Electronic Journal of Polish Agricultural Universities (EJPAU) founded by all Polish Agriculture Universities presents original papers and review articles relevant to all aspects of agricultural sciences. It is target for persons working both in science and industry,regulatory agencies or teaching in agricultural sector. Covered by IFIS Publishing (Food Science and Technology Abstracts), ELSEVIER Science - Food Science and Technology Program, CAS USA (Chemical Abstracts), CABI Publishing UK and ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publisher - full membership). Presented in the Master List of Thomson ISI.
Volume 14
Issue 2
Available Online: http://www.ejpau.media.pl/volume14/issue2/art-14.html


Janusz Prusiński
Department of Agrotechnology, Faculty of Agriculture and Biotechnology, UTP University of Science and Technology, Bydgoszcz, Poland



In many countries of Western Europe (Portugal, France, Spain, Germany, Great Britain) winter legumes forms are grown or, at least, exposed to acclimatization testing. In Poland there are known single attempts at growing winter pea strains bred in France and Polish-French lines from the plant breeding at Więcławice (the Kujawy and Pomorze Province). The attempts were unsuccessful, mainly due to insufficient winter-hardiness of plants or a very high variation in overwintering. The new legume seed production solutions proposed involve winter forms (from the EU catalogue) or spring forms (from the national cultivar register) sown in autumn applying special treatments protecting plants over winter or prior to winter using domestic seed of spring legume cultivars specially secured from imbibition, from sowing to early spring. The solutions focus mostly on creating conditions for faster rooting and plant emergence, and thus a better use of post-winter water in early spring, still before unfavourable moisture conditions in May and in June.

Key words: legumes, winter and spring cultivars, seed conditioning.


The problem of global warming, climate changes and their various negative effects on human life, including agricultural production, is one of the most dramatic challenges faced by the mankind. Over 1906–2005 the mean air temperature at the soil surface increased by 0.56–0.92°C, and in the successive fifty years it will increase by another 0.6–2.5°C. Increasing air temperature will result in e.g. increased evaporation and the emergence of new areas of drought, shortened plant vegetation period, easier survivability of disease agents and pests and, as a result, in a decreased yield of many crops even by 5–10% [55].

Considering the climate warming and negative weather phenomena, also those observed in our country, one can expect more and more difficult plant production conditions due to insufficient water retention, non-cost-effective technologies of agricultural crops irrigation and increasing production costs [39]. Drought or semi-droughts in May no longer refer to May and the Polish Lowlands but also to many summer months and a large area of our country; their regularity means clear trends and increasing plant production difficulties since in a large area of the country, especially on light soils, plants suffer from a serious water deficit. Under such conditions growing winter forms which, besides a longer biomass accumulation, demonstrate an effective use of post-winter water, more abundant and – faster than in spring forms – developed root system in early spring – should make it possible to avoid unfavourable effects of May semi-droughts and water deficits over fruit and seed setting (the third decade of May to the end of the third decade of June). The results of research into the comparison of the fertility of spring and winter legume forms in Europe mostly point to a greater yield stability of the latter ones but also their fertility from a few percent in Switzerland [18], a dozen or so in Germany [49] and Turkey [15] to 50% in Great Britain [46]. In the United States the only winter legume form is fodder pea which yields higher than the spring one from 32% [7] to even slightly over 50% [32,35].

In such situation growing winter legumes in our country, yielding higher and more stable than the spring ones, seems very well justified. Many experts call for sowing winter cereal cultivars wherever possible, especially in the regions of low total rainfall [10]. To do so, there are also used new facultative spring cereal cultivars, mostly wheat and triticale which, when sown in late autumn after beet or corn, or even over the pre-winter period (passed the agronomic sowing date for winter forms), at a mild and sowing-enhancing weather, start vegetation in spring earlier, cover the soil better and yield higher than the ones sown at the spring date [16].

In Western Europe winter seed forms of pea and faba bean can be grown e.g. in Spain, France, Italy, warmer parts of Switzerland, Germany and England, and white lupin – only in some areas of Spain, France and Italy.

The primary objective of the paper is overview the possibility of winter legumes cultivation in Poland or new technologies allowing to use post-winter water and better and more stable yields over years of spring cultivars of legumes.


