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  • Author or Editor: Stephen J. Herbert x
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Field research was conducted in Deerfield, Mass. to study the effects of leguminous cover crops on sweet corn yield. Oat was planted alone and in combination with four leguminous cover crops August 8, 1990. Cover crop residue was disked once and sweet corn seeded April 23, 1991. Each cover crop combination had three rates of nitrogen added in two applications. Sweet corn seeded into stands of hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) yielded the highest of the cover crop combinations. All leguminous cover crop treatments yielded higher than oat alone or no cover crop when no synthetic nitrogen was added. Cover crop combinations were seeded again in the same field plots August 12, 1991. Oat biomass in November was greater where there had been leguminous cover crops or high rates of synthetic nitrogen. Legume growth was retarded in the plots that had previously received high nitrogen. It is thought that legume growth was reduced in the high nitrogen treatments due to increased oat growth and higher soil nitrogen levels which could inhibit root nodulation.

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Field research was conducted in Deerfield, Mass. to study the effects of different cover crop species seeded between plastic mulch on weed pressure and pepper yield. A complete fertilizer was applied before plastic was laid on Sept. 13, 1991. Two cover crop treatments were seeded Sept. 13, 1991: white clover (Trifolium repens) alone and hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) in combination with winter rye (Secale cereale). On May 27, 1992 the vetch and rye were mow-killed with the biomass left on the soil surface. Annual rye (Lolium multiflorum) was then seeded on the same day as the third cover crop treatment. The remaining two treatments were a weedy check and a hand-weeded check. Peppers were transplanted into the plastic on May 31. Both the annual rye and clover were mowed three times over the course of the experiment with the biomass left between the plastic mulch. The white clover and annual rye were much more competitive with weed species than the dead mulch of vetch and rye. The three cover crop treatments had pepper yields that were severely depressed compared to the hand-weeded treatment. Among the three cover crop treatments, only the annual rye yielded more peppers than the weedy check.

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Cover crops have been used in agricultural systems for thousands of years and are still an important part of vegetable production in the Northeast. Winter rye (Secale cereale) is by far the dominant cover crop species on conventional vegetable farms in the New England states. It is use is primarily for erosion control. Winter rye is popular since it is cheap, easy to establish, can overwinter in the harsh winters of northern New England, is efficient in “capturing” excess nitrogen at the end of the cash crop season, and it can produce substantial amounts of organic matter in the spring. As many positive attributes that winter rye has, it is important to be aware of many of the other potential cover crop species that are available to us. For example, many conventional growers are exploring the use of leguminous cover crops as an alternative to chemical nitrogen fertilizers which are more readily leached and are only going to get more expensive. Cover crops can also be seeded and managed in innovative ways to suppress weeds and other pests, add organic matter and conserve soil moisture.

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