How often to chop and drop red clover and alfalfa

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by Finchj, Apr 23, 2012.

  1. Finchj

    Finchj Junior Member

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    when they are being used as green manure? Our red clover and alfalfa cover crop has grown and grown all winter and through this spring. Both are beginning to flower tremendously, but the plants are beginning to sag and don't seem to want to stand straight up any longer.

    They were sown last fall and we were hoping to let them do their thing for about three years (as they are perennial), but we do need to use them for mulch as well.

    If I cut them low, will they return? Obviously I could go out, chop some down, wait and report back. And I will. But I'm sure someone has used these crops before and could let me know whether or not they return after a heavy prune. That would spare me a few weeks of watching and waiting.

    Thanks :)
     
  2. wmthake

    wmthake Junior Member

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    I did this exact thing TOO! Thank you for asking. I'm eagerly waiting a response from someone more knowledgeable than me.

    I'm currently just trying to keep them trimmed, taking about 4 fingers off the top to let in a little light. I think I have the tendency to overplant clover (if such a thing is possible).

    About mid summer I'd like to give them a good haircut and let them grow back for the winter. They look nice all year round, so it really helps keep the yard looking green.

    W
     
  3. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    First - chop and drop season is when precipitation exceeds evaporation. Which has ended in my area.

    Yes you can cut them back hard and they will spring back up again. How often depends on the growth rate of the plant - every 6 - 8 weeks or so if they grow quickly. If you want them to set seed so you can propagate then you'll have to give them long enough to flower and do their thing.
     
  4. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    As a green manure, not soil protection? I think it's just before flower set as the plant takes nitrogen from the soil to create flower/seed. If you cut before, the nodules will be theoretically holding the most nitrogen in the soil.
     
  5. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Location:
    inland Otago, NZ
    Climate:
    Inland maritime/hot/dry/frosty
    "when precipitation exceeds evaporation"

    How do you find that out for a given place, eco?
     
  6. Grasshopper

    Grasshopper Senior Member

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    Non stop round here but it includes dragging.
    I wait for my neighbours to chop and they drop it off in a big pile that I drag over and drop on my garden.
    Saves them a trip to the tip and gives me heaps of free mulch.
    All the fallen branches cook my dinner and/or make bio char.
    I raked the empty house block next door over to my place, a few weeks back when it was mown.
    Lots of piles of palm fronds covered in grass clipping making lots of fantastic soil.
    Palm fronds cost money to dump at the tip I don't charge.
    Its a good system
     
  7. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    I typed out a post guesstimating dividing temperature vs rainfall to give a magic number but figured someone smarter than me would have done this.

    Brad Lancaster has a page here: One Page Place Assessments which takes you to this page for examples.

     
  8. wmthake

    wmthake Junior Member

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    At least in temperate climates I thought that was a long way of saying "Autumn" or at "August/September".

    Good question!
     
  9. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Location:
    inland Otago, NZ
    Climate:
    Inland maritime/hot/dry/frosty
    That's what I thought too, but then eco made it sound so precise and specific. Also 'autumn' doesn't really work here. I'm guessing most of the year that evaporation exceeds precip apart from when it's raining and in the winter.
     
  10. pippimac

    pippimac Junior Member

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    Woah. That all sounds so scientfic! At my place I stop chop and drop when the plants slow down regrowing, like comfrey now, or when I want the plant to set seed, like the red clover.
    I think my climate's pretty forgiving.
     
  11. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Location:
    inland Otago, NZ
    Climate:
    Inland maritime/hot/dry/frosty
    I think Geoff Lawton has a system of chop and drop for establishing food forests that takes notice of the precip/evaporation thing, where timing is important if you want things to happen promptly.
     
  12. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Location:
    inland Otago, NZ
    Climate:
    Inland maritime/hot/dry/frosty
    https://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/40/4124

    'chop and drop' +'geoff lawton' yields some good results on google.
     
  13. Dzionik

    Dzionik Junior Member

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    Why ignore the classical agricultural literature. There is more information about clover than in any book dealing with permaculture. Permaculture is just a framework and instructions on how to use the knowledge accumulated over the centuries.
     
  14. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    I think this is the point when you link to aforementioned literature.
     
  15. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Re the precipitation / evaporation question.... Ummm I stand in the garden and when the rainy season finishes so do I. It doesn't have to be complicated! Usually we have a wet summer - autumn and a dry winter - spring in my region, but others will have different rainfall seasons. In Aus you can chart the rainfall in your area over the months of the year on the Bureau of Meteorology website.

    And yes that's for improving the soils - that's what mulches do. And everything you remove green mass from the top of a plant the roots 'self prune' and die back by a corresponding amount, releasing the stored nitrogen in the root nodules.
     
  16. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Location:
    inland Otago, NZ
    Climate:
    Inland maritime/hot/dry/frosty
    I guess I'm getting stuck on the precip/evaporation equation. It's pretty easy to tell when there is more precip, but once it stops raining, how can I know the evaporation rate?
     
  17. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    The soil dries out quickly and you have to water more. And the pond level starts to drop.
     
  18. Finchj

    Finchj Junior Member

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    Thanks for the discussion everyone. I will wait until the evening temperatures get back on track to "normal." I don't think it would be a good idea to cut the plants down to their crown if it will be near freezing that night.
     
  19. matto

    matto Junior Member

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    Its mentioned in the Edible Forest Gardens book that pruning your understory can affect your target crop by robbing it of nutrients at a time they might need them. That is, pruning stimulates growth and a rapidly growing plant may rob moisture and nutrients of a plant that might be coming into its peak production period.
    This will depend on the tightness of your guild, but I think chopping before or after you harvest while moisture is still available will supply or replenish nutrients lost in the main plants cycle.
    Reminds me of the old joke, how many permies does it take to change a light bulb.... it depends.
     
  20. Finchj

    Finchj Junior Member

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    hmm, good point. Thank goodness its another cool, wet, and otherwise not too fun day outdoors (brightening up a bit now though). If I hadn't of cut my hand open last week I'd probably have already cut everything down.

    I could do something like this: cut the clover/alfalfa. Move this material into piles. Divide the piles. Say, for arguments sake, take one half and return it to the beds I just harvested from. Use the second half as mulch for the new beds I am preparing. I don't intend on replacing the clover/alfalfa with anything else at this point- although we are trying to put some vining crops in that will trellis above the cover crop. That way, the clover/alfalfa will be able to rebound and yield us a usable mulch elsewhere in the garden.
     

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