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White Clover Living Mulch - Vegetable Advice?  RSS feed

 
Mark Burrows
Posts: 4
Location: UK - Sussex
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Hi,

I am thinking about creating a living mulch of dutch white clover on my allotment vegetable beds as from what I've read it would have a variety of benefits including weed suppression, nitrogen fixing and soil enrichment when regularly mown as well as protecting the bare earth.

I would then like to either plant into, or peel or cut back the clover to plant my veg.

However, the main downside (from my reading) seems to be that the clover might out compete some veggies if not well managed or perhaps even if it is well managed.

What I'm hoping is that someone here has tried this or similar and could give some general advice on the idea as well as advice on what veggies work well with Dutch white clover or which ones to keep separate?

I've not tried anything like this before so any advice or comments welcome!

Thanks,
Mark


 
Mike Hamilton
Posts: 82
Location: north end of the Keweenaw Mi.
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Hi Mark,,welcome to Permies
I just planted the top of one of my new hill's with clover to keep the moisture and the soil in place
I am looking forward to answers from others with more experience

Mike
 
George Meljon
Posts: 278
Location: Southern Indiana zone 5b
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I'm saving a small clover patch in my garden bed to plant into, so I'm interested in this topic as well. When it comes time to cover crop, this is one of the considerations.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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You could plant clover in your walkways bordering the clover.
Or turn the middle of your garden bed into a worm bin, then add green mulch weekly/etc and have the worms scurry it throughout your garden bed, leaving worm manure, green mulch, good microbes and aeration holes all over the garden bed
 
jimmy gallop
Posts: 196
Location: east and dfw texas
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I've kinda started by planting clover ,have got detained this year
thinking of taking a hoe and clearing about a 6inch circle to plant in,
about 1 ft apart,to maybe get the plants off to a start before the clover takes the space back
 
Jessica Padgham
Posts: 99
Location: Denver, Co 6000ft bentonite clay soil
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This thread has some good info. http://www.permies.com/t/33339/plants/clover-vegetables-aware
 
Mark Burrows
Posts: 4
Location: UK - Sussex
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Hi Everyone,

Thanks for the replies and the link. 

For anyone else interested in this I also found these related threads useful:

http://www.permies.com/t/6540/organic/clover-Living-mulch
http://www.permies.com/t/36842/gardening-beginners/clover-living-mulch-work
http://www.permies.com/t/22030/hugelkultur/White-Clover-covered-Hugel-Beds

From these and from the link from Jessica I've come to the following conclusions:

Planting in white clover works great for some conditions but not for others - I'll need to try it out myself to see if it works well here for me.

I might be able to just peel back the clover for planting, but I may need to heavily suppress the clover around new starts perhaps with cardboard, plastic or woodchips to stop competition.

May not work well with slow growing low growing veg eg onions or carrots.

If its too aggressive for my conditions then using it for the walkways and using the cuttings as mulch for the beds and letting the worms do the work (thanks S Bengi) sounds like a good fall back plan.

If anyone has anything thoughts/additions/corrections/whatevers on this I'd love to hear them!

Thanks,
Mark
 
cameron johnson
Posts: 74
Location: Prattville, Alabama, zone 8, 328ft
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I spread white clover over my entire garden last year due to the heat down here i'm using it as a living mulch the only problems I have noticed are that you have to keep it clear of young plants until they rise above the clover, even my carrots and onions have outgrown the clover, it doesn't seem to bother taller plants at all. It also has really brought in the pollinators.
 
Kathleen Driscoll
Posts: 14
Location: Oregon
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I just spread clover seed at the base of all my fruit trees as a living mulch. Our soil gets so dry from the heat and wind that it ends up blowing away. It seemed like a good idea at the time, I hope was.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2839
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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There are two best ways to use clovers (any of the whites and Scarlet but not "Red" clover). First is to plant as a ground cover and chop and drop for planting through the clovers, using this method, your sprouts will be able to come up and grow above the resurging clover plants.
Second is to plant the clover then when you are ready to plant, turn under the clover plants. This puts all the accumulated nitrogen back into the soil, gives you a good seed planting bed.
Once your baby plants are up and growing you can reseed with clover for a living mulch that won't out compete the crop plants since they will already be well developed by the time the clover seed sprouts.

What we do on Buzzard's Roost is to plant crimson clover where we really need the ground cover to control water flow during rains. We plant Dutch (white) clover where we want nitrogen fixing for crop plants.
This is mowed close with the scythe at planting time, the crop seeds are planted and by the time the short cut clover is making a comeback the crops are up and growing above the shorter growing Dutch clover.
We just found out last weekend that we have a ground hog living in one of the Hugel mounds.
Fortunately he seems to be preferring to munch down on the crimson clover flowers for now, instead of heading for the gardens and orchard.
If he becomes a problem critter, the stew pot or BBQ are always ready to be put into action.
We do have a lot of wild animals that could be problems but the food plots I have put in have, so far, kept them busy enough that they don't show any interest in trying to come over, under or through the fence.
The odor of our dogs is probably one of the biggest helps in this respect.
 
