Spring Cover Crops for Vegetable Rotations

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

One principle of managing soil for improved health is to always have a crop growing on the soil. This will maintain or add organic matter, provide benefits from the action of growing roots, and recycle nutrients.

Where fall cover crops were not planted due to late harvest, spring cover crops can be planted in early April to provide soil health benefits where vegetables and field crops are not scheduled until late May or the month of June.

The most common cover crop options for late March or early April planting include spring oats, mustards and annual ryegrass. Plant oats at 90-120 lbs per acre, mustards at 10-20 lbs per acre, and annual ryegrass at 20-30 lbs per acre.

Field peas are another option; however, we are somewhat south of the best zone for spring planting. One type of field pea is the winter pea which is often fall planted in our area but can be spring planted. It has smaller seed so the seeding rate is 30-60 lbs per acre. Canadian or spring field peas are larger seeded and used as a spring cover crop planted alone at 120-140 lb/A.

Mixtures can also be used. Field peas are well adapted to mixing with spring oats or with annual ryegrass. Reduce seeding rates of each component when using in mixtures. Recommended seeding rates are 70 lbs of oats per acre and 40 lbs/A of Austrian winter peas or 80 lbs/A of Canadian or spring field peas.

Many mustard family crops have biofumigation potential. When allowed to grow to early flower stage and then incorporated into the soil, they release compounds that act as natural fumigants, reducing soil borne disease organisms. Some biofumigant mustard varieties and blends include ‘Pacific Gold’, ‘Idagold’, ‘Caliente’, ‘Trifecta’, and ‘Kodiak’. Other mustard family crops serve as non-hosts, trap crops, or deterrents for pests. In research at the University of Delaware biofumigation using early spring planted biofumigant crops such as ‘Image’ radish, ‘Dwarf Essex’ rapeseed, or ‘Nemat’ arugula showed potential for managing root knot nematode populations. When used as a biofumigant, mustard family cover crops should be grown to achieve maximum biomass by adding 60-100 lbs of nitrogen per acre. Nitrogen is also required to produce high biomass with spring oats and annual ryegrass at similar rates. When planting mixtures with peas, nitrogen rates should be reduced.

An often-forgotten spring seeded legume crop that can also be used is red clover. Red clover can be frost seeded into small grains, seeded alone, or mixed with spring oats or annual ryegrass. Seeding rates for pure stands would be 10-16 lbs/A, for mixtures 6-10 lbs/A.

Spring planted radishes and mustards as cover crops.

Fall and Winter Crops are Just Getting Started in High Tunnels

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

As summer crops finish in high tunnels, October and November provides the opportunity to plant a wide range of vegetables for late fall and winter harvest. This is a way to continue providing fresh produce to CSA’s, farmer’s markets, restaurants, schools, and local retail.

Leaf Crops
Options for leafy greens from direct seeding include many mustard family crops such as kale, green and red mustards, arugula, Bok Choi, Napa cabbage, Asian greens such as mizuna, and turnip greens. Many of these greens will overwinter in a tunnel.

Many types of lettuce for cut salad greens and small heads can be direct seeded including leaf types, butterhead-bibb types, romaine, and crisp head types. Lettuce can be grown throughout the fall and winter months.

Beet family greens including beets for greens, swiss chard, and spinach direct seeded in October will provide long term harvests into mid-winter.

Other cool season greens to try as a fall planting in high tunnels include corn salad, cress, and Claytonia.

Newly planted arugula in a high tunnel

Root Crops
Beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips seeded in the high tunnel in October and early November will provide late fall and early winter harvests.

Alliums
Leeks transplanted now for overwintering will allow for late winter and early spring harvest. Green onions (scallions) will produce a fall crop from transplants and will overwinter from direct seeding to produce an early spring crop. Chives and garlic chives seeded in October will produce a crop from late fall through spring.

Other Possibilities
Thick seedings of peas (green shelled or field peas) will provide plentiful pea shoots throughout the late fall and winter.

Herbs such as parsley can be seeded now for late fall through early spring harvest. Cilantro is an excellent choice for fall high tunnel production from direct seeding. There are also several perennial herbs that will produce well from late fall through winter (thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, mint as examples).

