Tag: red clover

Red vs Persian Clover – Green Manure Trial Update

Please n.b. As per the comment by Anton from Garden Organic at the end of this post, we’re actually trialling crimson clover, rather than red clover. Please feel free to mentally substitute the correct variety throughout the following… 🙂

This year I’ve joined in with a trial of two varieties of clover organised by Garden Organic. The aim is to see whether Persian clover (Trifolium resupinatum) is an effective green manure, in direct comparison with red crimson clover (Trifolium pratense incarnatum).

As instructed, I first sowed two patches of clover seed – one red, one Persian – back in March. The weather was so poor that the seed failed to germinate, apart from a few tiny stragglers, so I dropped Garden Organic a line and offered to re-sow. They sent me some more seed in May, I sowed when the weather had improved a bit, and I’m glad to say that this time the seed germinated nicely and I’ve been tracking progress in photos since then.

I’m afraid that although I read the trial notes thoroughly when they arrived, I’ve forgotten to take measurements, or including measuring marks in the photos. Easily done when you’ve got 1,001 other things to be remembering and thinking about during an allotment session, and hopefully my observations will still be useful.

June 9th 2016

June 9th 2016 Clover Update

Both varieties have germinated, but already the red clover is much more vigorous and robust-looking than the thinner, patchier Persian.

June 18th 2016

June 18th 2016 Clover Update

Nine days later and whilst the red clover has expanded to fill most of the metre-square patch, the Persian is now lagging badly behind, leaving lots of gaps for weed seeds to colonise.

July 3rd 2016

July 7th 2016 Clover Update

The Persian has finally started to thicken up a little and is already flowering, producing delicate, daisy-like, flat-faced white flowers edged in pink, nothing like the tufted flower heads that you usually expect to see on native clover.

July 10th 2016

July 10th 2016 Clover Update

A week later and the red is now showing the classic clover flower spikes, and the Persian has thickened a little more. I’ve had to do quite a bit more weeding on the latter though, due to the comparative sparseness of the foliage.

July 19th 2016

July 19th 2016 Clover Update

Both varieties are now at full strength. The bees are loving the flowers and the foliage is rich and lush. The photo shows that the red is still out-performing the Persian in terms of size and vigour.

Assessing growth rate and coverage are only part of the trial though. Another element is to see what happens once the plants die back in winter. The theory is that the Persian clover will decompose much more quickly than the red, leaving a lot less ‘straw’ to be manually dug in to the soil. Based on my previous experience with red clover, I’d imagine that both will set seed and we’ll be looking at another batch of clover coming up in the same place once the weather warms up next Spring.

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Plot #59 Update: March 2016

March 2016 Plot #59 Update
Plot #59, looking good in a bit of early Spring sunshine

The weather in our neck of the woods was distinctly variable during March, although thankfully storm Katie largely passed us by. A couple of dry weeks meant I could go full steam ahead on digging and clearing the back section of the plot, for a while. We haven’t worked this bit since we took it over two years ago and so has been lying fallow for who knows how many years (previous tenants only worked small sections and those infrequently, so our plot neighbours have told us). The net result so far is three new potato trenches, two of which now contain nicely-chitted first early ‘swift’ tubers.

March 2016 Chitted first early 'swift'
Nicely chitted and ready for planting out.

I removed all but three chits from each tuber before planting them a good spade’s depth deep and then mounding up the earth above. Potato tubers form as modified stems rather than roots, so you want the tuber to sit deep and reach upwards through the soil, rather than spreading out on the surface, which leads to inedible green spuds if you don’t do a lot of mounding up. Too deep though, and the shoots might not be able to break surface and put out photosynthesising leaves before the tuber exhausts its store of starches, so it’s best not to go mad and dig them six feet under.

March 2016 spud trenches dug
Line and spade gets the job done, without my usual wild swerving.

The digging and clearing job is continuing forwards from the back of the plot, through some horribly bindweed- and buttercup-choked patches, down towards the fruit bush section in the middle. It’s slow, steady, fiddly work, especially when heavy rain stops play for a day or three, but we’re getting there.