Following the soybean growing failure in Europe (today's EU acreage is slightly over 400 thousand ha, and globally – 90 m ha) [40], many western European research centres have shifted their attention to growing pea, faba bean and white lupin for seed, and in the countries of Central Europe – also yellow and narrow-leaf lupin. However, the first spring high-yielding seed legume cultivars in Europe showed late ripening and were difficult to harvest. Soon it was observed that winter forms did not pose such problems and yielded higher than the spring ones and were suitable for cultivation in many parts of Western Europe [3,12,29].

As of December 14, 2010 the EC legume cultivars catalogue has covered 416 pea, 163 common vetch, 142 faba bean, 39 narrow-leaf lupin, 25 white lupin and 16 yellow lupin and 27 winter vetch cultivars [54]. Unfortunately the catalogue does not include information whether the cultivar is a spring or winter cultivar. In the national cultivar register winter cultivars occur only in vetch.

The available literature reports on field experiments involving the use of the following winter cultivars:

The main objective of breeding winter legume forms in Western Europe is the capacity of the plants for good overwintering since the results are strongly correlated with seed yielding [4]. The higher potential and yielding stability come mostly from full plant vernalization in winter, and a better use of post-winter water and avoiding unfavourable-to-yielding effect of soil crusting [51], even 2-4 week faster and more abundant plant flowering [29,36,44], thanks to which they are less sensitive to abiotic stress factors at the end of vegetation [52] and are capable of avoiding unfavourable effects of high temperature in June [14,19]. Winter legumes end their growth in autumn under favourable moisture conditions, exposed to minimum evaporation and transpiration and they are ready for further vegetative growth upon an increase in temperature in early spring [35].

It was found that the climatic adaptation of winter cultivars and their yielding potential strongly depend on the time of flowering and the length of the vegetation period, which comes directly from temperature and photoperiodic sensitivity of respective species and their cultivars [53]. The plants of winter cultivars, e.g. pea, produce a rosette with tiny leaves and short internodes prior to the end of autumn vegetation, which enhances their overwintering [29]. In central France winter pea forms demonstrate a greater number of fruiting nodes and seeds per plant [51], and in Turkish research a greater plant height and number of pods [8] and protein yield per ha were also identified [50]. A higher yielding potential in pea sown in winter in Turkey results from a significantly greater number of pods per plant than in spring cultivars; the pods also reach higher sizes [37].

The problem still to be solved is winter forms nodulation. Depending on the sowing date and development stage of seedlings, the first nodules can appear on the roots still before the seedlings enter winter dormancy. In perennial legume family the nodules enter the dormancy upon the overground plant part drying off and remain inactive in winter. In spring they get activated and take up the function of assimilation of molecular N. There are observed seasonal changes in the composition of nodules; in summer their cells produce more amyloplasts with starch grains which are used in winter when there is a greater content of soluble and non-reducing sugars, allowing for maintaining high osmotic potential in cells securing the nodules from getting frozen through. Nodules overwinter well also thanks to an increasing, prior to winter, content of protein and P, K, Ca, Mn, Cu and Zn [17]. In pre-winter in the nodules there also increases the content of fats which decreases gradually until the following spring.

As compared with spring forms, winter legumes also show a greater capacity for limiting weed growth and development [49]. However, due to a longer vegetation period in winter forms there can occur a greater tendency of plants to lodging, especially in cultivars with a traditional foliage type [50] and the need to apply fungicides after emergence [12,43] or also prior to flowering [18]. In some years of high total rainfall in March and April the plants can get rot [28] and there can occur unfavourable soil crusts [51]. All that justifies an increase in the sowing rate in winter cultivars by 15–20% [25].

Both legume seed yielding and the yield stability depend strongly on the climate conditions, especially on the rainfall amount and distribution, and in the case of winter forms also the minimum temperature, its duration or occurrence and the thickness of the snow cover [35,45].


The plant resistance to temperature below zero depends on very many factors and it is difficult to determine to what extent frost damages are a result of temperature itself and to what extent they come from its effect on 'digging the plants out' or the development of pathogenic fungi under the snow layer [10,33]. Similarly, the plant development stage, how long the temperature below zero persists, soil moisture, acclimatization/deacclimatization cycles coming after each other, etc. are also very important. Frost can cause damage at each plant development stage. The extent of cell damage depends mostly on the temperature decrease, how long it takes and how fast tissues get cooled. A sudden decrease in temperature, the so-called thermal shock, is especially harmful [26].

Tolerance or sensitivity of winter plants to temperature below zero comes from their capacity for non-forming ice crystals or the potential for withstanding the intercellular or extracellular ice formation [28]. At the cell level, this type of mechanism suggests changes in the osmotic potential, cytoplasmic bonding of water and increased integrity of cytoplasmic membranes [48], the accumulation of soluble sugars in leaves or desaturation of fatty acids in cell membranes [7,30].

