Measure the Effectiveness of Interseeded Cover Crops for Proactive Weed prevention in a Chemical-free, Low-till Vegetable Market Garden Operation

Project Overview

FNC17-1073
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $7,500.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Hallelujah Acres Farm
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
James Catron
Hallelujah Acres Farm LLC

Information Products

Commodities

  • Agronomic: buckwheat, clovers
  • Vegetables: broccoli, cucurbits, peppers, tomatoes

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, intercropping
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Summary:

    Problem addressed: Find and implement an effective, economical solution for weed prevention in the small, chemical-free vegetable market garden operation.  

    As a small farmer, it is critical I implement the most effective sustainable agricultural practices. I operate my business alone, hiring resources only at critical harvest points and for marketing. Weed prevention and management is my highest concern due to the adverse impact weeds have on plant production and health, the resource hours required to prevent or remove weeds, and the resulting effect on the quality of life of the farmer. I must solve this problem to sustain my business.

    This problem presents a dilemma for farmers I’ve talked to in my community, and I can assume that is true for many others. The desire to avoid chemical herbicides and put soil health at the forefront has resulted in a reluctance to follow traditional practices. I’ve toured vegetable gardens wrought with weeds affecting yields.  

    Solution pursued: Compare the effectiveness of three varieties of interseeded cover crops in weed prevention with two commonly used methods in similar market garden operations. The cover crop solution will be compared to plastic or biodegradable mulch, and manual hoeing. 

    Research Approach: Each chosen variety of vegetable will be planted in 20 foot test strips, each utilizing a different method of weed control. I worked with Purdue Extension and NRCS and did my own research to determine which specific cover crop varieties to test. I planned to test a minimum of three different vegetable crops, and ended up testing five.

    Test cases:

    • Green Pepper – Buckwheat terminated prior to going to seed, Paper mulch, manual hoeing.
    • Tomato – Crimson Clover, red plastic mulch, manual hoeing.
    • Broccoli – Crimson Clover, manual hoeing
    • Summer Squash – Icicle radishes, Nasturtiums, manual hoeing
    • Storage Onion – Crimson Clover, paper mulch, manual hoeing

    Ancillary research – I planted white clover in aisles to suppress weeds.

    For each case I tracked resource man-hours to install, weed plug counts per square foot, man-hours to manage weeds, and soil health. Soil health was assessed through soil testing.

    Education: Two field days were held and I presented the project and results at a community training session and a Boone County Master Gardener meeting.

    Field Days: The Boone County Master Gardeners combined with NRCS, and Soil and Water Conservation District had 28 attendees. The Lebanon High School FFA group had 12 student attendees.

    I developed and used a Powerpoint presentation to deliver information to over 60 attending the two meetings. 

    Through this project I have learned that interseeded cover crops can help prevent weeds in a chemical free vegetable market garden operation. The effectiveness of the cover crop varies by specific vegetable, and must be combined with other weed prevention methods for the best overall solution.

    In summary:

    • Green Pepper – Buckwheat is not effective because of the rate of growth. Plastic mulch is a better alternative.
    • Tomato – Likewise, due to long growing season, we recommend the use of plastic mulch or early seeding of crimson clover.
    • Broccoli – Crimson Clover is a good cover crop to use with this vegetable.
    • Summer Squash – Icicle radish (multiple plantings) and marigolds for pests are recommended.
    • Storage Onion – Plastic mulch for the onions is our recommendation.

    White clover planted in the aisles is highly recommended and a great nitrogen source.

    As far as time, the cost of hoeing far exceeds the time/cost to purchase or install the plastic mulch or plant cover crop.

    Project objectives:

    Objectives:

    • Track and compare the overall costs for each solution.
    • Test and compare impacts to the soil of each solution at specific intervals.
    • Conduct field days and share the research status and opportunity.
    • Arrive on a working solution for weed prevention in my market garden.
    • Document said solution.

    Short term goals:

    • Compare and contrast man-hours to implement and maintain each solution.
    • Compare and contrast weed starts per square foot at multiple time intervals.
    • Compare and contrast man-hours to remove weeds at multiple intervals.
    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.