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Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers

Field peasCanadian Field peas

Field peas PDF file

Field peas are used in spring plantings as a source of organic matter and nitrogen, which improve overall soil health. Peas are a modest nitrogen-fixer on vegetable ground, but are the only choice in spring. In late summer, peas can be interseeded with oats to provide ground cover over the winter.

Land preparation
Prepare a level seedbed free of weeds and clods. Avoid wet spots.
Additional fertilizer typically is not required, especially on vegetable land.

Seeding rate
140 lb/ac or
120 lb/ac plus 20 lb/ac oats or
50 lb/ac plus 100 lb/ac oats plus 30 lb/ac vetch.
A combination of peas, hairy vetch, and oats provides ground cover and suppresses weeds throughout the growing season. The peas use the oats as trellises. Vetch grows until frost and provides winter cover.

Seeding date
March-April. Plant as early as possible with a nurse crop, such as oats.
Possibly plant with oats in late summer for winter cover. Nitrogen from the peas will aid the growth of the oats, which will frost kill and give ground cover over the winter.

Seed Source
Local farm seed dealers. Trapper is a common field pea variety.

Maintenance
None.

Control
Mow and incorporate to improve organic matter. Wait 1-2 weeks between incorporation and replanting to prevent nutrient tie-up that results in inhibition of the following crop.

Tips
Peas are susceptible to a wide range of root-rot organisms. Avoid a close rotation with another legume crop. An option is to harvest for haylage when the nurse crop is in the boot stage, but most of the nitrogen will be removed.