The Clover Conundrum

When I was designing my garden last year, one of the easier decisions was to use white clover as a ground cover in the footpaths. There were numerous reasons why it was the logical choice:

-seed is readily available and pretty cheap
-it can withstand foot traffic
-it provides shelter for insects and other critters
-its flowers attract bees
-it fixes nitrogen (which admittedly isn’t a big deal for foot paths)
-since I cut it regularly to prevent it from taking over the yard, it provides a steady supply of green manure that I can use in my vegetable beds

I remember the early days when the clover was just germinating, when I worried if it was going to make it or not. Ha ha. A year later I’m wondering if, despite the aforementioned benefits, if planting clover was a mistake.

The main problem is that it so tenacious and invasive, creeping from the paths through the garden into all of the beds. One of the tenets of permaculture and forest gardening that I initially scoffed was that well-designed systems require little human intervention, i.e. weeding. But I love toiling in the sun and digging in the dirt, and this ideal seemed kind of lazy to me. At least as far as white clover is concerned, I’m changing my tune. This stuff is a major pain in the ass.

I’ve stunted its progress for the moment, but the weather hasn’t even gotten that warm yet and it’s already growing like, ahem, a weed. For now, I mow it with an electric mower every two weeks, which dices up the new growth for easy sprinkling into the veggie beds, while avoiding the roots, which would just dig an and start growing if I put them anywhere. I then go around the edges of all the beds manually, to the spaces that were too tight for the mower, and cut them manually.

It does look cool when it’s under control.

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Diced clover — does anyone know if just using the leaves will provide nitrogen to the soil, or do you need to get the roots with all the nodules on them to realise any benefit? At any rate, lots of green matter going into the soil.

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I’m letting it go to town around the pond for now. I’d like to plant something else there eventually, but the soil is pure clay and the clover must be helping improve it in the meantime.

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So the jury is still out on clover. I hope my current maintenance strategy works out because clover has a lot of upside. Another option is to put some kind of rhizome barrier around all of the beds…in the entire yard. The only thing that might be more of a pain in the ass than doing that is ripping up all of the clover to replace with something else. But I do like a good project, so catch me in the right mood and either of those options might be appealing.

For now, we’re edging towards summer and all the green, not just the clover, is taking over.

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Pop Pop Pop

My garden is bursting to life and I’m bursting with excitement to see everything sprouting and flowering and getting greener by the day. I can’t help but fast forward in my mind to five or ten years down the road when thing will have matured and filled in a lot more. We’re still experiencing a lot of temperature fluctuations, but the garden gears have started turning and there’s no stopping them now. Here are some pictures of all the action.

Wild strawberry — these are great since they produce all summer long and actively spread to provide an edible ground cover.

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Japanese maple — These leaves will soon turn green, then red again in the fall. This tree is purely decorative (as far as I know), so it doesn’t tic many boxes in terms of forest garden utility. But we received it from my father-in-law, so it’s got some sentimental value, too.

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Borage — I’m new to the notion of eating flowers, but these are pretty tasty, and if you can get past the hairiness of the leaves they aren’t half bad either. It’s also a dynamic accumulator, if I recall. I don’t know if Borage is technically a perennial plant or not, but this one survived the winter and it’s going crazy.

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Peach — These flowers are the star of the garden right now. They are vibrant pink and have been blossoming for about two weeks now. That’ll have to do for now since I think it’ll be a few years before we’re actually getting any fruit.

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Sea Buckthorn — Aptly named, it produces little orange berries that are full of Vitamin C and are notoriously painful to harvest. It also fixes nitrogen. These plants were only about a foot tall when I put them in the ground last spring, and now there pushing six feet.

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Gumi — Another fast-growing nitrogen fixer that should be producing lots of tart little berries in a couple of weeks.

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Pear — Now that I’ve finally stopped moving this thing around the yard it’s getting more established, but I don’t expect any fruit for a few more years.

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Comfrey — The mother of all dynamic accumulators, with a bee. I grew several of these from seed last spring. You can chop them several time a summer and use their leaves as compost.

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Cattails — These are rapidly expanding, but hopefully they’ll stay contained in the ‘pond’ and I won’t have to take evasive measures to prevent them from creeping too far into the garden proper.

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The home centers are starting to sell seedlings, but I’ll probably wait a few more weeks before I plant any vegetables…if I can be patient enough. We’ll see how warm it gets. Lot’s of slug hunting to keep me busy in the meantime.