Mark Burrows
Posts: 4
Location: UK - Sussex
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Thanks everyone for the replies.

I'm now pretty excited that this can work well - so I've raked up and then sewn some Dutch white clover seeds on an old tired area of dry bare earth (not my fault I'm new to the plot) to bring some life to that area and hopefully chop and drop my way towards a reasonable planting bed for next year. And in a few weeks (when my growing veg seem big enough to cope) i'll start sewing some amongst my other beds.

In a few months i'd hope to have a growing patch of clover on a recovering bit of land and some veg swimming in a small green clover sea.

And if all goes to plan then by this time next year I'll be planting everything into a rich(er) well mulched living carpet!

Will see how it goes...
 
Eric Markov
Posts: 100
Location: Bay Area CA zone 9
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How did it go?
 
Zach Muller
gardener
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:There are two best ways to use clovers (any of the whites and Scarlet but not "Red" clover). .


Hey bryant im curious why you are not including red clovers?
 
Tristan Vitali
Posts: 314
Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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From my own experience, yes - carrots especially seemed to get swamped by the white dutch even with us out there pulling, trimming and ripping it several times a week through june and july. It's VERY tenacious. I've come to the conclusion that it works great for building fertility in your garden quickly, but after a couple years, best to smother it right out of existence so you can plant things in there again

Things that worked well with the clover for us:
broccoli and broccoli raab, lovage, beets (for greens only), chard, tomatoes

Things that didn't work with clover:
onions, garlic, lettuce, beets (for roots), carrots, peas, beans, spinach, mustards

Obviously, beans and peas wont do great with other nitrogen fixers...too many cooks in the kitchen... Also, the clover tends to shade the soil so much that it never gets warm enough for many things to pop (at least here in the north). For example, our provider beans, which will sprout at 60-65* soil temps, didn't pop up until late june in full sun because the soil temp stayed in the upper 50s. This is a boon to things like the lettuce and spinach, but because it's so vigorous, the clover tends to swamp them out of existence.

The other big issue we had was slugs, which we have a problem with here anyway despite the ducks eating their fill every day, all spring. The clover provides them the perfect edible habitat, and every single seedling was like a treat to those little bastards.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2839
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
233
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Zach Muller wrote:
Bryant RedHawk wrote:There are two best ways to use clovers (any of the whites and Scarlet but not "Red" clover). .


Hey bryant im curious why you are not including red clovers?


Red Clover is not good for deer, so Instead of buying four different clovers (Red, Crimson, White and Yellow) I went with the two that I could get readily at the seed store, White (Dutch) which regrows quite quickly and the Crimson, which is a good all around clover for the different animals that come to Buzzard's Roost feed plots. I am adding alfalfa and buckwheat next spring to the pastures and feed plots, the corn didn't fare well at all this year so I most likely will leave that out in favor of some small grains such as triticale, sorghum rye and perhaps a few others. The plan is to continually add to the mix until I get around twenty different plants growing and then I can just maintain the pastures and feed plots.
What we have growing at this time: a bit of wild oats, Bermuda grass, Rape, Collards, Turnip, white and crimson clover. This fall I will add some more rape and turnip along with some sweet peas and buckwheat. Since we don't usually get winter weather until the end of December, all these should get a good start and then overwinter somewhat. Our coldest months are January and February, spring usually gets here in full swing around the middle of March to the beginning of April.
 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Bryant, Your description of the seasons sounds a lot like around here. I have already seeded the whole garden plot with dutch white and it is sprouted and about 2 mm high. I plan to turn a lot of it under next Feb or march. In time to put veggie seeds in.
I asked specifically about the red because in another area under my peach and pear trees I was thinking of getting a mix of poppies, crimson, and red clovers to take over during the grasses off season that is approaching. My hope is the clover and poppies can weaken the grass substantially and ready the soil for more companions to go in, and start the transition to a forest garden.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2839
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
233
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Sounds like a good plan to me. The red and crimson clovers grow tall, in fact I have used the crimson to shade out blackberry crowns and it worked pretty well.
I have had two Fish and Game biologist mention to me to not plant red clover for deer, so I don't plant it. Plus I get the inoculated crimson seed for a buck fifty a pound.

Be wary of Ground Hogs coming to dine on the Crimson and Red Clovers, apparently it is like a gourmet treat for them but once it is through blooming they go away (at least on our place they do).
 
