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Nitrogen contribution of rye–hairy vetch cover crop mixtures to organically grown sweet corn

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2012

Andrew Lawson
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6420, USA.
Ann Marie Fortuna*
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6420, USA.
Craig Cogger
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University, Puyallup, WA, USA.
Andy Bary
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University, Puyallup, WA, USA.
Tami Stubbs
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6420, USA.
*Corresponding author:


Organic cropping systems that utilize winter grown cereal–legume cover crop mixtures can increase plant available nitrogen (N) to a subsequent cash crop, but the rate of N release is uncertain due to variations in residue composition and environmental conditions. A study was conducted to evaluate N availability from rye (Secale cereale L.)–hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) cover crop mixtures and to measure the response of organically grown sweet corn (Zea mays L.) to N provided by cover crop mixtures. Nitrogen availability from pure rye, pure hairy vetch, and rye–vetch mixtures was estimated using laboratory incubation with controlled temperature and soil moisture. Sweet corn N response was determined in a 2-year field experiment in western Washington with three cover crop treatments as main plots (50:50 rye–vetch seed mixture planted mid September, planted early October, and none) and four feather meal N rates as subplots (0, 56, 112 and 168 kg available N ha−1). Pure hairy vetch and a 75% rye–25% hairy vetch biomass mixture (R75V25) released similar amounts of N over 70 days in the laboratory incubation. But, the initial release of N from the (R75V25) treatment was nearly 70% lower, which may result in N release that is better timed with crop uptake. Cover crops in the field were dominated by rye and contained 34–76 kg ha−1 total N with C:N ranging from 18 to 27. Although time of planting and management of cover crop quality improved N uptake in sweet corn, cover crops provided only supplemental plant available N in this system.

Research Papers
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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