2 acre farm: Fertilizer?

2 acre farm

The experiences, trials, and lives on a small farm in rural Illinois.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


At the market last weekend someone ask Aimee what kind of fertilizer we use. I wasn't around at that moment so I didn't get to ramble on about cover crops and compost. Aimee gave the short answer "nothing".

To tell the truth we do use fertilizer but not in the traditional 10-10-10 petroleum based concoction everyone associates with fertilizer. We do several things which include the application of manure, compost, crop rotations, mulching, and cover crops.

We currently have two cover crops growing, one is hairy vetch interplanted with our sweet corn and the other is New Zealand White Clover interplanted with bush beans and the brassicas (the Latin name for the Cabbage family). The manure, compost and mulching materials supply a vast majority of the main nutrients like phosphorus and potassium as well as trace minerals. More importantly they supply the soil with organic matter which feeds the worms, which do all kinds of wonderful things I will never fully understand.

[Pictured Right] The clover is small compared to the crops because I
gave the crops a several week head start. This keeps 
the clover from competing with the crops.

Alas, I started writing to talk about cover crops and point out the power of cover cropping, which is widely under used. The clover I planted has the potential to produce 165 lbs of nitrogen per acre. I don't do acres I do square feet so this is 165lb per 43560 square feet. This reduces to 0.378 lbs per 1000 square feet which is more on my level (each one of our gardens is 1800 square feet). So, confused yet... checking my math? Now what this means for you and I is that, if you buy a bag of 10-10-10 fertilizer it will generally recommend you apply 1lb per 1000 square feet, this isn't straight nitrogen though it is 1/3 nitrogen which is 0.33 pounds per square foot. In conclusion and confusion, my New Zealand White Clover is equally or even potentially more effective than 10-10-10 fertilizer. Actually it is creepily similar, where did you think they dreamt up the application rate, nature of course.

P.S. My clover holds moisture in the soil and smothers weeds, fertilizer won't do that.

[Pictured Left] The clover came up thick using my Earthway Seeder
so I will have to go through and thin it with a hoe.



Anonymous John Craine said...

Will the clover spread to cover the entire bed? I ask because I'm wondering if the distribution of nitrogen is uniform or if it concentrates in the rows. If it concentrates, I assume next year you will do your plantings over the clover rows.

May 20, 2010 at 5:52 AM  
Blogger Nathan (2af) said...

John Craine - Before the season is over it will have covered everything. Clover has a wonderful or dreaded (depending on the circumstances) ability to root down and spread out. If it were to not spread enough though I wouldn't go out of my way to plant in the old rows next year. The roots of next years crops are going to spread out and find the nitrogen regardless.

May 20, 2010 at 8:18 AM  

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