Gene Logsdon and Friends

White Clover Might Be God In My Bible

In Gene's Weekly Posts on July 9, 2014 at 8:46 am

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From GENE LOGSON

Or at least one of the heavenly angels. White clover brings salvation to the earth by drawing nitrogen from the air into its roots to replenish soil fertility. It lasts nearly forever without any human help, volunteers everywhere, provides nutritious forage  for bird and beast, honey for insect and human, and if you find a lucky four-leaved plant instead of the usual three-leaved version, you just might win the lottery. The accompanying photo is not particularly sensational, surely not photographically, but it shows something very interesting to a farmer, if you know the story behind it. The corn is the open-pollinated stuff I plant every year to keep this particular strain of Reid’s Yellow Dent up to date. (I started out forty years ago to grow the biggest ear of corn in the world and still have hopes.) It is the strip of white clover between the two strips of corn that I want to focus on. I did not plant it. It just came up all on its lonesome. Not a bad stand for being totally natural and independent of the manipulations of human ingenuity.

The reason why the clover is so fortuitous in this particular case is that I actually planned to grow clover and corn in strips like the picture indicates. My intention was a rotation of corn, oats, clover, and back to corn in strips. Sow the clover with the oats, make a cutting of hay of oats and clover, then several cuttings of clover alone,  and then plow under the re-growth  after two years for corn again. A good organic rotation, without need to use commercial fertilizer. I chose red clover, however, not white, because red is the kind that responds best to broadcast seeding with oats in this kind of rotation.

Things didn’t work out very well because of health issues and contrary weather and what I really followed was a rotation of late corn, weeds and very interesting volunteer grasses.  Last year I barely got enough corn for the chickens over winter mostly because (I am convinced of this without positive proof) the deer prefer the older corns to the new GMO stuff. My little corn plot was Picnic Land for the resident deer herd.

This year we got the corn out on time and with good growing weather everything appeared fine and dandy except for the unkempt look of the wild strips of volunteer grass between the strips of corn. Then, sort of miraculously, this strip in the photo and another not in the photo, sported fairly nice stands of white clover. It will put nitrogen in the ground all this growing season, will make some hay in July if we wish, and then green manure when we plow it under this fall for next year’s corn— just as I had envisaged with red clover but without any planting effort at all.

Where did that clover come from if not from the right hand of some almighty power? It had not grown that nicely in any part of the field before— at least not for years. It is my experience that white clover is like that. You won’t see much of it for several years and then all of a sudden it is everywhere for a year or two. At any rate, white clover is a most beneficial plant— why I liken it to the salvation of the world. In any average soil, it will grow with bluegrass to make a permanent pasture that, grazed wisely, can supply livestock and chickens with at least half  of the annual food they need. The two forages will last together indefinitely with no seeding necessary. In their symbiotic relationship, clover puts nitrogen in the ground enough to make the grass grow lushly. When the grass uses up the nitrogen, the clover comes back full strength to replenish the nitrogen in the soil. It is just a most amazing partnership for the salvation of the world, repeated all over nature by other nitrogen fixing and nitrogen feasting plants. I dream of the day when a wiser civilization learns how to use this marriage made in heaven to survive forever. There are other “improved” kinds of white clover but they cost money. The main reason you don’t hear so much about wild white clover and bluegrass is that you don’t have to buy it.
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  1. My bees love that white clover!!

  2. It must be the year for white clover. My field paths that I thought were nice stands of natural grass turned to 90% clover this year in Logan Co.. Sadley, I have only seen a few honey bees this year.

  3. Well I truly believe in the merits of white Dutch clover. About three years ago I got tired of fighting crabgrass in my yard and so I sowed white Dutch clover in February before a snow as well as applied a little pelletized lime. WOW…what a beautiful yard, no crabgrass and green all summer. The mix of fine leaf fescue and white Dutch clover makes the best lawn cover I know without chemicals or fertilizer. The only thing I do is cut a little higher and make sure my mover blade is extra sharp to cut the clover clean.

