Optimization of cover crop strategies for pumpkin production in the mid-Atlantic

2004 Annual Report for LNE03-180

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $99,613.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $72,640.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Caragh Fitzgerald
Maryland Cooperative Extension
Kathryne Everts
University of Delaware, Dept. of Plant and Soil

Optimization of cover crop strategies for pumpkin production in the mid-Atlantic


Many vegetable and field crop producers grow pumpkins to diversify their operations and provide an alternative source of revenue. The use of cover crops and no-till planting reduces diseased fruit, soil erosion, weed pressure, and nutrient loss. However, several concerns have prevented the wide-scale adoption of no-till methods for pumpkin production. These are: concern about carryover seed from the hairy vetch causing a weed problem in subsequent years; weed management in a no-till system; and a potential increase in Fusarium rot. In addition, farmers have requested help identifying cover crops that can be used after the pumpkin harvest.

This 3-year project is designed to address research needs expressed by pumpkin growers. We propose to 1) develop at least 2 cover crop schemes that maximize profits of pumpkin producers while minimizing disease development, and 2) improve the understanding of how cover crops affect pumpkin diseases, fungicide use and the cost of pumpkin crop production. We will examine cover crops to precede or follow the pumpkin crop; the effect of the cover crops on yield, fruit quality; incidence and severity of pumpkin diseases; and management options for diseases.

Pumpkin growers will be active participants in this project through feedback on our research and by conducting on-farm trials and demonstrations. Farmers will learn about cover crops and will provide us with feedback and suggestions on our project. Growers will attend twilight meetings and see results of replicated research non-replicated on-farm demonstrations. We will work directly with interested farmers to help them implement the new technology.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the 150 mid-Atlantic pumpkin growers participating in this SARE project, 12 will either initiate cover crop use or improve their cover crop selection and management within 3-5 years of the start of this project. Alternatively, the research may determine that a particular cover crop/pumpkin production strategy is not profitable and we will demonstrate to 150 growers to not adopt this production practice thus avoiding lost income for these growers.

To help us achieve this goal, we will produce written descriptions of at least 2 cover crop schemes that maximize the profits of pumpkin producers while minimizing disease development. These descriptions will include information on cover crop management and their effects on pumpkin diseases and management. These products will help farmers adopt new practices even after the project has concluded.


  • Original milestones listed, followed by 2004 progress toward milestones.

    75 pumpkin growers will give feedback on cover crop selection and problem identification (30 in calendar year 2004, 45 in 2005). Surveys were distributed to 193 farmers at 3 meetings.

    Farmer cooperators will be identified for the on-farm replicated experiments (3-4 farms) and of demonstration plantings (at least 3 farms per year). (June/July, 2003 and June/July, 2004) Data collection on the fall, 2003, planting was conducted. These plantings were on 3 commercial farms and included 5 blocks. New experiments were planted in fall, 2004 on 3 commercial farms in central Maryland. A total of 6 blocks were planted.
    o During the three-year period, 150 farmers will learn about using and managing cover crops, including the effect of cover crop selection on pest and disease management. They will learn this by attending one or more meetings that include the topic of cover crop use with pumpkins. In 2004, 223 farmers learned about the experiment, and particularly learned about overseeding clover into standing pumpkins. Outreach activities included:

    2004 Delaware Vegetable Growers Meeting, Vine Crops Session “Pumpkin Round Table” at Harrington, DE (January 7, 2004; attendance approximately 30). Included brief summary of project.

    Central Maryland Vegetable Growers’ Conference (January 23, 2004; attendance approximately 100). Included preliminary information about the overseeding experiment in cover crop presentations. Provided a brief summary about the project (from the proceedings of the Pumpkin Twilight Tour). Surveyed attendees, solicited names for pumpkin mailing list.

