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No-till seeded spinach after winterkilled cover crops in an organic production system

  • Natalie P. Lounsbury (a1) and Ray R. Weil (a1)


Organic 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.


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