Buckwheat is superior to Tartary buckwheat as a cover crop, according to a research finding that provides valuable guidance to vegetable farmers especially in the northern Midwest grain basket.

The research, “Buckwheat Species as Summer Cover Crops for Weed Suppression in No-Tillage Vegetable Cropping Systems,” was co-authored by Unity College Assistant Professor of Sustainable Agricultural Enterprise Dr. Mary Saunders Bulan, and appears in the most recent issue of the journal Weed Science.

Buckwheat is a broadleaved annual species often used as a summer cover crop for its quick growth, weed suppressive ability, and ease of management. It matures in just 70 to 90 days and breaks down quickly. It suppresses weeds, attracts beneficial insects and pollinators, is easy to kill, and extracts soil phosphorus from soil in order to benefit cash crops.

The study compared buckwheat to Tartary buckwheat — a species related to buckwheat said to grow more vigorously than buckwheat, especially in cool conditions.

Researchers sought to determine the effectiveness of Tartary buckwheat relative to buckwheat for weed suppression, both during the cover-cropping phase and after cover-crop termination during cabbage production, and to quantify weed suppression, soil compaction, soil nitrogen availability, and cabbage yield in no-tillage vs. rototilled systems.

The research is important because while proper use of buckwheat — a vital tool in organic food production – can help improve food yields and control crop loss, some farmers may be tempted to grow Tartary buckwheat, especially in colder climates where it grows more quickly.

“These results suggest that Tartary buckwheat is not a suitable summer cover crop alternative to buckwheat for weed suppression prior to cabbage production,” Saunders Bulan writes.

Saunders Bulan said the findings can be reasonably carried over to other transplanted vegetable crops besides cabbage.