Evaluation of weed suppression between Paper mulch, and straw mulch, and terminated winter cover crop on pumpkins and winter squash.

Progress report for FNC22-1342

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,175.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Mentzer Family Farm
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Miles Mentzer
Mentzer Family Farm
Expand All

Project Information

Description of operation:

We have a 3.5 acre total operation for our pumpkin patch. We have attempted ornamental corn the previous two years with very limited results. In our first season we mulched our pumpkin crop with straw and in year two we did a rye cover crop. We believe in sustainable practices and have tried to adopt them as much as possible within our operation.


Time management, weed management, and soil management are all top priorities on our farm.  This is now our third year as a pumpkin patch operation and weed management is our top concern.  Every summer we spend 8 - 20 hours a week on weed control using garden/field hoes.  This year, we grew the operation to 3 acres; unfortunately, we lost 30% of the crop to overgrown grasses and broadleaf plants.  Weed pollen caused defects on the pumpkin skin that made them unmarketable.  In my research I discovered evidence based weed management through a paper mulch that can be used to plant transplants or seeds in.  Based on my research this will be the most economically viable option.  I also plan to test using wheat straw as a mulch to suppress weeds and compare the results.  Straw mulch is not as economically viable as the paper mulch but the improvements to the organic matter of the soils may out weigh the time required to spread the wheat straw.  We will set the plot on drip irrigation as our July and August rains can be unpredictable.  I expect paper mulch to be more economical than the straw for weed suppression.

Project Objectives:
  1. Identify which mulch is the most cost and time effective at weed suppression and water retention.
  2. Measure yield results between the different types of mulch for each type of pumpkin/squash.
    1. Baby Pam (pie)
    2. Snowball (white pie)
    3. Celebration (acorn squash)
    4. Crystal Star (large white)
    5.  Phat Jack (large carving)
  3. Evaluate quality and marketability of pumpkin/squash between mulch types and cover.
    1. Rye cover crop with paper mulch 
    2. Straw on top of rye cove crop
    3. Straw with paper mulch
  4. To share findings through Southwind Extension office, social media, and host a field day.


Materials and methods:

We selected resources that were readily available from seed catalogs and other online resources or local box stores.  We did not used anything that required a special license to use.

  1. Prepare for planting
    1. This involved  mowing a strip in the cover crop to rototill for planting (strip till) each strip was six feet apart.
    2. Rototill the strip after mowing (16" tiller)- Note: after the first season of use we had to replace the engine with one that was heavy duty.
    3. Rolling out the drip tape over rows.
    4. Making hills for the pumpkins (Pie size hills were spaced at 3' - 4' while extra large pumpkins were spaced 6' - 8 ' within the row.)
  2. Planting
    1. Place 4 to 5 seeds per hill made in step four of preparing. 
    2. Because of large amounts of rain in May the extra large pumpkins were planted in trays and transplanted to soil late.
      1. This years planting was delayed and we did not get the transplants and the seed in until late June.  Typically, I prefer to have them planted before June 1st but weather and a planned vacation delayed planting until June 20th.
  3. Mulching/Paper and Straw
    1. Once plants were growing and had at least 4 true leaves the plants were mulched with paper and straw, straw or left with what the cover crop provided.  If I were to repeat this I would plant the transplants into the paper vs planting than rolling the paper.
  4. Watering/Weeding/Pesticides
    1. One downside to the straw mulch is the squash bugs would hid in the straw and made them very difficult to manage.
      1. Once we sprayed both the leaves and the base our pest pressure dropped significantly
    2. Due to extreme drought the drip irrigation did not provide enough moisture to the cover crop only rows.
    3. The cover crop only rows proved to be difficult to kill weeds with the drip tape.  
      1. We had hoped to purchase a drip layer but they were on back order in 2022.
    4. All rows were fertilized and watered equally through the drip tape.
  5. Harvest


Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

6 Consultations
1 On-farm demonstrations
1 Tours
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

5 Farmers participated
2 Ag professionals participated
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.