Clover is a flowering legume in the pea family. Legumes are ecologically important in that they fix nitrogen into the soil and provide bulky organic matter; they have been a valuable resource throughout farming history.
It is an excellent used as a green manure; it can be also interplanted between crops and can be sown where additional nitrogen is required. When used in a rotation they improve soil fertility better than many other green manure crops.
Clover fixes nitrogen from the air in its root nodules and when chopped and dug into the soil the nitrogen store is released very quickly. As well as fixing a high amount of nitrogen, clovers long tap root can lift minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil strata to help improve the quality of following crops.
It produces an abundant crop and grows in a great range of soils and climates
It is fast growing and provides exceptional weed suppression. Once dug in it adds organic bulk to the soil which improves soil structure, the fibrous quality of the decaying plant matter including the vast root system can significantly improve the water holding capacity of light or sandy soils.
Clover can be used on its own or in mixtures with grasses, usually rye, and / or other forage legumes. When used in conjunction with rye, the two crops work together and release nitrogen at a slower rate, so is useful when planning crops. This combination can significantly reduce the requirement of artificial fertilisers and other inputs.
Sowing Period: April to September
Soil: Most soil types, very useful in sandy soils and an excellent nitrogen fixer
Growing Period: 3 months - to 3 years.
Coverage: 6 to 8kg per acre - 50gm covers 30 square metres.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red clover is used extensively as part of the rotational farming systems of organic farms that maintain soil fertility without the use of chemical fertilisers.
When used in a rotation red clover improves soil fertility better than many other green manure crops. It is considered to be the best clover for fixing nitrogen to the soil.
Red clover is winter hardy and also relatively drought tolerant due to the deep rooting ability. It will perform best on well drained, fertile soils with a pH of 6 to 6.5.
Clover does not spread and so a good distribution of seedlings is vital from the outset. The seed is small and should be sown no deeper than 10 to 15mm (½ in). In a crop rotation plan use clover before a brassica to release nitrogen to the following greens.
It is fast growing and can be sown at anytime from April to September and grown for 3 to months or 3 years. It can be cut down or dug in before setting seed whilst plants are fresh and green or left to mature. Plants flower from May. Cut down or dig in before setting seed whilst plants are fresh and green.
Red clover green manures are usually put down for one to two years, often at the start of a farm conversion as a means of improving soil fertility.
To overwinter clover swards, cut the crop at the early bud stage around mid-late May and again in late July, depending on rate of regrowth in mid summer. Rest the sward in September and cut or graze off herbage in October. This will encourage branching and improve sward persistence over winter.
This seed is organically produced (seed harvested from plants that have themselves been raised organically, without the use of chemicals).
Sow in April to August for short term manuring, or sow August to September for overwintering.
Prepare the soil by removing weeds, digging over if it hasn't been recently cultivated and raking level. Scatter seeds over the surface of the soil. Make sure the seed is in firm contact with the soil by gently tapping over the surface with the back of a spade. Water in well.
Bare patches should be covered within two to three weeks and plants will do the most good if they are left for around eight weeks before digging in.
If plants start to flower before this, cut off the tops and dig in. Leave the green manure to decompose in the soil for up to four weeks before growing vegetables.
Don’t forget !
Rotate green manures as you would any other crop. For example - Rotate Vicia, and Alfalfa, with Peas/Beans, Mustard and Fodder Raddish with Brassicas
Clovers are one of the mainstays of organic farming systems and are used extensively as part of the rotational farming systems that maintain soil fertility without the use of chemical fertilisers.
Clover is particularly valuable for building soil fertility once organic conversion has begun. In addition it is one of the bumble bee’s favourite foods. Its traditional name ‘Bee Bread’ says it all.
Clover is often used in combination with Italian or forage ryegrasses, but the inclusion of herbs, such as Chicory, Ribwort plantain or Bird’s Foot Trefoil, can also be considered.
Clover can produce similar dry matter yield as a grass sward receiving 200kg of fertiliser nitrogen per hectare (6 bags of 27 percent nitrogen per acre). In addition there is evidence of reduced nitrogen loss to the environment. It saves on energy usage thereby indirectly reducing environmental pollution and brings greater biodiversity to the farm.
Benefits to Livestock Farmers:
The ability of clover to capture nitrogen from the air is well known to arable farmers and organic gardeners but the potential value of clover-based swards to the livestock farmer is often underestimated.
