Sowing With Or Without A Nurse Crop

Nearly all varieties of clover are usually sown with a nurse crop; that is, a crop which provides shade for the plants when they are young and delicate. But the object in sowing with a nurse crop is not so much to secure

protection to the young plants as to get them established in the soil, so that they will produce a full crop the following season. Two varieties, however, are more commonly sown alone. These are alfalfa and crimson clover. Alfalfa is more commonly sown alone because the young plants are somewhat delicate and easily crowded out by other plants amid which they are growing. Because of the several years during which alfalfa will produce crops when once established, it is deemed proper to sacrifice a nurse crop in order to get a good stand of the young plants. The other clovers are usually able to make a sufficient stand, though grown along with a nurse crop. In some situations alfalfa will also do similarly, as, for instance, where the conditions are very favorable to its growth. Crimson clover is more commonly sown alone for the reason, first, that it is frequently sown at a season when other crops are not being sown; second, that it grows better without a nurse crop; and third, that if grown with a nurse crop the latter would have to be used in the same way as the clover. Some have advocated sowing clovers without a nurse crop under any conditions. Such advocacy in the judgment of the author is not wise. It is true that in some instances a stand of the various clovers is more certainly assured when they are sown without a nurse crop, but in such situations it is at least questionable if it would not be better to sow some other crop as a substitute for clover. But there may be instances, as where clover will make a good crop of hay the year that it is sown, when sowing it thus would be justifiable. In a majority of instances, however, it will not make such a crop, because of the presence of weeds, which, in the first place, would hinder growth, and in the second, would injure the quality of the hay. The nurse crops with which clovers may be sown are the small cereal grains, as rye, barley, wheat and oats. Sometimes they are sown with flax, rape and millet. They usually succeed best when sown along with rye and barley, since these shade them less and are cut earlier, thus making less draft on moisture in the soil and admitting sunlight at an earlier period. Oats make the least advantageous nurse crop, because of the denseness of the shade, but if they are sown thinly and cut for hay soon after they come into head, they are then a very suitable nurse crop. One chief objection to flax as a nurse crop is that it is commonly sown late. The chief virtue in rape as a nurse crop is that the shade is removed early through pasturing. The millets are objectionable as nurse crops through the denseness of the shade which they furnish and also because of the heavy draught which they make on soil moisture. Peas and vetches should not be used as nurse crops, since they smother the young clover plants through lodging in the advanced stages of their growth.

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