Investigating the short time effect of cover crops on physical and biological properties of soil

Document Type : Complete scientific research article


1 Department of Agronomy and plant breeding, Faculty of Agriculture and natural resources, University of Mohaghegh Ardabili, Ardabil, Iran

2 Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Plant and Soil Sciences/Crop Physiology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Massachusetts, USA

3 Department of Soil Science, Faculty of Agricultural resources, University of Mohaghegh Ardebil, Ardebil, Iran


Background and objectives: Cover crops are a strategy for enhancing the soil health and quality in agricultural systems. The relationship between cover crops and soil biological activity is an important component of soil health. Cover crops affect many of the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil through soil organic carbon. Additionally, they prevent the loss of soil nutrients by quickly growth and creating a suitable plant canopy on the soil surface. The aim of this study was comparing the effect of mono and mixed cropping of cover crops on soil physical and biological properties improvement on short term condition.

Materials and methods: In order to investigate the effect of cover crops on some physical and biological properties of the soil an experiment was conducted based on randomized complete block design with three replications at research farm of the University of Mohaghegh Ardabili in 2017. Experimental treatments were monoculture of rye (Secale cereal), chickling pea (Lathyrus sativus L.) and hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) (100%) and their dual and triple intercropping with 50% and 33.3% seed proportions, respectively. The base of seed rate on rye, chickling pea and hairy vetch monoculture were 100, 25 and 25 Kgha-1 respectively.

Results: The results showed that the highest biomass of cover crops (530 gm-2) obtained from rye monoculture and the lowest biomass from hairy vetch monoculture and hairy vetch+ chickling pea (85.5 and 91.6 gm-2 respectively) intercropping at the terminating time of the cover crops. Also, the comparison of the means showed that the highest organic matter (0.53%) and soil microbial population (2600000 number per gram) were obtained from rye + chickling pea +hairy vetch intercropping. The soil organic matter (SOM) increased 11.3% by rye + chickling pea +hairy vetch intercropping relative to control (no cover crop). The highest number of earth worms belonged to rye monoculture treatments. On average, earthworms in all of cover crops treatments increased by 80.5% relative to control. Also, the intercropping of rye +hairy vetch caused the lowest bulk density (1.01 gcm-3). The soil bulk density reduced 6.17% by rye + chickling pea relative to control. Cover crops decreased the time of water infiltration in the soil. The minimum time required for water infiltration on growing (8.39 Sec.) and terminating time of cover crops (4.99 Sec.) obtained by hairy vetch monoculture and rye + chickling pea intercropping.

Conclusion: Cover crops either monoculture or intercropping even in one plant growth season improved soil physical and biological properties. Rye and hairy vetch had the highest effect on dual and triple intercropping system.

Key words: Cover crops biomass, Earthworms count, Soil microbial population, Organic matter, Soil health.


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