Why We Care About Clover

Gardening friends who have beautifully manicured lawns tell me how difficult (and expensive)  it is to get rid of the clover in their beautiful-tended grass sward. They view the clover as a nuisance and a weed that they want desperately to get rid of…

But for us in organic farming, clover is a vitally important part of our grass production at the Top Meadow Farms in North Devon. This week Tom ploughed and seeded Bewtown, an eleven acre field at Nethercott Farm, Yarnscombe, with grass and both white and red clover seed. The field had been looking in poor heart for some time with low yields of grass and very much in need of this reseeding.

The reason we include amounts of a variety of clover seeds alongside the perennial rye grasses when we cultivate the fields is that the clover not only produces valuable grazing for our cattle and sheep, but the clover roots “fix” nitrogen in the soil which helps the other grasses to grow more strongly. As part of our certificated organic rotational system, this is essential and means that there is no need to add nitrogen in other ways. So no artificial chemical fertilisers on our land!!

While the white clover is a very low-growing plant with its characteristic trefoil leaves, red clover grows more strongly almost in mounds with stiffer upright stems. White clover is very long-lived but red clover only seems to keep growing for three or four years, dying out unless it is able to self-seed. Clover seed is tiny compared to grass seed and so needs careful drilling. Our cattle and sheep love to eat both types of clover, and, if properly harvested alongside the ryegrass, clover makes wonderful hay or haylage.

So while some gardeners are doing their best to get rid of clover, we care about clover and are doing our best to encourage it to grow. And, what is more, our cattle just love it too!!