Sesbania exaltata L.), soybean (Glycine max L.), hairy indigo (Indigofera hirsutum L.), velvetbean [Mucuna deeringiana (Bort.) Merr.], and lablab (Lablab purpureus L.)}; two nonlegume broadleaved species [buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench) and sesame (Sesamum indicum L.)]; and five grasses {sorghum-sudangrass [Sorghum bicolor (L) Moench × S. sudanense (P) Stapf.], sudangrass [S. sudanense (P) Stapf.], Japanese millet [Echinochloa frumentacea (Roxb.) Link], pearl millet [Pennisetum glaucum (L). R. Br.], and German foxtail millet [Setaria italica (L.) Beauv.)]}, were planted in raised beds alone or in mixtures in 1995 at Plymouth, and in 1996 at Goldsboro, N.C. Biomass production for the legumes ranged from 1420 (velvetbean) to 4807 kg·ha-1 (sesbania). Low velvetbean biomass was attributed to poor germination in this study. Nitrogen in the aboveground biomass for the legumes ranged from 32 (velvetbean) to 97 kg·ha-1 (sesbania). All of the legumes except velvetbean were competitive with weeds. Lablab did not suppress weeds as well as did cover crops producing higher biomass. Aboveground biomass for grasses varied from 3918 (Japanese millet) to 8792 kg·ha-1 (sorghum-sudangrass). While N for the grasses ranged from 39 (Japanese millet) to 88 kg·ha-1 (sorghum-sudangrass), the C: N ratios were very high. Additional N would be needed for fall-planted vegetable crops to overcome immobilization of N. All of the grass cover crops reduced weeds as relative to the weedy control plot. Species that performed well together as a mixture at both sites included Japanese millet/soybean and sorghum-sudangrass/cowpea.

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