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 - up to 18 months
Coverage: 6 to 8kg per acre - 50gm covers 30 square metres.
Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum)
Crimson Clover can be sown at any time once temperatures start to rise in the spring.
It can grow in full sun or in semi-shade (light woodland) and is suitable for all soil types. It has an upright growth habit growing 15m to 30cm (6 to 12in) high.
Crimson clover is an annual variety of clover. In summer it will produce clusters of attractive crimson flowers that are loved by bees and other beneficial insects. It is also a good choice for sowing late in the year as it can either be worked into the soil when young or simply left to die down. The plants will gradually die as the temperatures drop, making it easy to incorporate into the ground in spring.
Crimson clover is often chosen on arable farms to be sown after harvest by the end of September for winter sheep keep.
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. Plants flower from May. Cut down or dig in before setting seed whilst plants are fresh and green.
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. It 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. It 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. It 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.
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.
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.
There's something about growing cover crops makes a person feel like a farmer!
- Additional Information
Common Name Trifolium incarnatum Other Common Names Bee Bread Genus Trifolium Species incarnatum Hardiness Hardy Annual Flowers Crimson 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 - up to 18 months Coverage 6 to 8kg per acre - 50gm covers 30 square metres