Mark Burrows
Posts: 4
Location: UK - Sussex
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Eric Markov wrote:How did it go?


So far its worked well thanks - a few hiccups but generally good.

The clover I planted initially didn't come up well (we had a dry spell and I didn't realise how much water it needed) but after that I planted clover at the same time as beetroot, spinach, perpetual spinach, leeks, cabbage, brocoli, cauliflower, carrots, kale, brussel sprouts and they all worked well. The carrots looked overcrowded but were fine. The beetroot and spinach needed to be uncovered occasionally, but otherwise the veg grew above the clover so there were/are no real overcrowding problems

I also grew pumpkins which started ok, but they suffered from powdery mildew which may or may not have been caused by the clover, but I doubt if it helped. So if anyone has any good organic remedies it'd be appreciated...?

There was a fair bit of slug damage but not more than my allotment neighbours and perhaps even a bit less. The clover was quite nibbled in places so perhaps the slugs ate that instead.

Overall, whilst I'm not sure how much the clover added during this first season - partly as it was slower to mature than I expected - the main benefits for me are that I've gone from starting with a weedy unhappy allotment to a much better allotment with nice green healthy clover areas suppressing weeds and improving soil, so I'm happy.

Next year I'll start planting directly in the clover, maybe cutting it back hard or I'm thinking of cutting small discs of cardboard to put in the clover and create little clover free zones a few weeks before and plant in those and I'll try and report back if anyone is interested.


 
Joylynn Hardesty
Posts: 275
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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Interested! Interested!
 
Tristan Vitali
Posts: 314
Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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Definitely interested. I know from our first season with clover, there was little change in how well things were doing, but this year, at least the things that got up tall enough to reach sunlight, were VERY lush and dark green. And the worms...we have around 6 times as many as last year.

I'll be very interested to see if you figure a way to keep it from towering over the slower/lower growing veggies - the cardboard sounds like a good idea but if you remove it, be aware that they have proven around here to be very vigorous in recolonizing areas that were shaded out like that. Takes about 3 days in June...maybe more like a week this time of year...and you'd never know there was a bare spot.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2839
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
233
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I have areas that have had clovers growing for two years, when we are ready to plant these areas we mow the clover down, plant and water. If the crops are slow (7-14 days) to germinate we will mow the area around day 6 just to make sure the sprouts get a head start on the clover regrowth.
Once up we do go in and trim the clover around the new crop plants but once they are up and going, they usually compete very well.

One of my favorite ways to use clovers, other than in animal forage spaces, is to chop and drop it once the flowers are spent. the clover mulch helps suppress weedy plants and the clover comes back through the mulch.
I've noticed a marked improvement in soil after only one year of doing this. I generally get two chops per growing season. I then let it go over the winter so I have an early spring chop opportunity.
When I am ready to change the space, I just chop right at ground level. This lets me put in what I want and if the clover does make a comeback, it isn't a real problem.
 
eric koperek
Posts: 100
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Common lawn clover = Dutch White Clover = Trifolium repens is an ideal living mulch for TRANSPLANTED vegetables. Dutch clover only grows 6 to 8 inches high, is shade tolerant, and resistant to field traffic. Mow clover before setting transplants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squashes, gourds, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and melons. To establish Dutch White Clover broadcast or drill seed at 12 pounds per acre into standing weeds then mow closely to cover seed. Alternatively, broadcast seed then use rear-ended rototiller set to skim soil surface = till at 2 inch depth. Always mow first before using rototiller or weeds may foul tines. Irrigate if possible to firm soil surface and encourage rapid germination. Dutch White Clover prefers an alkaline = basic soil but also requires sulfur for maximum growth. For best results apply 2 tons of agricultural gypsum per acre = 1.5 ounces per square foot. NOTE: All living mulches compete with crop plants for moisture, light, and nutrients. Remember to provide sufficient water and fertilizer for both crop AND living mulch. Protect young transplants by mowing or apply a circle of mulch around each plant. Young plants need protection for the first 3 to 6 weeks after which they will overgrow both clover and weeds. Low growing or slow growing plants will be overwhelmed by Dutch White Clover. Established stands of Dutch White Clover provide 90% to 95% weed control = as good or better than most synthetic chemical herbicides. For more information on biological farming methods visit: www.agriculturesolutions.wordpress.com -- or -- www.worldagriculturesolutions.wordpress.com -- or -- send your questions to: Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, PA 15108 USA.
 
