Monday, July 16, 2007

Clover update

In February or thereabouts, I bought some clover seed and planted it in the vegetable patch as ground cover where there was no veg. It took a very long time to sprout, in which time all sorts of other more invasive grasses and weeds thrived. Since the seed is also very fine indeed, it got washed away by the slightest rain, gathering in corners wherever the water tended to pool.

However, when the weather started to get warmer in April, the clover began to grow rapidly, forming a dense, juicy carpet. When you walk on it, it squashes down and looks like it's done for, but it's back up and fluffy again in a short while.

Not that you can see it well in this picture, but the clover is intimately coexisting with nasturtiums, shiso, Italian parsley, and lots of grass. This slope tended to erode in the rain while it was bare, but the clover and grass has helped to stabilize it. (Also visible is corn, pumpkin, and melon. There's clover in amongst that too.)

In other places, the clover didn't do so well. The area around the house has lousy soil. It's had chippings dumped on it, and heavy equipment has been driven back and forth on it. I broadcast clover seed on this area in the hope of greening it a bit, but the seed simply washed away. To prevent this, I scraped lines with a hoe, and broadcast the seed again.

The results are quite miserable. Although the clover is semi-established, it isn't luxuriant growth. Even clover needs a bit of soil to work with. So in an attempt to provide something nutritious for the clover to root down in, I brought down some leaf-mould and organic debris from the mountain to scatter on top of the hard soil. Onto this I broadcast yet more clover seed just as the rainy season was getting started. This time it's thrived.

I had hoped clover would form a dense ground cover that kept out other weeds. But the grasses are much faster growing and very robust. Even when the grass is torn out roots and all, it can recover somehow even when the clover is doing well. And clover is really a weed too. But by sowing clover, you get to choose one of your weeds, and add some diversity to what's growing. You also get another flowering plant for the insects that like them, although I've only seen one clover flower so far.

I understand from people who plant lawns that they only last 5 or 6 years before they go threadbare and need replanting. In the meantime they require constant weeding. I'm hoping that by opting for a weed lawn in the first place, I'll be saving us that trouble and expense.

Over the weekend, Typhoon No.4 swung by near Ehime and dumped gallons of rain on us. There were some good cloudscapes before and after.


stew said...


Thanks for writing up your experiences with your garden in general and the clover. The beds you've made look great and you've got them going in no time.

I'm sure we'll have the same problems with compaction, so it's good to know what you can do to get things established.

The permaculture people are more scathing about domestic lawns than industrial agriculture even. However, this may reflect the artificiality of pushing them and the big lawns that are golf courses onto unsuitable territory like Australia and California where many permaculturalists live. Grass seems to grow by itself back home, but that's the British climate for you.

Rod said...

The beds have given me no end of trouble since the growing season started. They're invaded by grass and taken over within about 5 days. One type of grass puts out arms like an octopus which then root themselves, choking out the veg. So next year I'm going to put boards around the beds (we still have lots of timber left over from the house). This will make it easier to determine which parts must be weeded without fail. Hopefully it should make encroachment from the pathways more difficult too.

I'm beginning to think that the secret to a successful weed 'lawn' must be herbivores of some sort. I'm not ready to be husbanding animals yet, but a reading of The Encyclopedia of Country Living suggests that rabbits or geese might be suitable. Animals weed and fertilize at the same time...