No-till, no-herbicide planting of early vegetable crops into winter-killed, low residue cover crops

Posted: June 30, 2011

Even though the trials and tribulations of this year’s wet cool spring seem like ancient history, NOW is the time to start thinking about early fall cover crops that just might be able to help you get your early spring vegetables started earlier next year.
Kohlrabi no‐till seeded into forage radish residue using no fertilizer or herbicide.

Kohlrabi no‐till seeded into forage radish residue using no fertilizer or herbicide.

A new project aims to enable earlier vegetable planting in spring without the use of herbicides or tillage though the use of alternative cover crops. Under a grant from Northeast SARE, a team of research scientists, extension agents and farmers from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are working to develop new systems of no-herbicide no-till planting of early vegetables into a seedbed prepared by low-residue winter-killed cover crops such as forage radish.


  • Wet spring weather can delay planting. Soils are cold and too wet to till.
  • Even in a normal year, having the soil prepped and ready can save time and money.
  • Winter-killed covers like radish provide numerous benefits, but unlike rye or vetch, they don’t keep soils cold and wet in spring. There is no need to kill them and work them in before you can plant, eliminating the need for tillage.

Previous Research 

Forage radish is a unique cover crop that can capture large amounts of nitrogen in fall and release it again early in spring, while loosening compacted soils and effectively suppressing weeds in early spring. In fact, by early spring, the soil after forage radish is essentially weed free, has very little residue, and is drier and warmer and ready to plant earlier than soils under most other cover crops or just winter weeds.

 Project Goals

This new project is designed to see if it is practical to plant early crops directly into this seedbed without tilling it first – and without spraying a burn-down herbicide, either. A few of the questions the project will be asking are:

  • Will this work with conventional planters commonly used by small and medium-scale growers?
  • Will early crops be able to use the nitrogen released by the radish?
  • Will weeds be controllable once the crop is up?

Visit University of Maryland’s new website ( or contact PA Educators Tianna DuPont or Charlie White for more information and stay tuned for research and demonstration results!