Gene Logsdon: White Clover Might Be God In My Bible


The Contrary Farmer

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.