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Vetch cover crop, fertilizer practices recommended for organic zucchini

METAPONTO, ITALY--Cover crops may be in the hardest working plants in organic farming systems. A variety of dependable cover crops are used to subdue weeds, build productive soil, control pests and diseases, and enhance overall sustainability of organic systems. In a new study, the popular cover crop Vetch (Vicia sativa L.) was used in a 2-year field experiment. The experiment was designed to determine the effects on organic zucchini yield and quality of vetch residue management strategies incorporating green manure using a roller-crimper and organic fertilizers.

To allow for timely crop rotation in organic farming, the growing cycle of cover crops is often terminated before natural maturity using mechanical chopping and/or plowing, field disking, mowing, or crushing with a roller-crimper. Innovative conservation tillage production systems using roller-crimper (RC) technology to end cover crops are gaining popularity. The technique uses one or two passes of the RC to flatten the cover crops, leaving a thick mulch layer into which the next crop is sown or transplanted. The thick mulch hinders the development of weeds during the critical growing period, contributes to reduced soil erosion, and increases soil moisture and fertility.

Although the roller-crimper technology has been widely used for the termination of legume cover crops, the technique has its limitations. For example, difficulties determining the most effective cover crop growth stage for crop termination can result in insufficient or untimely amounts of nitrogen being delivered to the cropping system by legume cover crops, ultimately affecting crop yield. Supplementing crop fertility with off-farm organic compliant inputs to reduce nitrogen deficiencies can help to ensure acceptable crop yields.

A study published in the August 2013 issue of HortScience showed the influence of different vetch residue management strategies in combination with the application of

Contact: Mike W. Neff
American Society for Horticultural Science

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