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An Evaluation of Fall Planted Broad Leaf Cover Crops on Muck Soils 2001

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Project Leader(s): John Mishanec, Area IPM Vegetable Educator, Eastern NY

Cooperators: Alex Kocot, Wayne Gurda and Tommy Zangrillo, Orange County onion growers; Maire Ullrich, CCE Orange County, Jan Vanderheide, CCE Oswego County, Prof. Richard Struab, Entomology, Dept., Hudson Valley Lab

Abstract: Many onion fields have been in continuous, unbroken production for decades. Insect and disease populations build up when no rotation is employed. Over the last few years, onion bulb mites have increased as a problem. It is felt the mites over-winter on the traditional grass cover crops of oats and barley. This study was an attempt to evaluate fall planted broad leaf cover crops. The fall planted covers we looked at were annual crimson clover, field peas, yellow mustard, hairy vetch and buckwheat. Two growers in the onion growing region of Orange county and one grower from Oswego agreed to supply the muck-land and carry out the trials. Fields were one acre, divided into one-fifth of an acre plots. We evaluated ease of establishment, root depth and bio mass.

Weather was a factor in the trial as dry conditions prevailed in the fall. With what rain that did fall, the three covers that did best were the field peas, buckwheat and yellow mustard. The hairy vetch and crimson clover did not establish very well and looked as if they needed to be planted earlier. A killing frost occurred on October 10, 2001. The field peas kept growing, staying green till show cover occurred. The other covers frost killed. The yellow mustard and buckwheat did develop nice top growth and while they did frost kill, they did provide a good mat to hold the muck soil against wind erosion.

All the participating growers were surprised at how well the cover crops established in the fall. The growers were also happy someone was looking at this aspect of production and were looking forward to how well the onions performed after each particular cover. The major concerns for the growers were spring trash and volunteer weeds. The field peas grew well into the fall and established a large amount of bio-mass. The yellow mustard produced a carrot like tap root. While it will help in hard pan breakup, we will evaluate if it will cause a trash problem with the small seeded onion planting. Mustards are a serious weed for onion growers. While the yellow mustard used in this trial is not the same as the weed species, growers were still weary. Yellow mustard needs long days and warm temperatures to produce seed. Planting the yellow mustard when we did in the fall was giving it short days and cool temperatures. Just the opposite of what it needs for seed production. We will look at the weed and trash aspects next spring.