    I have not tried it yet but I would love to establish a plot of white clover and strip plant sweet corn in it to see how it does. Has anybody tried that?

    The older I get the more in awe I am of seemingly little things like white clover that can do so much with so little cost or effort.

  4. Easy, cheap, and good for animals, humans, and the land. Why do they call you “Contrary?”

  5. Not long ago I mentioned the benefits of clover, specifically white clover, at a raw milk blog where I read and participate occasionally. It went over everyone’s head I guess. White clover is important to the soil when you’re growing crops for feed purposes.

    About four years ago I ordered a whole bunch of different wild grasses, including red clover and white clover, Indian Rust Grass, Bluestem, and a few others. I took all the seeds and put them into a jar with holes in the top (like the kind you see in Mexican restaurants where they keep the red hot chili pepper seeds) and distributed them in an area about 8′ wide by about 35′ long on one side of our yard just to see what would happen. As far as I can tell, everything came up, but as nature will do, some have been up only once and then went dormant and now returned again this year. I think what happened is the seed plants used whatever was left in that poor soil to produce whatever it could the first year, which in turn helped replenish the soil a bit more, and this is what’s happening now every year – the plants are replenishing the soil with minerals and stuff that were either depleted or never there to begin with. The white clover was outstanding last year, but this year the red is spectacular. So are some of the tufted grasses. Just beautiful and that part of the yard is a real conversation starter!

  6. The white clover blue grass symbiosis is truly a gift from the creator. I love your conclusive statement and would add to say it is not heard of much because nobody is trying to “sell” it.
    The point we share Gene is that often the best stuff available in nature, on the farm and in the forests, is the result of culture and not commercially purchased input. The white clover blue grass is the preferred grazing for horses when monitored for their selection/choice of what to eat first – during pasture rotations. The blue grass is a little drought intolerant, but when it stops growing the deeper rooted clover starts. It does cause horses to slobber. Since I’m farming/grazing some land that was bought as a clear cut and cleared by hand and with horses by me, I’ve also noticed that as the land moves toward grass cover the first and best spots grazed are the burn pile areas where stumps and debris was removed in the process of making a pasture that could be mowed to promote perennials. I also think it likes a more balanced ph which is aided here by the wood ash. Wonderful observations sir.

  7. Voisin says that “native” white clover doesn’t cause bloat but that “introduced” ones do. I’m not sure what “native” means in France, in England, in the USA, etc. Clover, whether white or red or alsike, certainly does thicken the sward for pasture.

    P.S.: Gene, first there was holy shit, now clover as God. If you want to theologize about hawkweed or leafy spurge or thistle as an “axis of evil,” you have my support.

    • Hey, Just Farmers, that’s a great idea. Let me ponder that. Actually I may have already started on that. Next week I call the invasive “tree of heaven” the tree from hell. Gene

  8. Last night when I went out to get the milk cows from the pasture the wind was blowing in just the right direction that I got the white clover smell blown right into my face, made for a nice walk.

  9. I love my city clover lawn and so do the resident native bees in my backyard.

  10. A few weeks back, I spent a hot, humid, bug-filled day clearing out a weed-packed pasture. This last weekend, it was a vast sea of white clover in bloom. And I never paid for or planted a single seed.

  11. Gene,
    I do not recall who said it, but I believe it was you who said if you want to improve pasture, put livestock on it.
    Since last year, where ever I rotated the goats and chickens through, I have seen a fantastic explosion of not only white clover, but red clover too! Less weeds, more grasses!
    Truly a beautiful thing to see pasture that has been neglected for 30 years make a comeback.

  12. White Clover and Bluegrass and rotation of grazing livestock, now that is symbiosis.. Sure it may not yield as much as more glamorous plants or even as much as using commercial fertilizer, although that is dependent upon conditions too. As an example: when scything my hay/pasture patch for hay I let some bluegrass,orchard-grass and Alice White Clover be spared the swishing blade just to see how big they would eventually get. I recall both the bluegrass and orchard-grass topped out at about my head height (5’8″) and the clover with big leaves and blossoms wasn’t too far behind, so I’m not sure the lower yielding claim is always justified.

