FairShare’s Small-Scale and Organic Produce Educator, Claire Strader, worked with four farmers in 2015-16 to test two types of clover as living mulch, planted under Brussels sprouts and acorn squash.
Cover crops have long been a part of diversified organic vegetable rotations. Grown to prevent erosion, smother weeds, improve soil structure, add organic matter, and attract beneficial insects, cover crops are not eaten but worked in for the benefit of the soil. Leguminous cover crops in particular are valuable to farmers because they fix nitrogen from the air and make it available to subsequent crops.
Using cover crops as living mulches can help farmers incorporate more long-standing leguminous cover crops into their rotations and can also provide some options for establishing covers with late season vegetables that do not easily accommodate post-harvest cover crop planting. Optimally, living mulches would provide some of the benefits of cover crops without decreasing vegetable yield.
The results: Brussels sprouts planted into established clover aisles performed well and did not show yield loss when compared to the clean cultivated control. Acorn squash, however, did not perform well in the system.
The Dutch white and medium red clover performed equally. Unrelated to the clover aisles, the trial also showed that Brussels sprouts mulched with marsh hay in the clean cultivated control dramatically outperformed those left open, increasing the net value of the Brussels sprout harvest by $2.27 per plant.
The final farmer bulletin was distributed in May 2017. Read the full report, including recommendations for farmers here: Living Clover Aisles Farmer Bulletin RFS. This project was completed with funding from North Central SARE.