Jo and I also spent a couple of hours weeding the over-wintered allium patch (white onions, garlic and the as-yet-uneaten leeks) before planting out the ‘sturon’ sets that had been started off in modules in the greenhouse. As you can see, after about six weeks of growth the majority of them had developed great roots and strong, healthy leaves; time to get them in the ground before they started to get pot-bound and run out of nutrients. Jo and I planted around 110, in three rows (plus filling in a few gaps in the white onion section from winter losses) and they should be ready to start harvesting round about late June or July, if the weather goes our way.

March 2016 - Onion 'sturon' ready for planting
Good roots and strong stems – these are ready to go in.

Progress has continued on the new asparagus bed, with free-draining ridges set up in the previously well-manured section. The crowns are arriving sometime next week, all being well, so I look forward to getting those planted before too long.

Another section of the plot has been sown with red and Persian clover for a green manure trial on behalf of Garden Organic. At last-look, the clover seedlings that I sowed in the middle of March were just starting to germinate. The Persian clover came up first, but so far the red clover seedlings seem to be more robust.

March 2016 Clover germination comparison
Persian clover seems to have the edge in germination speed.

Meanwhile, back at base, I’ve been sowing the first of our brassica and tomato seeds. It’s perhaps a little early for some brassicas, but so far I’ve just sown cauliflower (‘purple cape’ and ‘all year round’) and brussels sprout (‘rubine’, ‘Evesham special’ and ‘Bedford’), both of which need a longer growing season than the likes of cabbage or kale. They’re in a plastic propagation trays (seed trays with a domed lid) in the greenhouse, making the most of whatever sunshine comes their way.

I know a lot of folks will have tomato seedlings well on the way by now, but I’m planning on keeping a lot of ours outside this year, so given the state of the North Manchester weather at the moment, I didn’t see the point in starting anything off too soon. I reckon they’ll catch up once (or if…) the temperatures start to rise. I’ve sown five different varieties, two determinate (bush) or tumbling forms for containers: ‘maskotka’ and ‘principe borghese’, with indeterminate ‘red pear’, ‘tigerella’ and ‘gardener’s delight’ all likely to need a bit of support later in life. (I might sow one or two more varieties at some point as well, depending on how things go.) Again, they’re in the greenhouse in plastic propagation trays for now, as I don’t want them to grow too quickly and become leggy as a result.

In other news, I potted up the chilli seedlings (two weeks on and they’re coming along very nicely) and we took a few first steps in two new (for us) horticultural directions: carnivorous plants for greenhouse pest control and Dahlias for growing at the allotment and at home.

Exciting developments all round. Lots (and lots) more to come in April, weather allowing. Please do feel free to add any comments, questions or helpful suggestions down below, and check out the monthly updates archive for more round-ups from earlier in the year.

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Now Sowing: Experimental Clover for Garden Organic

This morning I cleared the final stragglers – some non-producing purple sprouting broccoli and a few pigeon-knackered kale plants – from the main veg section down on Plot #59. Having found a bit of clubroot in the p.s.b. and not wanting to risk spreading it to this year’s brassicas, I decided that the newly-cleared section would make an ideal location for the green manure trial that I’m carrying out for Garden Organic this year, which will run through to March 2017.

Garden Organic clover trial patches  - newly sown
Newly cleared, raked, sown and watered experimental trial patches.

That’s two one-metre square plots (with some celery that survived the winter relocated as a boundary marker and a few parsley plants to keep them apart) freshly cleared, raked and sown with the seed provided. I noticed that the Persian clover seed was quite a bit smaller than that of the red clover; I expect that means the red will be a more robust plant than the Persian? Time will tell and I’ll be keeping track of progress as the two patches develop.

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Green Manure on Trial for Garden Organic

When I signed up for Garden Organic‘s Heritage Seed Library earlier this year, I ticked a couple of boxes on the form to indicate my general willingness to take part in their 2016 trials programme. As well as participating in a seed-saving survey, I also said I’d like to help trial a potential new green manure seed: Persian clover (Trifolium resupinatum, meaning ‘having the appearance of being upside-down’).