    I fed some of the harvested hay on a patch to be rotated to garden to a couple of Holstein steers, but fed the steers a bit of whole corn so the chickens would spread the manure. so the fertility was mainly bluegrass and clover with about one inch of fresh manure spread over the top via hay and corn feeding. The next spring I let the bluegrass/ clover get about 8″ in height , then hit it with a mower but left the clippings in place. I then tilled the patch, which took a lot of work with my small tiller. Then I, waited a bit then planted garden. It was an impressive garden. I did add mycorhizzae inoculum to the vegetable seeds but considering I didn’t use compost in the traditional sense or even manure pack or synthetic fertilizer it worked really well.

    I’m still working experimentally on the clover strips rotated with cropping but don’t have a lot of room to experiment with that concept. I do ,however, have a friend who does just that: rotating White Clover strips with garden. For example in one year clover is grown in strips and repeatedly mowed, then the next year the clover strip is tilled under and vegetables are planted in that strip, then the former vegetable strip is planted with clover in side-by-side alternating strips so the pattern repeats. It seems to work quite well.

    The beauty of this system is that if you have livestock that can reproduce you have all the elements of s sustainable fertility program with minimal outside inputs needed. I suspect if one was really concerned about re-establishing the clover in a bare strip, and missed the right hand of some Almighty Power intervention just simply feeding late cut hay on the strip with mature grass and clover seed in the hay would do just fine.

    Of course this system does little to provide income to the agriculture supply store because it doesn’t require much in the way of purchases except for tillage equipment such as a rotary tiller and the original vegetable seed. I’ve often heard it claimed that if all of agriculture went to organic systems such as this then many people would starve, but based upon my experience, I doubt it is true.

    I see a movement is afoot to :”plant gardens not grass”, but by extrapolation if the grass is akin to a bluegrass/clover plot I think that is what makes the most sense for maintaining fertility indefinitely. I suggest rephrasing that slogan to:” plant grass and clover and gardens”.

  13. I agree completely. Clover looks nice, smells nice, and doesn’t grow more than about six inches high around here. Every herbivorous quadruped I know swears it tastes great. That’s the perfect lawn plant, as far as I’m concerned. 16 years ago I declared it wasn’t a weed, and gave it free run of my land. The mockery from my neighbors died out eventually.

  14. my clover story goes like this. i mowed the wild grass ‘pasture’ and overseeded white (sometimes red) clover and waited. the next year i mowed grass and clover.and used the cuttings to mulch the veggies and overseeded again. Red and white are not much competition for the wild grasses but they are holding their own…enriching the mulched cuttings (replacing boughten straw with seeds0 and choking out the weeds that follow cultivation. A sort of matted row plan. Gene, weren’t you the inspiration for that style of garden/farming?

    • Spencer Wells, that is kind of you, but I was just passing on the inspiration I got from watching what earlier farmers did. Gene

  15. Dear Mr Logsdon, I want to tell you how much your writing means to me, your amazing point of view that opens up worlds. Thank you!! Susan Boutilier

    • Susan and all of you who have been so kind to me: I really do appreciate your words and taking the time to write them. I don’t always respond directly but your words have an enormously gratifying influence on me. Gene

  16. Before the introduction of herbicides white clover was a welcome component of a home lawn. Herbicides used to take out certain weeds may also remove clover. The traditional image of a lawn that included clover was replaced by a pure grass lawn. The same commercial interests that promoted chemical herbicides also found a new market for manufactured N fertilizer that was needed to replace the biologically fixed N that was no longer freely provided by the clover.
    A strong argument can be made that a real organic lawn must include clover. Read more at this link:

    http://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/soilprofile/sp-v21.pdf

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