Note to readers, attached is a complete final report for FNE00-309
This project will demonstrate and document the effects of cover cropping with rye or rye and vetch between rows of plastic mulch. The goal is to extend the life of the mulch, reduce moisture loss, and reduce soil compaction. Plastic mulch has been shown to be useful on the farm by reducing the need for irrigation, reducing diseases, discouraging weeds, and controlling erosion and leaching, and the project will explore whether extending its life may have an impact on soil health and profitability.
This farmer wanted to test an improved method of growing vegetable crops by using a combination of mulches: red and black plastic mulch and a surface organic mulch created by mowing winter grain cover crops. He believed that the windbreak and shading effects of the winter grains would extend the useful life of plastic mulch while controlling weeds in the area between the plastic mulch rows. He also wanted to determine the feasibility of growing summer squash in the mowed-down winter grain without plastic mulch. In the plastic mulch trials, he mowed the winter grain after establishing vegetable crops. He recorded soil moisture and temperature and crop yields for four different trials.
The first trial was growing winter squash. In late September, rye was seeded using a grain drill between rows of plastic mulch that had been used for tomatoes during the previous summer. In the spring, winter squash was planted in the plastic mulch and in mowed rye. The winter squashes grew better in the plastic mulch row than in the winter grain only row.
The second trial was using tomatoes—tomatoes were planted in a spring set plastic mulch with spring planted oats.
The third trial was with melons—melons were set into second year plastic after tomatoes. Inter-bed areas had been seeded to winter rye the previous fall.
The fourth trial was with summer squash—transplants were set into mowed rye grain in late June.
It turned out to be a wet summer; consequently, there was little difference in moisture levels between treatments, although there were difference in temperature across the various treatments. The cut mulch alone treatments kept soil temperatures cooler, accounting for slower crop growth in these treatments. Temperatures under both the red and the black plastic mulch were warmer at the start of the season than in the cut grain areas, resulting in faster spring development of crops grown in the plastic.