Managing Over-Wintered Rye Cover Crop in Spring

Winter Rye (Secale cereale) is a commonly used cover crop in backyard grower, community garden and urban farming operations.  It is cold hardy and can germinate in as low as 34 degree soil temperatures making it useful to plant after a fall harvest of summer vegetables that last until the frost date.  Once established it can tolerate sub-zero temperatures over the winter to start rapid growth in the spring.


Winter Rye does many things well:

  • Seed is inexpensive and easy to obtain
  • Establishes quickly and easily
  • Suppresses weeds
  • Prevents erosion
  • Can create large amounts of organic matter
  • Assists in suppressing pests
  • Scavenges nitrogen


Winter rye however can present a management challenge as it can regrow depending on what stage of growth it is terminated in and how large it is allowed to get before management methods are implemented.


There are several  different types of management methods that can be used to terminate winter rye.  Each has its place depending on what the need is for the cover crop, what management tools are available,  as well as what is the production plan after the crop has been terminated.  Management Methods:

  • Herbicide
  • Tillage
  • Rolling/Crimping

Herbicides can be used to effectively terminate rye at any stage of growth.  Tillage can have spotty success due to regrowth of clumps if the rye is less than 12 inches tall, and multiple passes may be needed.  Rolling or Crimping is more effective if the rye has gotten about 4 feet tall.  Keep in mind that rye at that stage is very large with woody stems and may be difficult to manage unless the producer has heavy duty equipment.

Rye regrowth after tillage. The rye was tilled 14 days prior at 10 inches tall then followed by rainfall which facilitated regrowth. Will need additional tillage or herbicide application


Rye was terminated in early April at 18 inches tall with herbicide (glyphosate) then compost was added prior to summer vegetables in May


Rye was crimped at four feet tall to terminate growth and left in place, then tomatoes were planted through the rye mulch


Each method of rye termination has benefits and concerns.  A careful consideration needs to be made about what benefits are needed and how that will impact production.  A few things to keep in mind when planning around spring management of winter rye cover crop:

  • Rye suppresses germination of seed after termination due to allelopathy.  It can take up to 3 or 4 weeks for that effect to subside.  Make sure to plan termination if early spring seeding is planned.  Incorporating the residue after termination can speed up breakdown of the rye to allow earlier seeding.
  • The smaller and younger the rye, the more Nitrogen is present.  Older rye with more stems has more Carbon present.  A ration of 25:1 (roughly the same as well made compost) strikes a good balance of preventing nitrogen loss and preventing nitrogen tie up to break down the rye. (Nitrogen Release from Cover Crops – SARE)  While this can be difficult to accurately predict or measure in rye, it occurs when the rye is starting stem elongation but before it gets to the boot stage. (Purdue – Small Grain Growth Stages)
  • The taller the rye gets, the more difficult it gets to manage.  Large scale equipment may be needed. Herbicides such as glyphosate may be less effective the taller the rye gets.

SARE Winter Rye Fact Sheet

Cereal Rye for Cover Cropping in Organic Farming – eXtension

Local Foods Guide Being Revised and Reprinted

The Franklin County Local Foods Guide is being revised and reprinted for the 2018 growing season. If you are a farmer or food producer who sells food products directly to consumers through an on-farm stand, CSA, or other direct-marketing strategy, we would like to list your operation in the guide at no charge.  Community farmer’s markets will also be listed in the guide.  There will be a printed and online version of the guide.

If you would like to be listed in the guide, please contact Mike Hogan at  Listings are due by May 21, 2018.

Onion Planting Choices – Seed vs. Set vs. Plants

Onions are a mainstay in vegetable production at all levels of  backyard growing,  community gardening and urban farming.  A producer has several choices of different forms that onions can be started from including seed, set or transplant.

Onion seed can be purchased from multiple suppliers and onions grow readily and easily from seed.  It is important to note that the onion (Allium) family seed is generally only viable for the year it is purchased and new seed should be purchased each year to ensure satisfactory germination rates.  Seed can be started in the ground early in the spring as well as under lights in a seed start grow station then transplanted in the ground in early spring when the soil is workable.  Seeds should be started under lights about 6-8 weeks prior to the transplant date and please note that onions are notoriously slow to germinate.

A common form of onion varieties that growers use for planting is onion sets.  An onion set is a live dormant onion bulb that was started from seed the previous year.  They are planted in the ground in early spring as soon as the soil is workable.

A third form of onion to plant is a purchased transplant.  These onion plants were grown the the prior year and come in banded bundles of 40-60 plants per bundle.  They are usually planted around early April in central Ohio.  They are a little harder to source than onion sets but generally will come labelled with what onion variety they are.  They may appear to be dried out but they are dormant live plants and need to be planted soon after purchase.


Each of these ways to plant onions can result in a good harvest and should be selected according to the management style and preferred variety of the grower.  The critical component for success is to know what day-length the onion variety is.  Onion size development depends to a great deal on the amount of day light they receive during the growing season.  The amount of day light needed by an onion variety to form a bulb is known as its day-length, and this varies depending upon what part of the country you grow in.  Central Ohio is a long-day onion location as we have a longer period of day light during the growing season as compared to the southern part of the United States.  Long-day onion varieties perform better here compared to short day varieties.  This is important when you make a choice of what form of onion you wish to plant whether it is seed, set or transplant,  that you pick a long-day onion variety.



Be careful when selecting what form of onion you wish to plant that you can verify if it is long-day vs. short-day to maximize production.

Illinois Extension Factsheet on Growing Onions


Weather Update for Late April 2018

To say that this spring has been challenging to producers has been an understatement.  The below normal cold temperatures and above average precipitation has adjusted many production plans and caused growers to delay their planting schedules.

Central Ohio soil temperatures are currently in the mid to low forty degree range.    The 15 day forecast shows a warming by this weekend with temperature outlooks to the mid-sixties as the highs with lows in the mid-forties during this 15 day period.  May is forecast to be slightly warmer than normal with precipitation in the normal to above normal range.

The summer weather predictions are currently for above normal temperatures and slightly above normal precipitation.

C.O.R.N.  Agronomic Newsletter

NWS/NOAA Climate Prediction Center


Food Preservation Class Series in Groveport

I am pleased to assist my OSUE Franklin Co. colleague Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, with marketing of a Food Preservation Series of classes to be held at the Groveport Town Hall from May to September.   Learn the basics of preserving the harvest so you can have food all season.  PRE -REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED.  All details are below.

CLICK HERE for a printable flyer of the class series –> Jenny 2018 Groveport series flyer-q9lwvd