I've read a bit about using a plant like perennial clover as a living, nitrogen fixing, mulch for wheat and corn. Has anyone tried this living mulch in their vegetable gardens? Would the clover out compete low growing and slow maturing plants like carrots?
id say 90% of the floor in my forest garden is a living mulch, consisting of many different species of plants.
as for veggie gardens, i have found that if you plant broccoli, wait until its grown a bit. then plant loose leaf lettuce real thick under them. youll have a nice living mulch that will give you tons of greens, while keeping weeds away from the broccoli. both can handle temps down to the low 20's and some snow cover.
The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
For clover and carrots. I would say it would be better to first sow carrots and then clover a week or two later. If clover is already growing just toss seed into it, wait till you think it's time for germination and cut the clover and save mulch for later.
We use white Dutch clover in pathways and let it creep into some of the veggie beds. We do not let any living mulch or weeds into the carrot and onion beds however as they don't take well to any competition. Actually, one of our favorite living mulches is ground ivy, AKA creeping jenny or creeping charlie. It's free, the bees like its flowers, and the shallow roots are easy to uproot if it's getting too aggressive. We also like purslane, dandelions, chickweed, and black medic. We use our electric mower to keep the pathways under control. After rain or heavy dew, the mowed paths are easy to walk on without boots. The living mulches also make nice green manure when worked into the soil.
I agree that purslane is a perfect ground cover for larger veggies especially nightshades. I find that it has companion plant capabilities too, tomatoes are healthier, tastier and more drought tolerant with purslane at their feet. It's also one of the few plants that is high in omega-3 fatty acids which is a great bonus and, my my, is it tasty.
I got sick of weeding out white clover and alfalfa so I just let it grow. Works awesome with wheat provided you let the wheat get a little head start. It works good with corn also, but I get a little more vicious with it in the corn patch to make room for the pole beans that I like to inter-plant (also good for nitrogen) If you are more industrious than I am in the garden you can get your seedling rows started and let the alfalfa/clover fill in between and every week or so take a hoe and chop the little clover sprouts into the soil (not too much, you want to let them grow back so you can repeat the process over) This works pretty good, but if you are lazy like me and don't hoe often enough the alfalfa will really start to take over. I tried this method for a couple of seasons and it worked pretty good, but I abandoned it in favor of heavy sheet mulching instead. If you live in an area of regular rainfall and like to spend time controlling the living mulch this is a great way to go.
There are a lot of clovers around here. How do I decide which? I think the idea to sow clover in pathways is great. But they are a bit narrow to really mow them. Or maybe with a sickle. That would be good to provide animal food as well. CSIRO has a concept which is called clever clover, but my guess is that it's just what was said above.
I've planted clover's 3 species in my yard for the past 18 years. It looks better than the weeds and feeds the ground. Seeing as the majority of my yard is black NY muck and the water washed nutrients out it helps me to keep from using chemicals every year. Same for the garden , I'll shoot a little gras in now and then, week weekly~ or daily depending on the rain.
This is the first year that I have not had to deal with pulling buttercups. usually buttercups are enemy number one in my garden. but this year it can not compete with the living mulch.... I allowed clover, plantain and chickweed to grow in the pathways. the chick weed I just kept trimmed back away from the rows and ate a lot in salad too.
There are no experts, Just people with more experience.
I am trying violets and yellow sorrel as a living mulch, but carefully. If something is working as is, I'm leaving it alone.
Last year I interplanted beets and carrots and the beets did much better than the carrots. However, the carrots did much better there than they had planted in rows the previous year. So I guess they like company, just not too much. I plan to plant them in a bed again this year, but seperate from the beets. Possibly try letting some of the violets invade part of the bed, to see if they work better than beets, being a little lower growing. Not too many, though. The sorrel (relative of clover) gets a bit tall sometimes, about ten inches max, but its not as dense a plant as violets are. Those are going in the sunnier areas where plants like tomatoes and potatoes thrive. They are annual, while the violets are perennial. I'm using the native sorrel for two reasons: a) its free and here, b) my dad freaks over the notion of letting clover grow, and so does my mom.
I am thinking of adding strawberries to my living mulch list because I found that they are very happy in my garden, while they sort of sulk elsewhere before producing (regularly, but not heavily.)
I do have plantain, thistles of three kinds, purslane, mallow, bindweed, perennial sweet peas, and a few others in my garden, but they aren't welcome for various reasons. Bindweed for obvious reasons, thistles because of stickers and because the ants import aphids for them, mallow and purslane because they literally take over and are a pain to pull out, sweet peas because they sprawl and smother everything but bindweed, quackgrass for obvious reasons, plantain because they attracted so many wasps last year that I couldn't harvest half my garden.
Its not like there aren't other things that blow in and grow. I either pull them out occasionally (like the catnip and tree seedlings) or enjoy them (like last year's petunias and this year's solo nasturtium). I also have plenty of volunteers every year: tomatoes, peas, beans, potatoes, onions, even a black walnut (which sadly died).
Also, while basil, lavender, and rosemary curl up and die in wet pots, they do fine as companion plants. I have lavender basically smothered by catmint that is determinedly growing out to the sun and looks quite healthy. Basil is said to improve tomato yields by 20% when planted about 10 inches from them. (I do know the one year I got peppers, they were smack dab up against a basil plant and both were very happy.) Not sure on rosemary, which tends to be grown with roses.
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