Timings for Late Summer and Fall Harvested Vegetables Revisited

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

Plantings for fall harvested vegetables are underway and will continue through August. Timing these plantings can be a challenge, especially where multiple harvests are needed. Plantings from early July through the beginning of September may be made, with cutoff dates depending on the crop, variety, and season extension methods such as row covers, low tunnels, and high tunnels.

These plantings can be divided into 2 groups: 1) warm season vegetables for harvest up to a killing frost and 2) cool season vegetables for extended harvest in the fall.

The three main factors influencing crop growth and performance in the fall are daylength, heat units, and frost or freeze events. A few days difference in planting date in the summer can make a big difference in days to maturity in the fall.

Warm season vegetables for fall harvest include snap beans, squash, and cucumbers. July plantings of sweet corn can also be successful to extend seasons for farm stands. Mid-July plantings of tomatoes and peppers also are made for late harvests, particularly in high tunnels.

Cool season vegetables for fall harvest include cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower; the cole crop greens, kale and collards; mustard and turnip greens; turnips for roots; spinach; beets; lettuce; leeks; green onions; and radishes.

To extend harvest in the fall, successive plantings are an option. However, days between plantings will need to be compressed. One day difference in early August planting for a crop like beans can mean a difference of several days in harvest date.

Another option to extend harvest in the fall is by planting varieties that have different days to maturity at the same time. This is particularly successful with crops such as broccoli and cabbage where maturity differences of more than 30 days can be found between varieties.

Another way to get later harvests is to use row covers or protecting structures (high tunnels). This can allow for more heat accumulation and will aid with protection against frost and freezes. Decisions on what type or combination of covers/protection to use and when to apply the protection will influence fall vegetable maturation and duration of harvest. In general, plantings of cool season crops can be made 30-45 days later in high tunnels than in outside production.

A final factor for summer planting for fall production is on planting cutoff dates. For example, a crop such as cucumber may produce well with an August 2 planting but poorly with an August 8 planting; broccoli has a wider planting window than cauliflower; turnip greens have a wider planting window than kale.

Planting Window for Fall Harvested Warm Season Vegetables
(harvest September through Frost)

Snap Beans: July 10 through August 10

Lima Beans: June 15 through July 20

Cucumbers: July 10 through August 7 (high tunnel transplanted up to September 1)

Peppers: Transplant up to July 10 (high tunnel up to July 30)

Pumpkins and Winter Squash: Direct seed through June 30, transplant up to July 7

Summer Squash: Direct seed July 15 through August 15 (high tunnel up to September 1)

Sweet Corn: Direct seed July 1 through July 30

Tomatoes: Transplant up to July 10 (high tunnel up to July 30)

Planting Window for Fall Harvested Cool Season Vegetables
(harvest September – December)
For transplants, seed 3-6 weeks prior to desired planting date (8 weeks for leeks and onions).

Beets: Direct seed July 1 through August 10

Swiss Chard: Direct seed July 15 through August 20 (high tunnel up to September 30)

Broccoli: Transplants July 15 – August 20

Brussels Sprouts: Transplants through July 10

Cabbage: Transplants July 1 – August 10

Cauliflower: Transplants July 20 through August 15

Kale: Transplants July 15 through August 30

Kale: Direct seed July 1 through August 15 (high tunnel up to September 30)

Collards: Direct seed July 15 through August 15

Carrots: Direct seed through July 10 (high tunnel up to August 30)

Turnip Greens: August 1 through September 10 (high tunnel up to September 30)

Turnip Roots: August 1 through August 30 (high tunnel up to September 20)

Mustard Greens: August 1 through September 10 (high tunnel up to September 30)

Leeks: Transplant July 20 through August 10

Lettuce (full head stage): Direct seeded August 1 through August 20

Lettuce (full head stage): Transplants August 10 through August 30

Lettuce (baby stage and cut salad mix): Direct seed August 1 through September 15 (high tunnel up to October 15)

Onion (green bunching): Direct seed July 1 through August 30 (high tunnel through September 30)

Parsley: direct seed July 15 through August 15 (high tunnel through September 15)

Radishes (salad): Direct seed August 1 through September 30 (high tunnel through November 30)

Radishes (Daikon): Direct seed August 1 through September 10 (high tunnel up to September 30)

Spinach: Direct seed August 10 through August 30 (high tunnel up to September

Fall Vegetables – Timing Plantings

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

Plantings for fall harvested vegetables will be underway in the next few weeks. Timing these plantings can be a challenge, especially where multiple harvests are needed. Plantings from early July through the beginning of September may be made, with cutoff dates depending on the crop, variety, and season extension methods such as row covers, low tunnels, and high tunnels.