Plants become frost resistant once the period of low temperatures not causing tissue damage passes [28]. Low temperature at the initial period of growth guarantees complete plant vernalization and the time of exposure and the level of temperature affect (accelerate) the plant flowering date [30].  In general it is believed that 3-4 weeks of temperature around 0–6°C is sufficient to initiate the generative development in legumes [28], while in lupins the period of 2 weeks is sufficient [1].

Of the legume family reported by Meyer and Badaruddin [33], the ones which are most resistant to low temperature are perennial papilionaceous plants. Soybean and pea showed average tolerance and edible common bean cultivars – least tolerance. Brandseter et al. [9], on the other hand, report on, besides perennial papilionaceous plants (Italian clover, sweet clover and slightly less – black medic),  the plants of winter vetch being most resistant to low temperature; in all the species tolerance to low temperature decreased with the plant age, similarly as reported by Kurlovich [27] investigating lupin. According to Meyer and Badaruddin [33], the most resistant to low temperature are one-week seedlings of legume family, whereas the plants of domestic spring cultivars of those species withstand short-term black frosts from -5°C (pea) to -7°C (faba bean) and even -8°C (white lupin) [22], and e.g. winter white lupin ecotypes, the Gregorian ecotype from Azerbaijan withstands temperature even up to -10 to -15°C [27]. In most lupin species spring, winter and facultative forms occur, however in the countries with warmer climate in autumn – also the latter ones are sown.


Of all the agronomic factors, the sowing date and density, soil crusting and the occurrence of diseases are most essential in overwintering of plants of winter cultivars [35,52]. Since the sensitivity of plants to low temperature decreases with age [27,33], and so it is important to make the right selection of the winter forms sowing date. For most species good overwintering requires the 4-5 leaf phase, however, abundant vegetative growth, increasing the sensitivity of seedlings to low temperature, is undesirable [46]. European research point to the most favourable sowing date in pea to be the beginning of the third decade of September in Ireland [12], the second half of October in Switzerland [18], the turn of October and November in the countries of former Yugoslavia [13] and to mid November in England [25] and France [52]; Asian – mid September in India [43]. Sowing at those dates guaranteed plant density in spring sufficient for good yielding. In Scotland the optimal sowing date for winter white lupin starts with the second half of August, in warmer south-western England – at the beginning of October [34]. In the preliminary own research made at the Experiment Station of the Faculty of Agriculture and Biotechnology at Mochełek, the University of Technology and Life Sciences in Bydgoszcz, the French pea cultivar, James, sown on October 20, 2009, overwintered best. Upon entering dormancy, the plants reached the height of 4-5 cm and resembled first-leaf phase in cereal crops, with hardly developed single leaves (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Field pea plant development before winter depending on the sowing date: a – September 20, b – October 10, c – October 22 (Mochełek Research Station, December 12, 2010)



In Germany the earliest sowing date is required for white lupin; sowing at the beginning of September ensures sufficient plant development capable of good overwintering, while in England white and narrow-leaf lupin yields highest for sowing made at the turn of September and October [46]. The recommended sowing date for faba bean in Germany coincides with the middle of October and for pea – with the end of that month [38]. All the species withstood temperature decreases to -12°C well. Under the conditions of Northern Italy a decrease in temperature in winter to -7.3°C did not result in significant damage in winter pea plants [4]. Andrzejewska et al. [2] report on winter fodder pea forms (L-76 and L-177 from Florimond Despres breeding) and the Polish-French ones from the Plant Breeding Station at Więcławice getting completely frozen through at the temperature of -18°C, whereas average overwintering was 51%, at the range from 0 to 92%.

Plant resistance to low temperature determines the plant density in spring. Traditionally-branching cultivars, e.g. of lupins, will be able to compensate for the loss in the number of plants per 1 m2 by producing the yield from lateral shoots. Faba bean and pea plants, in general, do not branch out and so similar-to-optimal density of yielding plants and the capacity of plants for forming new stems and roots are more essential [29].

One can assume that higher yielding, fertility and yield stability in winter forms (or spring forms sown in autumn) than spring legumes will result from, e.g.:

The applicable literature does not seem to offer information on the effect of the cultivar form and the length of the legumes vegetation period on the content of nutrients and antifeedants in the yield, including the amino acid composition of protein and the culinary seed value. The autumn sowing date of winter or spring forms can, similarly as in facultative cereal cultivars, increase the 1000 seed weight [16], including e.g. the thickness and share of the seed cover, which can have a considerable effect on the time needed for pea seeds for overcooking [42].


