It’s April 2nd, which means it’s time for another spring picture – and what says “spring” better than a big patch of clovers? Of course, these clovers weren’t just planted out on the farm because they’re pretty (and lucky!). In agriculture and gardening, clovers serve an important role: adding nitrogen to the soil. That is why a patch of clover is sometimes planted in an empty plot as a cover crop.
What’s a cover crop? A cover crop is planted as part of a rotation system designed to return nutrients to the soil after another crop, such as corn or squash, has depleted the soil of its nutrients. The cover crop also adds organic matter and porosity to the soil and helps diminish unwanted weed growth.
One particular nutrient that clover contributes to the soil is nitrogen. How? Clover is a legume in the family Fabaceae, along with other familiar plants such as beans, peas, and alder trees. All of these plants, including clover, “fix” nitrogen by taking it out of the atmosphere and turning it into a form that can be consumed by plants.
Nitrogen fixation is made possible by tiny bacteria nodules that grow on legume roots as part of a symbiotic relationship. So it’s really the bacteria that are converting the atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form!
Nitrogen is crucial for photosynthesis, so that’s why it’s so important to have enough nitrogen in a farm or garden plot.