Clovers As Soil Improvers

All things considered, no class of plants grown upon the farm are so beneficent in the influence which they exert upon the land as clovers. They improve it by enriching it; they improve it mechanically; and they aid plant growth by gathering and assimilating,

as it were, food for other plants. All clovers have the power of drawing nitrogen from the air and depositing the same in the tubercles formed on the roots of the plants. These tubercles are small, warty-like substances, which appear during the growing season. They are more commonly formed on the roots within the cultivable area, and therefore are easily accessible to the roots of the plants which immediately follow. Clovers are not equally capable of thus drawing nitrogen from the air, nor are the same varieties equally capable of doing this under varying conditions. The relative capabilities of varieties to thus deposit nitrogen in the soil is by no means equal, but up to the present time it would seem correct to say that relative capability in all of these has not yet been definitely ascertained. With reference to the whole question much has yet to be learned, but it is now certain that in all, or nearly all, instances in which clovers are grown on land, they leave it much richer in nitrogen than it was when they were sown upon the same. They also add to the fertility of the surface soil by gathering plant food in the subsoil below where many plants feed. They have much power to do this, because they are deep rooted and they are strong feeders; that is, they have much power to take up food in the soil or subsoil. Part of the food thus gathered in the subsoil helps to form roots in the cultivable area and part aids in forming top growth for pasture or for hay. If grazed down or if made into hay and fed so that the manure goes back upon the land the fertility of the same is increased in all leading essentials. This increase is partly made at the expense of the fertility in the subsoil. But the stores of fertility in the subsoil are such usually as to admit of thus being drawn upon indefinitely. Clovers improve soils mechanically by rendering them more friable, by giving them increased power to hold moisture, and by improving drainage in the subsoil. Of course, they have not the power to do this equally, but they all have this power in degree and in all the ways that have been named. Clovers send down a tap root into the soil and subsoil as they grow. From the tap roots branch off lateral roots in an outward and downward direction. From these laterals many rootlets penetrate through the soil. When the plants are numerous, these roots and rootlets fill the soil. When it is broken up, therefore, particles of soil are so separated that they tend to fall apart, hence the soil is always made more or less friable, even when it consists of the stiffest clays. The shade furnished by the clover also furthers friability. This friability makes the land easier to work, and it is also more easily penetrated by the roots of plants. The influence on aeration is also marked. The air can more readily penetrate through the interstices in the soil, and, in consequence, chemical changes in the soil favorable to plant growth are facilitated. The roots of clovers are usually so numerous that they literally fill the soil with vegetable matter. This matter, in process of decay, greatly increases the power of the soil to hold moisture, whether it falls from the clouds or ascends from the subsoil through capillary attraction. The moisture thus held is greatly beneficial to the plants that immediately follow, especially in a dry season and in open soils, and the influence thus exerted frequently goes on, though with decreasing potency, for two, three or four seasons. Reference has already been made to the tap root which clover sends down into the soil and subsoil. In the strong varieties this tap root goes down deeply. When the crop is plowed up, the roots decay, and when they do, for a time at least, they furnish channels down which the surface water percolates, if present in excess. Thus it is that clover aids in draining lands under the conditions named. The channels thus opened do not close immediately with the decay of the clover roots, hence the downward movement of water in the soil is facilitated for some time subsequently. It has been stated that clovers have more power than some other plants to gather plant food in the soil. In some instances they literally fill the soil with their roots. When other plants are sown after the clover has been broken up they feed richly on the decaying roots of the clover. Thus it is that clover gathers food for other plants which they would not be so well able to gather for themselves, and puts it in a form in which it can be easily appropriated by these. The nitrogen in clover is yielded up more gradually and continuously as nitrates than it could be obtained from any form of top dressings that can be given to the land. In this fact is found one important reason why cereal grains thrive so well after clover. Since the roots of clovers act so beneficently on soils, it is highly important that they be increased to the greatest extent practicable. Owing to the relation between the growth of the roots of plants and the parts produced above ground, development in root growth is promoted much more when the clover is cut for hay than when it is fed off by grazing. Experiments have also demonstrated that the development of root growth is much enhanced in medium red clover by taking a second cutting for hay or seed. They have also demonstrated that more nitrogen is left in the soil by clover roots after a seed crop than after a crop of hay. From what has been said, it will be apparent that the extent to which clovers enrich the soil will depend upon the strength of the growth of the plants and certain other conditions. It will not be possible to reduce to figures the additions in plant food which clovers add to the soil other than in a comparative way. Dr. Voelker has stated that there is fully three times as much nitrogen in a crop of clover as in the average produce of the grain and straw of wheat per acre. Dr. Kedzie is on record as having said that in the hay or sod furnished by a good crop of clover, there is enough nitrogen for more than four average crops of wheat, enough phosphoric acid for more than two average crops and enough of potash for more than six average crops. He has said, moreover, that the roots and stubble contain fully as much of these elements as hay. It will also be apparent that where clover grows in good form no cheaper or better way can be adopted in manuring land, and that in certain areas the judicious use of land plaster on the clover hastens the renovating process. It is thought that in some instances the mere loading and spreading of barnyard manure costs more than the clover and plaster. Especially will this be true of fields distant from the farm steading. It is specially important, therefore, that in enriching these, clover will be utilized to the fullest extent practicable.

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