From: American Society of Agronomy
Published October 18, 2017 10:48 AM

Living Mulch Builds Profits, Soil

Living mulch functions like mulch on any farm or garden except — it’s alive. No, it’s not out of the latest horror movie; living mulch is a system farmers can use to benefit both profits and the soil. While the system has been around for a while, scientists at the University of Georgia are making it more efficient and sustainable.

The living mulch system uses a perennial plant between rows of crops. In their work, the Georgia researchers used white clover between rows of corn. White clover is a legume and can supply nitrogen fertilizer to the crop.  The idea is that each planting season, farmers remove a portion of the clover and plant the row crop in that spot. While the corn grows, there is then clover between the rows serving as living mulch.

Ideally, after the corn is harvested, the clover takes over the whole field and the cycle starts again the next growing season, with the farmer removing portions of the clover to plant corn. However, this process isn’t perfect and often the living mulch fails to fully re-establish. The scientists in Georgia are working to change that.

“We chose white clover particularly to use as living mulch because it has the capability to regrow and reestablish itself when the conditions are right, and to perpetuate itself from year to year,” says Nicholas Hill, lead researcher. “We wanted to start defining what the conditions were from the standpoint of agricultural practices that could help the clover regrow year-to-year in a corn production system.”

Read more at American Society of Agronomy

Image: A significant thatch layer builds from the declining clover as the season progresses. The thatch decomposes and nitrogen becomes available for corn nutrition. (Credit: Nick Hill)

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