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.
Summer cover crop rotations, compost, and vermicompost additions can be important strategies for transition to organic production that can provide various benefits to crop yields, nitrogen (N) availability, and overall soil health, yet are underused in strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa) production in North Carolina. This study was aimed at evaluating six summer cover crop treatments including pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), soybean (Glycine max), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), pearl millet/soybean combination, pearl millet/cowpea combination, and a no cover crop control, with and without vermicompost additions for their effects on strawberry growth, yields, nutrient uptake, weeds, and soil inorganic nitrate-nitrogen and ammonium-nitrogen in a 2-year field experiment. Compost was additionally applied before seeding cover crops and preplant N fertilizer was reduced by 67% to account for organic N additions. Although all cover crops (with compost) increased soil N levels during strawberry growth compared with the no cover crop treatment, cover crops did not impact strawberry yields in the first year of the study. In the 2nd year, pearl millet cover crop treatments reduced total and marketable strawberry yields, and soybean treatments reduced marketable strawberry yields when compared with the no cover crop treatment, whereas vermicompost additions increased strawberry biomass and yields. Results from this study suggest that vermicompost additions can be important sustainable soil management strategies for transitional and certified organic strawberry production. Summer cover crops integrated with composts can provide considerable soil N, reducing fertilizer needs, but have variable responses on strawberry depending on the specific cover crop species or combination. Moreover, these practices are suitable for both organic and conventional strawberry growers and will benefit from longer-term studies that assess these practices individually and in combination and other benefits in addition to yields.