Stages of oat–vetch cover crop decomposition were characterized over time in terms of carbon and nitrogen cycling, microbial activity and damping-off pathogen dynamics in organically and conventionally managed soils in a field and a controlled incubation experiment. A measurement of relative growth consisting of radial growth of a fungal colony over non-sterilized soil divided by that over sterilized soil was used as an assay of suppressiveness. No differences in relative growth of Pythium aphanidermatum and Rhizoctonia solani were detected between organic and conventionally managed soils amended with cover crop residue. Significant effects of cover crop decomposition stage on the relative growth of both pathogens were obtained. Relative growth of P. aphanidermatum was highest just after incorporation and decreased 3 weeks after incorporation. Relative growth of R. solani was highest about 20 days after incorporation, and decreased 2 weeks later in the organic system, but continued to increase in the conventional system. In both experiments, the N or C content, C : N ratio or dry weight of retrieved debris were significantly correlated with relative growth of P. aphanidermatum. Relative growth of R. solani was significantly correlated with the C :N ratio of soil or the C or N content of debris. Microbial activity was not consistently associated with relative growth of either pathogen.