These plantings can be divided into 2 groups: 1) warm season vegetables for harvest up to a killing frost and 2) cool season vegetables for extended harvest in the fall.

The three main factors influencing crop growth and performance in the fall are daylength, heat units, and frost or freeze events. A few days difference in planting date in the summer can make a big difference in days to maturity in the fall.

Warm season vegetables for fall harvest include snap beans, squash, and cucumbers. July plantings of sweet corn can also be successful to extend seasons for farm stands. Mid-July plantings of tomatoes and peppers also are made for late harvests, particularly in high tunnels.

Cool season vegetables for fall harvest include cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower; the cole crop greens, kale and collards; mustard and turnip greens; turnips for roots; spinach; beets; lettuce; leeks; green onions; and radishes.

To extend harvest in the fall, successive plantings are an option. However, days between plantings will need to be compressed. One day difference in early August planting for a crop like beans can mean a difference of several days in harvest date.

Another option to extend harvest in the fall is with planting different maturing varieties at the same time. This is particularly successful with crops such as broccoli and cabbage where maturity differences of more than 30 days can be found between varieties.

Another way to get later harvests is to use row covers or protecting structures (high tunnels). This can allow for more heat accumulation and will aid with protection against frost and freezes. Decisions on what type or combination of covers/protection to use and when to apply the protection will influence fall vegetable maturation and duration of harvest. In general, plantings of cool season crops can be made 30-45 days later in high tunnels than in outside production.

A final factor for summer planting for fall production is on planting cutoff dates. For example, a crop such as cucumber may produce well with an August 2 planting but poorly with an August 8 planting; broccoli has a wider planting window than cauliflower; turnip greens have a wider planting window than kale.

Planting Window for Fall Harvested Warm Season Vegetables
(harvest September through Frost)

Snap Beans: July 10 through August 10

Lima Beans: June 15 through August 15

Cucumbers: July 10 through August 7 (high tunnel transplanted up to September 1)

Peppers: Transplant up to July 10 (high tunnel up to July 30

Pumpkins and Winter Squash: Direct seed through June 30

Summer Squash: Direct seed July 15 through August 15 (high tunnel up to September 1)

Sweet Corn: Direct seed July 1 through July 30

Tomatoes: Transplant July 20 through July 5 (high tunnel up to July 30)

Planting Window for Fall Harvested Cool Season Vegetables
(harvest September – December)
For transplants, seed 3-6 weeks prior to desired planting date (8 weeks for leeks and onions).

Beets: Direct seed July 1 through August 10

Swiss Chard: Direct seed July 15 through August 20 (high tunnel up to September 30)

Broccoli: Transplants July 15 – August 20

Brussels Sprouts: Transplants June 20-July 10

Cabbage: Transplants July 1 – August 10

Cauliflower: Transplants July 20 through August 10

Kale: Transplants July 15 through August 30

Kale: Direct seed July 1 through August 15 (high tunnel up to September 30)

Collards: Direct seed July 15 through August 15

Carrots: June 20 through July 5 (high tunnel up to August 1)

Turnip Greens: August 1 through September 10 (high tunnel up to September 30)

Turnip Roots: August 1 through August 30 (high tunnel up to September 20)

Mustard Greens: August 1 through September 10 (high tunnel up to September 30)

Leeks: Transplant July 20 through August 10

Lettuce (full head stage): Direct seeded August 1 through August 20

Lettuce (full head stage): Transplants August 10 through August 30

Lettuce (baby stage and cut salad mix): Direct seed August 1 through September 15 (high tunnel up to October 15)

Onion (green bunching): Direct seed July 1 through August 30 (high tunnel through September 30)

Parsley: direct seed July 15 through August 15 (high tunnel through September 15)

Pumpkins and Winter Squash: Direct seed through June 30

Radishes (salad): Direct seed August 1 through September 30 (high tunnel through November 30)

Radishes (Daikon): Direct seed August 1 through September 10 (high tunnel up to September 30)

Spinach: Direct seed August 10 through August 30 (high tunnel up to September 30)