Monday, February 16, 2015

Why Strawberry Clover in a 21st Century Victory Garden?

     The victory garden of the 21th century must be ecologically balanced so that no chemicals are needed.  To maintain balance, one should choose a variety of plants from different families.  Because space is often limited, plants that serve multiple purposes are always good to have.
      As a legume, strawberry clover has an ability to associate with microbes of proven nitrogen fixing capacity. Now, even though my former colleagues and I have found surprising populations of nitrogen fixing bacteria in non-legumes, including native plants, grasses like black grama grass (Bouteloua eripodia) and chenopod shrubs like four wing saltbush (Atriplex canescens) (read more here), we never actually demonstrated that these microbes were busy fixing nitrogen.
     Peer reviewed studies have demonstrated over and over again that legumes host active nitrogen fixers, making legumes undisputable champions of nitrogen fixation.  More nitrogen in your soil translates to more amino acids, proteins, and DNA in your crops.  Fear not, edible legumes like beans and peas will be important components of our 21st century Victory Garden. But I am including strawberry clover among these more common legumes for several reasons.  Here are a few:

Reasons for including strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum L)  in a Victory Garden.
  • low growing (8 - 14") plants will act as a cover crop, protecting the soil without blocking sunlight from vegetable crops.
  • like other legumes, strawberry clover attracts nitrogen fixing microbes that, in combination with other organic techniques, help eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers. 
  • attracts pollinators and beneficial insects
  • tolerant of alkaline soils--an important factor for many southwest gardens.
  • perennial growth habit means replanting will not be necessary.  Plants will persist, and roots will continue adding nutrients to soil for years to come. 

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