No-till, No-herbicide Planting of Spring Vegetables Using Low Residue Winter Killed Cover Crops

2012 Annual Report for LNE11-312

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $154,405.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Dr. Ray Weil
University of Maryland
Natalie Lounsbury
University of New Hampshire

No-till, No-herbicide Planting of Spring Vegetables Using Low Residue Winter Killed Cover Crops


The goals of this project are fourfold for vegetable farms: to decrease spring tillage, to decrease fertilizer use in spring, to allow for no-till planting without herbicides and to increase overall soil and environmental health by increasing cover crop use. This project is intended to reach organic and conventional growers of different scales and equipment.

This spring marked the first season of vegetable planting following the cover crops that were planted in fall 2011, and this fall the second season of cover crops was planted at two experimental sites in Maryland and on nine farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia (near Maryland). We held a field day in April at the experiment station in Clarksville, MD with fifty participants and gave presentations in Atlantic City, NJ (60 attendees), Hershey, PA (150 attendees), Harrington, DE (150 attendees) Lebanon, PA (20 attendees) Cape May, NJ (30 attendees) and Lancaster, PA (80 attendees). At each of these events, we gave out seed packets for farmers to try.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Performance target 1: 490 farmers either attended a field day or a presentation where they were introduced to using forage radish for no-till spring planting and received seed packets of forage radish and phacelia. In addition, several of our online annotated images of no-till planting into winterkilled covers received more than 200 views, with some receiving almost 500 views.

Performance target 2: Nine farmers in Maryland and Pennsylvania (and one in Virginia) planted on-farm trials using forage radish and other low-residue winterkilled cover crops such as phacelia and mixtures of cover crops in fall 2012 and will try no-tilling vegetables in spring 2013. One of these farms is the center for a beginning farmer training project, so the influence of this site is broad.


The first full season of this project was completed in June, 2012. The spring of 2012 was unusually warm and dry. In many areas of the Mid-Atlantic, cover crops that generally winterkill did not die, necessitating the publication of an extension article in the Maryland Vegetable and Fruit Headline News in April. This also meant that farmers did not have difficulty getting on wet fields in spring, as most fields were excessively dry. Therefore, one of the main intended benefits of low-residue winterkilled crops was not really needed for this unusually dry warm spring.

On-farm experiments from 2011-2012 gave us important feedback that some farmers did not experience the desired weed suppression to no-till plant their spring crops because of inadequate cover crop stands either due to inadequate soils nutrients (mainly N), too low seeding density, or too late planting. For 2012, we have tried to work closely with farmers to seed cover crops early enough, with enough soil fertility and proper density to suppress weeds.

We had two experiment sites with full replicated trials in 2011-2012 and preliminary data indicates that no-till planting following forage radish is more effective than planting after tillage for spinach, lettuce, kohlrabi and peas, but that the days to maturity may be longer for the no-till planted crops. We collected soil data showing that nitrogen and sulfur availability in soil following forage radish are much higher compared to oats and no cover crop. As mentioned previously, spring 2012 had unusually dry and warm weather conditions, and more data is needed to verify these results under more typical spring conditions.

We attempted to modify a Jang seeder to be sufficient for no-till planting into radish “residue” but were unsatisfied with the final product because it did not open or close a furrow effectively into untilled ground. The need for a heavier piece of equipment with a more robust opening and closing system led us to look elsewhere rather than continue to modify existing planters. We were able to use funds from another source to purchase two hand-pushed planters from Brazil that are much more robust and initial observations suggest that they will be able to no-till plant not only into radish residue, but possibly into higher residue cover crops. Some of our farmer-collaborators will be experimenting with these planters in spring 2013.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Although there is great interest in this project, we are still in the process of getting enough data to provide recommendations to farmers. Many farmers are interested in and willing to plant low-residue winterkilled cover crops, especially forage radish, regardless of the lack of data on fertilizer savings and which crops respond well to forage radish. This is likely because of the known benefits of forage radish such as compaction alleviation and the myriad anecdotal evidence of improved soil tilth. There is some resistance to the idea of no-till planting spring vegetables among some farmers, though some are interested. This is both because of perceived (or real) equipment limitations and concern over crop performance. More data from experiment sites and on-farm trials should alleviate these concerns and we are hopeful that more farmers will be willing to try no-till planting.


Dr. Masoud Hashemi
University of Massachusetts
201 Natural Resources Rd.
Amherst, MA 01003
Office Phone: 4135451843
David Liker
10151 Gorman Rd
Laurel, MD 20723
Office Phone: 3019088063
Tianna Dupont
Sustainable Agric. Extension Educator
Penn State University Cooperative Exensiont
Penn State University
North Hampton County Extension Office
Nazereth, PA 18064
Office Phone: 6107461970
Charlie White
Sustainable Agric. Extension Coordinator
Penn State Univ: Cooperative Extension
501 ASI Building Univ
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148639922
Jack Gurley
Calvert's Gift Farm
16813 Yeoho Rd
Sparks, MD 21152
Office Phone: 4104726764