Early -season cover crops prior to spinach planting provides co co-benefits for soil invertebrate community

Citation

Stokes-Rees, J., Henry, H., Scott, I. 2023. Early -season cover crops prior to spinach planting provides co co-benefits for soil invertebrate community. Poster presentation at the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario Conference, London, Ontario, February 15-16, 2023.

Plain language summary

The effect of tillage on soil invertebrate diversity and abundance is well known, however few studies have addressed the effects of cover crop use. Earthworms and insects (beneficial and pest) and other arthropods (centipedes, millipedes, pillbugs) are important components in the soil community and retaining their numbers will benefit the agroecosystem. The objective of the project was to examine the differences in invertebrate abundance due to cover crop practices versus tillage used for warm season vegetable production. A randomized block design cover crop trial was conducted in 2021 where cover crops were grown in the Spring, followed by mowing and mulching and then planting of spinach into mulch in the Summer. The spinach was hand-harvested. Sampling used soil monolith extraction with hand sorting and pitfall trap collections of macro-invertebrates. By the end of the spinach harvest the total number of invertebrates sampled were divided into recognized groupings: 85% of the abundance was associated with insects or other arthropods such as earthworms, millipedes, centipedes and predatory beetles. Earthworms were measured in greater numbers in plots where pearl millet and cow pea, were grown, compared to tilled plots. The combination of both had the same numbers of earthworm as in un-disturbed hay plots. The findings indicate that beneficial invertebrates are impacted by disturbances such as tilling. The use of cover crops to replace tillage in some vegetable production systems was found to retain or improve recovery of arthropod abundance which in turn benefits the agroecosystem.

Abstract

Cover crops are agriculturally recognized as a best management practice by means of reducing the need for tillage, herbicides, and fertilizer. Covers reduce erosion, protect soils from weed invasion and when terminated, they have the potential to increase soil organic matter. The effect of tillage on soil invertebrate diversity and abundance is well known, however few studies have addressed the effects of cover crop use. Insects (beneficial and pest) and other arthropods (earthworms, centipedes, millipedes, pillbugs) are important components in the soil community and retaining their numbers will benefit the agro-ecosystem. Our research focuses on differences in invertebrate abundance due to cover crop practices and tillage used for warm season vegetable production.

Publication date

2023-02-15

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