The legumes research made so far has not involved the use of special treatments protecting the plants from low temperature in winter. Jendrzejczak [23] confirms that white mustard mulch (Fig. 2), having got frozen through, can constitute a good protective layer for wintering plants of rutabaga grown for seed with the seed-to-seed method. According to Muehlbauer [35], pea can be sown directly into high stubble after cereal crops, which facilitates a decrease in growing costs, decreases water erosion and creates insulation layer for young seedlings by an inconsiderable snowfall, thus enhancing their overwintering. Similarly McPhee et al. [31] and Johnson et al. [24] demonstrated a favourable effect of direct sowing of winter pea forms and lentil in the United States into stubble after winter wheat. The stubble height (10 and 30 cm) did not have a significant effect on pea yielding while the seed yield of lentil sown into higher stubble (30 cm) was 100-260 kg·ha-1 higher [11]. Also a narrower row spacing as well as increased sowing density enhance sufficient plant density which can protect each other from cold for at least average yielding [35].

Fig. 2. Field pea plant undersown in white mustard (Mochełek Research Station, December 12, 2010)

A potential agronomic solution protecting the plants from low temperature could involve sowing seed into shallow furrows or ridging of seedlings just before the occurrence of temperatures below zero or snowfalls as well as even coverage of the field with a layer of cut straw (Fig. 3). To decrease the natural risk of growing winter legumes, one can also apply sowing in winter legume mixtures (e.g. pea with faba bean) or with winter cereals or spring facultative cultivars.

Fig. 3. Field pea plant under thin layer of cereal straw (Mochełek Research Station, December 12, 2010)

Resistance or susceptibility of plants to frost is strictly genetically programmed, however, also strongly modified by endo- and exogenous growth regulators. It was shown that e.g. abscisic acid stimulates the acclimatization and accelerates plant cold-hardening and retardants e.g. CCC also increases the resistance to coldness, most probably due to gibberellins biosynthesis inhibition which are, in turn, the inhibitor of the plants acquiring resistance to cold [21]. Similarly paclobutrazol increased the degree of overwintering of pea sown in September in England [44]. An earlier report by Jendrzejczak [23] points to significantly better overwintering of rutabaga for-seed plants grown with the seed-to-seed method, sprayed with chlorocholine chloride or daminozide. Retardants applied at the juvenile growth stage stimulate the processes preparing plants to wintering as well as enhance their development, flowering and fruit-bearing [21]. So far, despite few experiments, no winter legumes have been grown; the domestic literature does not seem to report on the reaction of that plant group to retardants.

To increase the resistance of plants to stress factors, including low temperature in winter, a PRP EVB technology has been proposed recently (potassium-magnesium-sodium fertiliser with copper, sulphur, manganese and boron added) [5]. PRP EVB is uptaken by leaves and increases cell resistance to aggressive and stress factors, enhances the exchange between the plant and its environment (photosynthesis and respiration, absorption and production of root exudates, root growth stimulation).


In Poland there have been made no attempts at growing spring legumes sown in autumn or in pre-winter, unlike in some countries of mild winters and in Poland at present in the case of the so-called facultative cereals which, when sown in late autumn, overwinter well and yield higher or at least similar as typical winter forms. It seems that to protect spring legumes from low temperature in winter, one can propose the same treatments as for growing winter forms. It must still be verified, however, whether they require a different sowing date than the typical winter cultivars and whether the national cultivar catalogue includes intermediate cultivars, just like facultative cereal cultivars.


It is common knowledge that the basic condition to success of spring legume plantations in Poland, especially on light soils of low water retention, is possibly the earliest seed sowing, even in February or March, as soon as moisture conditions allow the equipment to enter the field since the minimum temperature of seed germination of faba bean is slightly over 0°C, pea 2–3°C, narrow-leaf lupin 3°C, and yellow and white lupin 4–5°C [22]. Each day of delay in sowing, in general, means better thermal conditions in soil but also a decrease in its moisture, both in the upper layer and in subsoil. Bearing that in mind, it seems that late-autumn sowing, right before frosts, with temporary protection of seeds from imbibition and pathogenic microorganisms to early spring, can clearly accelerate the development of the root system of seedlings even already in March, from about 2 even to 5 weeks earlier than from spring sowing. At that time seedlings should develop a strong root system and the plants growing fast thanks to the availability of post-winter water will root well prior to unfavourable moisture conditions in May and often in June when they are most sensitive to water deficit [14].

