Abstract Two field experiments were conducted for two years to test strategies aimed at the reduction of soil nitrate content after sowing faba beans. Winter rapeseed, barley and ryegrass were planted into faba beans at flowering, at pod senescence or after faba bean harvest. In both years, winter rape took up the most nitrogen, resulting in lowest soil nitrate contents. Sowing into faba beans at flowering resulted in improved growth and nitrogen accumulation by inter-sown crops compared to sowing at pod senescence in 1989. In 1990, when faba bean canopies were extremely well developed, the opposite result was obtained, and was attributed to insufficient light penetration to the soil surface. By spring, N-uptake tended to be greatest in crops sown with conventional tillage after the faba bean harvest. It was concluded that sowing non-legumes into faba beans can provide a means of reducing soil nitrate content in autumn.