Seeding rate and planting arrangement effects on growth and weed suppression of a legume-oat cover crop for organic vegetable systems
Winter cover crops can add soil organic matter, improve nutrient cycling, and suppress weeds in organic vegetable systems. A 2-yr study was conducted on organic farms in Salinas and Hollister, CA, to evaluate the effect of seeding rate (SR) and planting arrangement on cover crop density, ground cover, and cover crop and weed dry matter (DM) with a mixed cover crop. The mix contained legumes (35% Vicia faba L., bell bean; 15% Vicia dasycarpa Ten., woolypod vetch; 15% Vicia benghalensis L., purple vetch; and 25% Pisum sativum L., pea) and 10% oat (Avena sativa L.) by seed weight. Three SRs (112, 224, and 336 kg ha–1) and two planting arrangements (one-way versus grid pattern) were evaluated. Planting arrangement had no effect on the variables measured. When weeds were abundant, weed DM declined linearly with increasing SR from approximately 300 kg ha–1 at the low SR to <100 kg ha–1 at the high SR. Increasing SR increased oat and legume DM early in the season, but did not affect final cover crop DM that ranged from 7 to 12 Mg ha–1. Year affected final cover crop DM production at both sites. The legume DM portion of the total cover crop declined through the season but varied between sites and year, probably due to soil and climatic differences. Higher SRs may be cost effective because weed control is expensive and cover crop seed is a relatively small component of cover cropping costs in this region.