Short-term effects of brassica cover crops on soil quality indicators in organic production in high tunnels

Iwona Domagała-Świątkiewicz

University of Agriculture in Krakow

Piotr Siwek

University of Agriculture in Krakow

Paulina Lalewicz

University of Agriculture in Krakow


The use of cover crops is aimed at sustaining soil health and productivity in the context of agricultural intensification and accompanying soil degradation. While cover crops have been extensively studied in field production systems, limited research has been conducted concerning their application in high-tunnel vegetable production. This study aimed to assess the effects of turnip (Brassica napus subsp. napobrassica (L.) Jafri) and swede Brassica rapa subsp. Rapifera Metzg) cover crops (CCs) on soil physicochemical and biological properties in an organic high tunnel system in southern Poland in 2017–2019. The planting sequence was as follows: winter cover crops/pumpkin/romaine lettuce/broad bean/chilli pepper. Soil analyses included measurements of bulk density, water capacity, soil aggregation, soil organic carbon (SOC), available soil nutrients, as well as microbial abundance and diversity. Rape crops produced a higher aboveground dry biomass (4.11 t ha−1) than swede (2.85 t ha−1), and the N content in their biomass was 101 kg N ha−1 and 75 kg N ha−1, respectively. The results presented that CC residue significantly contributed to soil organic carbon stock, retention of plant-available nitrogen, and improvement of soil physical properties, especially wet aggregate stability. Soils with the highest SOC concentrations were associated with the highest bacterial and fungal abundance. The most significant number of mesophilic bacteria was detected in the soil where turnip was grown as a cover crop (7.6 × 107 cfu g−1 DM soil). Moreover, a higher abundance of the tested nitrogen cycle bacteria was found in the soils after CC cultivation compared to the control soils, particularly bacteria reducing NH4 +-N and NO₃⁻-N. These findings highlight the importance of cover crop management practices in high tunnels, as they influence the composition of the total bacterial community and the abundance of N-cycling microbial guilds.


swede (rutabaga), Brassica napus subsp. napobrassica (L.), turnip, Brassica rapa subsp. rapifera Metzg., soil organic carbon, nitrogen cycle bacteria, fungi

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Iwona Domagała-Świątkiewicz 
University of Agriculture in Krakow
Piotr Siwek 
University of Agriculture in Krakow
Paulina Lalewicz 
University of Agriculture in Krakow


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