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  • Author or Editor: Mary Jane Else x
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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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A system of mapping weed infestations in cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon Ait.) was developed that enables growers to incorporate integrated pest management practices into their weed control program. This system provides growers with information on the location of weeds and the area of weed patches, but differs from other weed mapping systems in that information on control priorities is included on the maps. Weed management efforts can then be directed to the most economically damaging weeds first. The mapping system also provides growers with a permanent record that can be used to communicate with staff and to evaluate weed management strategies.

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