Sharon Cline
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Location: Saylorsburg, Pa.
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I planted white clover between rows in my vegetable garden for the first time last year, it did well, surpressing weeds, until late summer when grasses took over. I tilled last year, but am not going to this year. I realize I just planted the grass seeds when I tilled. I'm going to try to sow the clover earlier this year, since it is a slower growing clover. I had plenty of rain in my area last year, so competing for H2O was not an issue. Plants thrived growing amongst the nitrogen fixing clover. Crowding was not an issue.In some other fields, where weeds are a bigger problem, am planning to plant buckwheat to smother them, then follow with red clover after that. Any thoughts? I'm in Zone 5 & sunny location..
 
eric koperek
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Buckwheat is an excellent smother crop for weed control. Just remember to mow it down as soon as it starts to flower. Do not let buckwheat go to seed or it will become a weed problem. For best results use a sickle-bar mower to leave plants as whole as possible. Chopped up plants provide much less weed control. If your weed control problems are really bad, follow buckwheat with common cereal rye (Secale cereale). Roller-crimp or sickle-bar mow when rye starts shedding pollen or when seeds reach soft dough stage. Rye at this point will die if rolled or mowed. Do not let rye mature seed or it will become a weed problem. A crop of cereal rye 5 to 6 feet high will produce about 8,000 to 10,000 pounds = 4 to 5 tons of long straw per acre = minimum needed to provide 90% weed control. Seed or transplant directly through the rye mulch using no-till equipment. Always plant "with the grain" = parallel to the direction of the straw as it lays on the ground. Do not plant "cross grain" or planting equipment will become fouled with mulch. If desired, you can top seed (broadcast) Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens), Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum), or Sub Clover (Trifolium subteranium) or other small seeded, low growing legume over the rye mulch. The small seeds will work their way through openings in the mulch and provide additional biodiversity in your fields.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) can also be used as a living mulch but with more caution because the crop grows higher and is much more aggressive. For best results choose a variety of Medium Red Clover (which does not grow so high). Mow the clover as close to ground level as possible before planting corn or other large seeded crop. 2 weeks later mow again using a divider and swathing board so cut clover does not fall on planted rows. You might have to mow a third time two weeks later depending on the speed of clover regrowth and the germination of your crop. A field of established (1 year old) red clover will provide all of the nitrogen needed to produce 100 bushels or more of corn (Zea mays) per acre. A good stand of Red Clover provides 90% weed control = as good or better than most synthetic chemical herbicides. You can also top seed Red Clover over corn or other field crops. Wait until plants are 6 to 8 weeks old. For corn, wait until plants have 4 to 8 leaves = about 18 inches tall. As a general rule do not top seed Red Clover until crop plants are at least 1 foot high otherwise rapidly growing clover will overwhelm your crops.

NOTE: Most folks forget that living mulches compete with crop plants for sunlight, water, and fertilizer. This can reduce yields 50% or more depending on management, local weather and soil conditions. For best results, IRRIGATE your crops generously = 1 inch of water weekly. Mix fertilizer with irrigation water then apply very dilute solution to growing plants. Organic fertilizers work well provided they are applied sparingly and only to growing plants. Do not apply fertilizer to bare soil. A fluid extract of manure (1 part manure to 1 part water by weight) makes a good soluble organic fertilizer. Manure only needs to soak an hour or two before use. (Do not let manure tea sit around longer than 24 hours or it will lose most of its nitrogen). Filter extract finely (to prevent clogging irrigation system) then dilute with irrigation water before application.

For more information on biological farming visit: www.agriculturesolutions.wordpress.com -- or -- www.worldagriculturesolutions.wordpress.com -- or -- send your questions to: Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania 15108 USA -- or -- send an e-mail to: erickoperek@gmail.com
 
Jim Tuttle
Posts: 42
Location: Southern Oregon
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When we say "living mulch", I think something to cover and enrich the soil with. A lot of people, myself included, also use mulch as a way to reduce water use. White clover is a bad choice for that purpose, here's why: the soil loses water a few ways, the two we are most concerned with are evaporation and transpiration. Bare soil loses water through evaporation, because as the top dries out, the water is pulled up from below through a wicking action. A mulch of shredded paper or straw shades the soil, AND breaks the wicking action. The deeper the mulch, the cooler the soil stays and the less air movement it receives, thus conserving water.

Transpiration, on the other hand... All plants transpire water, white clover is no exception. While the clover will shade the soil, and the root mass will build the soil, its leaves are transpiring water all the live-long day. White clover is not nearly as heat-tolerant as something like peppers, so to cool itself it transpires more water. In our garden, we observed white clover actually robbing the nearby plants of water, causing wilting. This was only visually noticeable on hot and dry days (95+ F, 15-25% humidity). We ended up covering all the clover in that area with a few layers of cardboard, which helped a lot.

Something to consider, anyway. Choose your mulch based on your needs for the crop and climate. Here, we use clovers and grasses for overwintering, then knock it down several weeks before transplanting, per Elliot Coleman's books. We have plenty of compost, so we add a layer of that if we are direct seeding (like with beets and carrots).
 
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