If you are faced with depleted soil and have a season or two to enrich the soil before your desired planing, one of the best cover crops or green manures to introduce to your property is medium red clover. Medium red clover brings nitrogen to the soil from the air and deposits for the benefit of the crops or plantings that immediately follow it.
Clover supplies its own nitrogen and is able to fix nitrogen to the soil through its roots. Soil tested before clover is planted will show lower levels of nitrogen than the tested soil after the clover has been planted. Clover also delivers humus to the ground. The plant’s height and density reduces weed growth.
It would probably be correct to say that no plant has yet been introduced into American agriculture that has been found so generally useful as clover in fertilizing land and in improving the mechanical condition. It begins to draw nitrogen from the air as soon as the tubercles commence to form and continues to add thus to the enrichment of the land during all the succeeding period of active growth. Consequently, if crops of clover are grown in short rotation periods and if no fertilizer is given to the land other than the clover brings to it, while it will be abundantly supplied with nitrogen, a time will come when the supply of phosphoric acid and potash may be so reduced that the soil will not grow even good crops of clover. When this point is reached the soil is spoken of as “clover sick.” Happily, however, nearly all soils are so well stored with phosphoric acid and potash that this result is not likely to follow for many years. But lest it should, attention should be given to fertilizing the land occasionally with farmyard manure, or with phosphoric acid and potash applied as commercial fertilizers. Because of this, and also for other reasons, it is usually considered more profitable in the end to feed clover on the farm and return it to the land in the form of manure. But clover may cease to grow on land where once it grew well, because of other reasons, such as changes in the mechanical condition of the soil caused by the depletion of its humus and changes in its chemical condition, such as increased acidity. The remedy is the removal of the cause.
The roots also put large quantities of humus in the soil. Where crops are regularly grown in short rotations they will suffice to keep it amply supplied for ordinary production. Because of this it is usually considered more profitable to cut both the crops which medium red clover produces in one season, or to pasture off one or both, than to plow under either as green manure. But when soils are too stiff or too open in character it may be advantageous to bury clover to restore the equilibrium. It may also be necessary to bury an occasional crop in order to put the land quickly in a condition to produce some desired crop, the growth of which calls for large supplies of humus. When clover is plowed under it will usually be found more profitable to bury the second growth of the season than the first. The crop is in the best condition for being plowed under when the plants are coming into bloom. If left until the stems lose their succulence the slow decay following in conjunction with the bulkiness of the mass plowed under might prove harmful to the crop following the clover. The influence of the roots upon the mechanical condition of the soil is most beneficial. The roots go down deep into the subsoil and also abound in fibrous growth. The tap roots in their decay furnish openings through which the superfluous water may go down into the subsoil. The fibers adhering to the main roots so ramify through the soil that when even stiff land is filled with them it is rendered friable, and is consequently brought into a good mechanical condition.
While all varieties of clover may be utilized in producing food and in enriching land, none is equal to the medium red for the two purposes combined. This arises from the fact that none save the medium red grows two crops in one season under ordinary conditions. Though the first crop should be taken for food, as it generally is, there is still ample time for a second crop to grow for plowing under the same season. This second growth is ready for being plowed under when time is less valuable than it would be when the mammoth or alsike varieties would be in season for being thus covered. And yet the work may be done sufficiently early to admit of sowing fall or winter crops on the land which produced the clover.
Article written by Thomas Shaw and made available via the Project Gutenberg – CLOVERS AND How to Grow Them, by Thomas Shaw http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19905/19905-h/19905-h.htm