Peppers are a high-value and widely grown crop among vegetable growers in the Midwest. Many growers, myself included, plant peppers on plastic mulch because of its soil warming, moisture retention, and weed suppression benefits. While an effective tool for us, the waste generated through its disposal doesn’t align with our sustainability goals.
A major factor preventing us from discontinuing use of plasticulture is controlling weeds once plants become too large for mechanical cultivation, which can be more than a 2-month period for this long-season crop. For both plasticulture and bare ground systems, harvest is typically not completed until mid-October, at which point cover crop options are limited and unlikely to produce meaningful growth.
This project would evaluate interseeding of cover crops at various dates into an established pepper crop using both plasticulture and bare ground systems. Potential ecologic benefits of interseeding cover crops include reduced tillage and soil erosion, and added floral resources (clover) for pollinators. Economic benefits may include reduced weeding labor, nitrogen fixation, higher fruit quality from reduced soil splash, and improved production over the long term because of soil health improvement. Results will be shared through a field day, written/visual materials, and a professionally made video.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Compare plasticulture and bare ground production systems in terms of yield, ease of management, and suitability for cover crop interseeding.
- Determine which cover crop sowing date optimizes both cover crop growth and cash crop yield.
- Monitor environmental co-variables (light, temperature, soil moisture), crop nutrients, and cover crop biomass and ground cover to help explain treatment effects on cash and cover crop growth.
- Quantify soil health benefits of cover crop interseeding through measurement of infiltration and soil microbial respiration.
- Provide a production-scale demonstration of cover crop interseeding for farmers through a field day and professional video.