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- Author or Editor: Elizabeth A. Perkus x
High tunnels are an important season extension tool for horticultural production in cold climates, however maintaining soil health in these intensively managed spaces is challenging. Cover crops are an attractive management tool to address issues such as decreased organic matter, degraded soil structure, increased salinity, and high nitrogen needs. We explored the effect of winter cover crops on soil nutrients, soil health and bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) crop yield in high tunnels for 2 years in three locations across Minnesota. Cover crop treatments included red clover (Trifolium pratense) monoculture, Austrian winter pea/winter rye biculture (Pisum sativum/Secale cereale), hairy vetch/winter rye/tillage radish (Vicia villosa/S. cereale/Raphanus sativus) polyculture, and a bare-ground, weeded control. Cover crop treatments were seeded in two planting date treatments: early planted treatments were seeded into a standing bell pepper crop in late Aug/early September and late planted treatments were seeded after bell peppers were removed in mid-September At termination time in early May, all cover crops had successfully overwintered and produced biomass in three Minnesota locations except for Austrian winter pea at the coldest location, zone 3b. Data collected include cover crop and weed biomass, biomass carbon and nitrogen, extractable soil nitrogen, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, microbial biomass carbon, permanganate oxidizable carbon, soil pH, soluble salts (EC), and pepper yield. Despite poor legume performance, increases in extractable soil nitrogen and potentially mineralizable nitrogen in the weeks following cover crop residue incorporation were observed. Biomass nitrogen contributions averaged 100 kg·ha−1 N with an observed high of 365 kg·ha−1 N. Cover crops also reduced extractable soil N in a spring sampling relative to the bare ground control, suggesting provision of nitrogen retention ecosystem services.