Sometimes the way we go about farming challenges ones aesthetic sensibilities. This occurred to me last week as I was mowing down the most gorgeous crimson clover ever. How could I not only bring myself to blast these flowers, but actually relish doing it?
First of all, why was the crimson clover there? Well, last fall as the transplanted brassicas (broccoli etc) were starting to get big and healthy, Casey decided to overseed with crimson clover. Usually after a broccoli crop is finished, it’s much too late and wet out to turn it under to plant a cover crop. (Yeah, so a cover crop is something we plant in the Fall to keep the soil covered, and the soil microbes engaged, and the nutrients tied up in a live system. It’s a Best Management Practice that is too often neglected by conventional agriculture.) So, usually we just have a cover crop of rotting broccoli and weeds in those patches.
Casey’s idea was that the clover get planted in a timely way right over top of the broccoli, would begin to grow, but wouldn’t compete with the cash crop. Here’s what it looked like in March.
The broccoli wasn’t nearly as far gone as in a normal year because it was such a warm winter. But, but by the time the clover was blooming in May, there was no sign of it!
And, of course, taking down the clover was done with a very specific and wonderful machine = the flail mower. This mower is not like a bush hog (rotary mower) or a lawn mower. It spins perpendicular to the plant with tens of tiny knives flailing away cutting the greenery into tiny shreds. Why do we care? Because we want the plant residue (read microbe food!) to be evenly distributed, not in great hunks. And, we want the residue in small pieces, exposing more surface area for the microbes to attack and digest it!
So, is it making any sense yet? We worked that shredded clover into the soil the same day – adding organic matter, microbe friendly nutrients and lots of naturally fixed nitrogen. Now it’s ready for the next crop.
It’s great fun to make an acre size salad to feed our hard working soil microbes.