Effectiveness of different cover crops for erosion, weed, pest, and disease suppression in pumpkins

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2015: $3,818.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Grant Recipient: Red Barn Ranch
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: sorghum (milo), grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Vegetables: cucurbits


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: cover crops, no-till
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism
  • Pest Management: biological control
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Proposal summary:


    The issues we have been having with our pumpkin production have been erosion and disease pressure. While erosion on our eight acre patch may seem insignificant to others, it is a huge issue to our operation and community. Pumpkins are spaced very widely when they are planted, depending on the variety they may be 10 feet in any direction from the next seed, this provides a lot of uncovered areas for erosion to begin. Initially we thought of leaving some sod in between the rows of pumpkins, but as they begin to grow they spread quite vigorously. With this growth it was extremely difficult and eventually impossible to mow and maintain that grass. This left us with knee high grass and weeds with pumpkins scattered throughout and in turn a very unfriendly pumpkin patch for our visitors. Continuing to leave the soil unprotected was our alternative.

    As mentioned, this leaves a lot of bare soil exposed to wind and rain, which can leave excessive buildups of wet soil at the ends of the ditches that are caused by heavy rains. The bare soil is also a hazard, and quite frankly a turn off for all our visitors when they come to the farm and go out into the patch to pick their own pumpkins. Having themselves and their families become muddy messes is not an attraction. Eliminating the bare soil with cover crops should armor and protect our soils from erosion, in addition it will provide a stable path for visitors to walk on while picking out pumpkins, as well as a solid base for us to get out and monitor the plants for any additional problems.

    The bare soil, which often holds excess moisture when the silt builds up, is a hot spot for pests and disease to live. The knee high jungle of grass was even worse. Several disease issues in pumpkins are started by pests damaging the vine or fruit while feeding and leaving an open wound for soil borne diseases to enter through. Creating a less inviting environment for pests by having cover crops that are of a different family than pumpkins (which are cucurbits) will lower the opportunity for damage to the pumpkins. The cover crops will also form a barrier between the soil and the pumpkin vine, further eliminating the chances of soil borne diseases from being transferred to the plant or fruit.

    To test this research we plan to divide our pumpkin patch into four sections to test our success with different cover crops. One section will be for a cool season cover crop mix that will be planted in the fall, one section for a cool season cover crop mixture that will be planted in the spring, one section for a warm season cover crop mix planted in the spring, and the fourth section will be a control area where we will continue the same practices we have been doing. Upon planting time in mid-June all the cover crops will be rolled down with a roller-crimper to lay the cover crop flat and light pesticide application will ensure termination of the cover crop. This dead layer of cover crop will provide that mat of protection we are striving for. The control area will be completely tilled as it has been done before. Rows of the same variety and population of pumpkins will be planted equally in each section to provide a balanced approach. This will offer our basis for evaluating the environmental, social, and economic advantages and disadvantages that each method has over another with relevance to our disease and erosion concerns.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Gain an understanding of what works as a cover crop in pumpkin production and what does not.
    2. Investigate how effective each of three varieties of cover crops are and in each disease, weed, pest and erosion control as well as actual vegetable production.
    3. Make a recommendation on whether cover crops are effective in both cost and time spent for the benefit, if any they produce.
    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.