Recommended cover-cropping techniques for weed management in squash
A fall rye and oats cover crop was planted in the fall of 2016 on two farms (one conventional and one organic). Modification in the form of wooden dividers allowed for the seeding of 2 rows of oats for every eight rows of rye. The oats winterkilled, leaving a narrow band of bare ground, where the squash would be planted. Using a roller crimper, the rye cover crop was rolled down following an application of glyphosate (conventional farm), and at anthesis stage (organic farm). The intention of this practice is to provide an alternative weed management strategy for squash, improve squash quality, and contribute to overall soil health. Data was collected over the fall/winter 2016/2017 and in the summer of 2017.
Due to crop failure as well as some other challenges, the expected results were not achieved in this project, however, some valuable lessons were learned for the utilization of this practice on both conventional and organic farms. Volunteer winter wheat from a previous crop was a problem in the winter-killed oat rows, providing too much competition and effectively smothering out the squash, so preceding this practice with a winter wheat crop may not be ideal. Meeting target planting dates for squash was also a problem, with both the logistics or crimping the rye and accumulating sufficient biomass early in the season. Some suggestions to this effect include seeding the squash directly into the winterkilled rows, to be followed by a pre-emergent herbicide application and subsequent roller-crimping. Non-conventional fertility sources proved a challenge in supplying sufficient nitrogen to offset the heavily carbonous rye mulch. With further fine-tuning, this method could be an effective weed management strategy for squash production, especially for large-scale organic systems. The benefits of the cover crop to soil health would be universally attractive to organic and conventional farmers alike.