    Southern Maryland Vegetable Growers’ Conference (February 4, 2004; attendance 68). Include preliminary information about the overseeding experiment in cover crop presentations. Provided a brief summary about the project (from the proceedings of the Pumpkin Twilight Tour). Surveyed attendees, solicited names for pumpkin mailing list.

    2004 Pumpkin and Sweet Corn Twilight Tour at the Wye Research and Education Center, Queenstown, MD, on September 29 (attendance: 25). Reported observations from research in MD and DE. Provided written summary (attached). Received few surveys-too dark. Will follow up in Feb.-Mar. 2005.

    Presented a poster describing this work at the Northeast SARE conference in Burlington, VT. (Fitzgerald, C., K. Everts, B. Butler, L Romaneo, L. Lynch, A. Collins. (2004) Optimization of Cover Crop Strategies for Pumpkin Production in the Mid-Atlantic. Setting the Table. Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.)

    Approximately 20 farmers will attend each of the 2-3 annual meetings that include this topic. (calendar years 2003, 2004, 2005). 223 farmers attended the 4 meetings that included pumpkin and cover crop topics.

    12 pumpkin farmers will have either initiated cover crop use or improved their cover crop selection and management within 2 years of the end of the project. In 2004, one pumpkin farmer requested additional seed for a large-scale trial of overseeding crimson clover.

    Additional milestone: Completion of field projects on schedule. On-farm experiments are on schedule (see above). Research farm experiments are on schedule. Data was collected from the cover crop plots planted in fall, 2003. These experiments are being repeated in 2004/2005.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

On-farm Overseeding Experiments
Cover crop treatments were hairy vetch, crimson clover, red clover, Dutch clover, yellow sweet clover, and bare ground. These seeds were broadcast (double standard seeding rate) into a standing crop of pumpkins in September/October, 2004. Individual plot size was 50′ by 50′.
Farm 1 (Larriland Farm) hosted 2 blocks of this experiment. Crimson clover ground cover reached nearly 100 % in the spring, appearing to be a potential overseeded cover crop on this farm. None of the other ground cover treatments showed an acceptable amount of growth.
Farm 2 (Baugher Farm) hosted 2 blocks of this experiment. None of the cover crops showed an acceptable amount of growth.
Farm 3 (How Sweet It Is) hosted 1 block of this experiment. At planting, the research area was noted to have many cool-season weeds. By spring, the weeds had overgrown the plot, and no cover crop plants were observed.
This experiment was repeated in 2004. Farms 1 and 2 are hosting 3 and 2 replicates respectively. Farm 4 is hosting 1 replicate.

Research Farm Trials-Effect of Cover Crops on Pumpkin Yield
Replicated cover crop experiments were planted in the fall of 2003 in the following locations: Wye Research and Education Center, Lower Eastern Shore Research and Education Center, and at the University of Delaware research farm in Newark. At each site, treatments were arranged in a randomized complete block design with 4 replications. Samples of these cover crops were collected in spring, 2004. These were dried and ground and will be analyzed for carbon (C) nitrogen (N). The cover crops were killed by application of herbicide. Pumpkins (cv. Magic Lantern) were planted in the spring. Pumpkins were harvested in September, and individual fruit weights were collected. Foliar and fruit disease incidence was rated, and handle ratings were given. Data will be analyzed in 2005.
Along with other cultures grown in the lab from some fruit diseases in these experiments, a strain of Fusarium was isolated. This will be used in further experiments, particularly to test resistance.


Dwight Baugher

Baugher Enterprises, Inc.
Lori Lynch

Associate Professor and Extension Specialist
University of Maryland, Dept. of Agricultural Reso
Guy Moore

Larriland Farm
Jim and Linda Brown

Triadelphia Lakeview Farm
15155 Triadelphia Rd.
Glenelg, MD 21737
Office Phone: 4104894460
Laura Romaneo

Extension Educator
Maryland Cooperative Extension—Wicomico County
Bryan Butler

Extension Educator
Maryland Cooperative Extension—Carroll County