A split-plot factorial experiment examined effects of tillage and winter cover crops on sweet corn in 1997. Main plots received tillage or no tillage. Cover crops consisted of hairy vetch, winter rye, or a mix, and N treatments consisted of plus or minus N fertilization. Following watermelon not receiving inorganic N, vetch, and mix cover cropsproduced total N yields of ≈90 kg/ha that were more than four times greater than those obtained with rye. However, vetch dry weight yields (2.7 mg/ha) were only about 60% of those obtained in previous years due to winter kill. Following rye winter cover crops, addition of ammonium nitrate to corn greatly increased (P < 0.05) corn yields and foliar N concentrations compared to treatments not receiving N. Following vetch, corn yields obtained in tilled treatments without N fertilization equaled those obtained with N fertilization. However, yields obtained from unfertilized no-till treatments were significantly (P < 0.05) lower than yields of N-fertilized treatments. Available soil N was significantly (P < 0.05) greater following vetch compared to rye after corn planting. No significant effects of tillage on sweet corn plant densities or yields were detected. It was concluded that no-tillage sweet corn was successful, and N fixed by vetch was able to sustain sweet corn production in tilled treatments but not in no-till treatments.In previous years normal, higher-yielding vetch cover crops were able to sustain sweet corn in both tilled and no-till treatments.
AbstractOrganic no-till (NT) management strategies generally employ high-residue cover crops that act as weed-suppressing mulch. In temperate, humid regions such as the mid-Atlantic USA, high-residue winter cover crops can hinder early spring field work and immobilize nutrients for cash crops. This makes the integration of cover crops into rotations difficult for farmers, who traditionally rely on tillage to prepare seedbeds for early spring vegetables. Our objectives were to address two separate but related goals of reducing tillage and integrating winter cover crops into early spring vegetable rotations by investigating the feasibility of NT seeding spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.), an early spring vegetable, into winterkilled cover crops. We conducted a four site-year field study in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions of Maryland, USA, comparing seedbed conditions and spinach performance after forage radish (FR) (Raphanus sativus L.), a low-residue, winterkilled cover crop, spring oat (Avena sativa L.), the traditional winterkilled cover crop in the area, a mixture of radish and oat, and a no cover crop (NC) treatment. NT seeded spinach after FR had higher yields than all other cover crop and tillage treatments in one site year and was equal to the highest yielding treatments in two site years. Yield for NT spinach after FR was as high as 19 Mg ha−1 fresh weight, whereas the highest yield for spinach seeded into a rototilled seedbed after NC was 10 Mg ha−1. NT seeding spring spinach after a winterkilled radish cover crop is feasible and provides an alternative to both high-residue cover crops and spring tillage.