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

2005 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.


  • • 75 pumpkin growers will give feedback on cover crop selection and problem identification. In 2005, 75 surveys were distributed, asking about priority problems to the industry. 14 surveys were returned.
    • Farmer cooperators will be identified for the on-farm replicated experiments (3-4 farms) and of demonstration plantings (at least 3 farms per year). In 2005, 3 farms provided space for 6 on-farm trials this year.
    • 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 2005, 132 learned about the project, including 33 who visited the experimental site at Queenstown.
    • Approximately 20 farmers will attend each of the 2-3 annual meetings that include this topic. (calendar years 2003, 2004, 2005). (See above)
    • 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. We continue to seek farmers interested in increasing their use of cover crops.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Salisbury Location
In 2005, pumpkins planted into the fall cover crop of yellow sweet clover or the spring oats cover crop performed well overall. Pumpkins planted into yellow sweet clover performed equal to those planted into hairy vetch, which was the highest ranked fall planted cover crop in ripe fruit weight and good handle quality. Among the spring planted cover crops, spring oats ranked the highest in all assessments. Austrian winter pea, which performed well in 2004, ranked the lowest in mean fruit weight and total yield in 2005.
Queenstown Location
At the Queenstown location, cover crop type had no effect on ripe fruit yield, number of ripe fruit, or fruit weight yield in either 2004 or 2005.

Appendix A. Outreach
Thirty-three farmers and Extension personnel visited the SARE research plots as part of the 2005 Pumpkin and Sweet Corn Twilight Tour. In 2005, 93% of attendees rated the twilight as “excellent” or “very good,” and 100% said that attending the twilight was valuable for their businesses. Surveys in 2002 and 2005 showed that farmers anticipated using the following information: 86-100% variety selection; 86-100% disease management.

199 farmers and pesticide applicators learned about pumpkin production and were introduced to this project through 4 invited presentations in 2005. These were the Delaware Vegetable Growers’ Meeting, Marketing for Success: A Short Course for Growers and Market Managers (West Virginia), Maryland Commercial Pesticide Applicator Recertification, and the Caroline-Dorchester Vegetable Conference (Maryland).

The 2006 Pumpkin Twilight Tour will be held September 27, 2006 at the Wye Research and Education Center.

See Appendix B. Expanded Report (print version) for more results.


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