Clover produces an abundant crop and grows in a great range of soils and climates. It is palatable to and nutritious for livestock and is appropriate for either pasturage or for silage.
Clover maintains high digestibility over longer period leading to improved intakes. It enhances lean meat gain and milk protein content and contains more minerals, in particular magnesium, thereby reducing the risk of animal health problems associated with mineral deficiency.
Compared to grass swards there is up to 10% higher liveweight gain in cattle, 20% more milk from dairy cows and 25% higher liveweight gain in sheep.
Several species of clover are extensively cultivated as fodder plants. The most widely cultivated are white clover Trifolium repens and red clover Trifolium pratense.
Making Red Clover Silage:
Red clover silage has a higher protein content and is often more palatable to cattle than grass silage. However, red clover is characterised by low dry matter and low water soluble carbohydrate contents and a high buffering capacity. As a result, it is more difficult to obtain a satisfactory fermentation with red clover than with all-grass silage.
It is advisable to wilt for 24-48 hours in dry conditions to achieve 25 percent dry matter content. This will also concentrate sugars to encourage a desirable fermentation and reduce silage effluent production. Overwilting can result in substantial leaf shatter and loss and it can be difficult to consolidate very dry material in the clamp.
Red clover wilted to 25 percent dry matter will often ensile effectively without an additive. However, where herbage is wet or where there is a very high proportion of red clover, an effective additive can be used to ensure a stable fermentation.
Molasses, inoculants and enzymes can be used within organic systems as silage additives. Note that molasses used as a silage additive (or fed) must be organic itself.
When weather conditions do not allow for adequate fermentation, permission may be obtained from the organic sector bodies to use an acid additive.
Breeding ewes should not be grazed on red clover, or fed red clover silage for a period of four weeks before and until four weeks after mating, to avoid any adverse effect of red clover oestrogens on lambing percentage. Lambs can be fattened very effectively on red clover silage aftermaths.
This small perennial plant – the national flower of Denmark is native to Europe and Asia. Found in rough ground, grassy places and meadows. Sir Richard Weston of Sutton Manor, Surrey, introduced Red Clover to England in 1645.
The scientific name derives from the Latin tres, "three", and folium, "leaf", so called from the characteristic form of the leaf, which has three leaflets (trifoliate); hence the popular name trefoil.
The species epithet "pratense", pronounced pray-TEN-see comes from the Latin for "meadows dweller" or "found in meadows"
Red Clover has a number of common names, it is also known as Kitty Clover, Sugar Plums, Sleeping Maggie and Marl Grass. Red clover grows wild in the meadows of grazing cattle, which is why it’s sometimes called Cow Grass, Cow Clover or Meadow Clover.
Clover attracts butterflies, moths and other long-tongued insects, particularly bumblebees and hive bees. Because of this it is sometimes known as Bee Bread.
A common idiom is "to be in clover", meaning to be living a carefree life of ease, comfort, or prosperity. This stems from the historical use of clover as green manure planted after harvesting a crop; a farmer whose fields were "in the clover" was finished for the season.
The trifoliate leaves which each have a white V-shaped chevron on them (this chevron is absent in White Clover), and pink-red balls of flowers from May to September.
Red Clover sets no seed in the absence of bees - this was discovered when the plant was first introduced to New Zealand and Australia, so bees had to be brought in to pollinate it. The flowers are erect when awaiting fertilization but droop down when they don't need to be fertilized by a bee.
The "shamrock" of popular iconography is sometimes incorrectly considered to be young clover.
Since antiquity, Red Clover has been an important agricultural and animal fodder crop. The Druids believed Clover to be a symbol of the earth, sea and heavens.
Red Clover is suitable feed for both chickens and tortoises but has a contraceptive effect on sheep.
Red Clover will not flourish in fields with buttercups.
- Additional Information
Common Name Trifolium pratense Other Common Names Bee Bread Other Language Names IR. Seamair dhearg Genus Trifolium Species pratense var. sativum Cultivar Wildflower of the British Isles Hardiness Hardy Annual Flowers Red Flowers Natural Flower Time From May Height 15m to 30cm (6 to 12in) Time to Sow Sow in April through to September Time to Harvest 3 months - to 3 years Coverage 6 to 8kg per acre - 50gm covers 30 square metres