As I’m sure most gardeners and plot holders are well aware, green manure is any one of a range of fast-growing crops that’s intended to cover a patch of otherwise un-used ground. The plants help to keep weeds down and then can be dug in to provide compost matter and food for worms, both of which help to improve soil quality.

At the weekend, the postman delivered a package from Garden Organic with two packets of clover seed: Persian and the more common red (Trifolium pratense, meaning ‘of the meadow’) variety. We grew the latter as a green manure last year, but didn’t get around to digging it in, and this was the general result:

Red clover, yellow kale
Our 2015 green manure patch , which we didn’t quite get around to digging in…

(We got a lot of comments from our plot-neighbours about how lovely the patch looked and the bees went mad for the nectar, so we left it to do its thing. It went to seed and re-grew a second time, which I also didn’t get round to digging in, until I ended up clearing the patch earlier this week.)

According to the notes from Garden Organic, Persian clover – which is widely grown as a fodder-crop – is meant to be a little more no-dig-friendly, as the stems are quicker to rot down and can be left on the surface for the worms to deal with; unlike the red clover steams which tend to dry to a straw-like consistency and don’t incorporate into the soil unless you do dig them in.

The seeds need to be sown in mid-March, so I’d better get my skates on and decide where I’m going to put the two one-metre trial sections on the plot. I’ll be sure to take plenty of photos and record my progress as I go, with further updates here as the two clover crops develop.

If you’re interested in using green manure on your own plot or garden, take a look at the range of seeds available from sowseeds.co.uk sub-site www.greenmanure.co.uk, which is who we bought our red clover seed from, and read their notes on choosing the right green manure to see what’s best to sow where, when and why.

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Thinking Ahead – Doing Our Bit for the Bees

Jo and I are starting to plan our new, suburban Cottage Garden, with a number of key goals in mind. It has make best use of the available space, look stunning for as much of the year as possible, produce a few food crops that will supplement and add to the main work being done down on Plot #59 and, last but definitely not least, provide a haven and a rich food source for bees and other propagating insects.

I’m sure if you’re a gardener you’ll be aware of the plight of the world’s bee populations: beset on all sides by a changing environment, a loss of their food sources, parasitical invasion and pesticide poisoning. Without bees to pollinate a huge percentage of our food crops, the human race would be plunged into food poverty and a massively-reduced diet faster than you can say “why are there no strawberries on the supermarket shelves?” And that’s just one reason to do everything we can to help halt their decline, the knock-on effect would be a massive disruption to entire ecological systems; nothing short of environmental catastrophe.

There’s plenty more factual information and helpful advice in this rather excellent infographic from Suttons Seeds, which was just too good not to share:

suttons-bee-friendly-gardening

As you can see, the main things we as domestic gardeners can do to help them out are to provide food for foraging bees and suitable habitat for solitary bees to over-winter in. Jo and I also benefit from the nearby location of the Manchester & District Beekeepers Association and their dozen or so hives at their apiary in Heaton Park, so providing a source of nectar for their bees is only neighbourly, which is why we’re aiming to grow a large volume of pollinator-friendly flowers at Plot #59 as well. Last year we grew red clover as a green manure and let it go to flower: it looked absolutely stunning and on warm, sunny days the patch was thick with bees; a huge success.

RHS Perfect for Pollinators
Look for the logo when browsing the seed racks
Individually, none of us are going to be able to solve the problem, of course. But collectively, our efforts can add up to a sum total that’s at least a step in the right direction. So if, like us, you’re planning ahead to your Spring and Summer displays, think bee-friendly first. Check out the RHS Perfect for Pollinators plant lists, which include some absolutely stunning native and world plants, and look for the logo when browsing seed packets. If you have a choice between two, equally attractive options, opt for the one that will do the bees the most good. Our furry, flying, pollinating friends will thank you for it.

(Plenty more information on how to help save the bees can be found by searching online for the many organisations who are working and campaigning on their behalf.)

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