In practice, a number of seed enrichment treatments are applied, with the most common one involving seed protection from disease agents and/or pests (dressing or incrustation), allowing for precise sowing, protection and support of the first development stages with nutrients or growth regulators, etc. However, there are only few reports available which concern the application of substances which would provide long-term protection for seeds, tubers or bulbs from an unfavourable effect of environmental conditions, including e.g. the use of natural polysaccharides and plant protection agents, e.g. chitosan [6] or cellulose compounds [20].

Protecting seeds which are to stay in soil from sowing in late autumn to the moment at which early-spring water-thermal conditions will make it possible for them to imbibe and to germinate, has not been researched in Poland yet. So far different kind of substances has been used for imbibing seed protection against chilling injury during imbibition, including lanolin systemic chemicals and polymers. Most of seed treatments are to help the seed to survive a period in soil when germinating circumstances are poor until the time when the seeds should germinate. During the autumn and winter seeds should remain dry and when conditions change with the coming of spring, the seed should start to germinate [47].

The present solution involves the coverage of incrusted legumes seeds with water-impermeable paraffin or waxes of varied consistency, from soft to fragile (yellow beeswax E 901, Cadelilla E 902 wax, Carnauba E 903 wax, paraffin E 905 and soft paraffin) 10 to 1000 µm thick and microcapsules of urea-formaldehyde or sodium hydrogen carbonate 10 to 1000 µm in diameter (Fig. 4). Both paraffin and waxes are water-insoluble and thus seeds covered with them cannot start imbibition due to a lack of direct contact with soil water. To allow imbibition, the seeds are first placed with crystals of urea-formaldehyde or sodium hydrogen carbonate. Urea-formaldehyde, a plastic material from the melamine resin group, is created as a result of condensation of urea with formaldehyde. In soil urea carbonic acid diamide) being part of urea-formaldehyde undergoes urolysis to NH3 and CO2 as affected by urease, enzyme synthesized by soil microorganisms, while sodium hydrogen carbonate (sodium hydroxide) in a solid form is a white substance crystalline in structure. It shows hygroscopic properties, also bonds easily with carbon dioxide from the air (forming a sodium carbonate coat), and it does not pose any threats to human health and the environment and undergoes decomposition in soil. Microcapsules of one of the above substances placed onto the seed surface (1 to 10 per seed) and fixed in wax or paraffin are to form valves allowing water access after specific time. The urea-formaldehyde decomposition rate can be controlled with the degree of condensation of methylureas, organic additives to resin and pre-sowing treatment of seeds enriched in that way [41].

Fig. 4. Legume seeds conditioned with wax and crystals of urea-formaldehyde

Today's verification of the method involves laboratory tests of covering the seeds of pea, faba bean and lupin with microcapsules and paraffin. At the next stage the method is put in practise; sowing seeds in late autumn in the experimental field and observations of the field capacity of 'wintering' seeds in soil and then development, yielding and yield quality of the plants grown from them. Yet another interesting agronomic solution can be offered by introducing rhizobia onto the surface of the seeds incrusted.

The late-autumn legumes seed sowing concept has been based on the invention The Adjustment Method of Physical Seed Sprouting Stage [41]. The invention has been awarded with the Belgian and International Trade Fair for Technological Innovation, Brussels EUREKA (Gold medal with mention) and "Concours – Lepine" in Parish (Gold medal).


It is commonly believed that the present low importance of legumes in plant protein balance in Poland (2%) mostly results from low fertility and low yield stability of that plant group. The new legumes seed production solutions proposed call for further research and concern sowing, in late-autumn, of winter or spring forms applying special treatments protecting plants in winter and pre-winter sowing specially protected from imbibition of spring legume cultivars seeds. The primary objective of the technologies proposed is to create conditions for fast rooting and plant emergence of plants in spring and a better use of post-winter water prior to the occurrence of unfavourable moisture conditions in May, and frequently also in June, when they are most sensitive to water deficit.


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Accepted for print: 26.05.2011

Janusz Prusiński
Department of Agrotechnology, Faculty of Agriculture and Biotechnology, UTP University of Science and Technology, Bydgoszcz, Poland
Kordeckiego St. 20
85-225 Bydgoszcz
email: janusz.prusinski@utp.edu.pl

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