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I don’t blog a lot about blogging here; it’s just not my thing. But I’ll say that, what with the new Pinterest algorithm changes and blah, blah, blah….page views are way down lately for a lot of DIY blogs, mine included. This is kind of a bummer, so if all of you reading could do me a favor and spend a few minutes hitting refresh forty times or so, that would really help me out and give me a big confidence boost. Thanks.
No, but really: I’ve been racking my brain, trying to think of ways to get my page views back to their former glory.
And finally it hit me.
I haven’t been writing nearly enough about the Malthusian theory of population or about the Haber-Bosch nitrogen fixation process!
Well. We’re going to remedy that right here and now, in this very post!
Let’s start with a short history of clover. Clover has long been used by farmers both in fields for livestock to graze on and as a cover crop to restore soil in between plantings of cash crops. And, according to my sources, clover seed was a common component in grass seed mixes up until World War II. It was perfectly acceptable to have clover mixed in with your grass.
Then, after World War II, the suburbs started growing rapidly, and subdivisions with streets full of cookie cutter houses with cookie cutter perfect lawns became A Thing. And people started buying herbicides to help fulfill their perfect lawn dreams. The herbicides killed dandelions, and crabgrass, and…..clover.
I guess from there clover was considered guilty by association: why would the clover just lay down and die with all those other weeds if it wasn’t just as evil as they were?!
And so now, if you google clover lawn, a lot of what pops up is advice from companies that sell herbicides about how you can get rid of your clover. Which you have to do if you live in a subdivision with an HOA that’s prejudiced against clover.
But the thing is…..clover is FABULOUS!
Here are some of the reasons you want clover in your lawn, according to the whirlwind Clover 101 course I’ve put together for myself over the past few days:
Clover competes well against other weeds: I mean, if you want to call clover a weed at all, which I don’t. But, either way, it’s stronger and more powerful than the weeds you don’t want in your lawn and it will kill them dead! Or anyway, it will make life harder for them and thus easier for you.
Clover makes nitrogen for your soil: This is the part where I talk about Malthus. So Thomas Malthus was an English economist in the late 18th/early 19th century who’s most famous for his theory about population growth. Basically, he said that human population growth happens way faster than we humans can come up with ways to produce more food and that the end result is that we’ll run out of food and everyone will die. Not everyone, but a lot of people.
You might have noticed that this hasn’t happened yet. In fact, these days when people die from starvation, it’s generally because food costs too much, not because there’s not enough of it in the world (which is a whole other thing, but it’s not what Malthus said was going to happen). Malthus didn’t anticipate the big advances in agricultural that we’ve made in the past couple hundred years.
Like, for example, nitrogen fixation. Plants need nitrogen to grow, and soil that’s deficient in nitrogen is a major problem if you’re in the business of trying to make them grow. As the industrial revolution got going and population started to shoot up in the 19th century, finding sources of fertilizer became an increasingly big deal (think about how we all feel about oil today) and people went to war over bat guano. For real.
But the thing is we are, literally, surrounded by nitrogen. It makes up about 80% of our air. Only no one knew how to get it out of the air and use it until a guy named Fritz Haber came along. Then some chemistry happened and now we know how to get all the nitrogen we want and that’s why we don’t have wars over guano anymore. Which is good, because there are so many other things to have wars over that who has time for that, am I right?!
I’ve read estimates that 30-50% of the world’s population today is only able to be here because Haber figured out nitrogen fixation. I remember first reading something to this effect a few years ago in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and thinking it couldn’t possibly be right. I’d never even heard of Fritz Haber and nitrogen fixation; how could I, a well-educated adult human who eats food, have missed out on learning about this thing that happened only a hundred or so years ago and basically made modern civilization as we know it possible? And yet there it is.
The story definitely isn’t complete until I mention that Fritz Haber was a terrible, terrible person. (Okay, the story’s not complete anyway; this is a very rough sketch I’m giving you here, as you probably figured out when I explained away a Nobel Prize’s worth of science with “then some chemistry happened.”) Haber wasn’t in the nitrogen fixing business to feed the world, he was in it to kill people. He’s known as “the father of chemical warfare” and his work helped the Germans kill tens of thousands of people with poison gas during World War I. Science is complicated like that.
So Malthus was totally wrong! Or he was totally right, only his timing was off. It depends on who you ask. Chemical warfare aside, there are some major drawbacks and environmental consequences to using all these fertilizers and herbicides that we didn’t know how to make yet back when Malthus was around.
Don’t know enough about Malthus or Haber yet? The Green brothers can help you out:
All of this has something to do with why you should plant clover, but probably not all that much, honestly. I just think it’s fascinating and wanted to talk about it. For the page views. But clover does do a great job of making your soil more nitrogen rich, without you even having to go to all the trouble and expense and ethical compromise of buying a bunch of fertilizer or invading a guano rich island.
Clover loves crappy soil. In fact, if you google “clover lawn” one of the first results will be from a company that sells chemical fertilizer explaining to you how you can discourage clover in your lawn by dumping a bunch of their fertilizer on it. The clover will have nothing to do then and will slink off to some lawn where it feels more needed, you see. Perhaps I’m not thinking like a fertilizer company PR person here, but it seems to me that it makes more sense to save your money and just let the clover do its job.
That second point got kind of long. Let’s move on.
Clover is pretty: I know some people disagree on this point, but that’s only because they’re wrong. Clover is adorable, with its pleasing arrangement of three leaves and its unobtrusive low profile and its white blossoms.
Any time your kids are bored, you can send them out to hunt for four leaf clovers
Clover stays green year round: We have bermuda grass in our front yard (well, and weeds. And fescue that’s migrated over from the neighbors’ houses). I appreciate that bermuda grass is so drought and heat tolerant and doesn’t require constant watering and babying like some grasses….but it looks yellow and dead for most of the year.
Clover doesn’t mind being peed on by dogs: Still stays green!
Clover can provide you with a sense of moral superiority: Right now? Our yard is kind of….ugly. It’s not the ugliest yard in our neighborhood, but it is the ugliest yard in our immediate area of the neighborhood, because we’re surrounded by people who hire lawn people to come out and take care of things for them and spray their grass with lots of chemicals to kill all the weeds. The guy who does the lawn across the street from us actually cuts it into one of those criss cross patterns like a baseball field. We cannot compete with that. Partially because lawn service is really, really expensive, and partially because I don’t want to spray our yard with tons of chemicals. But I’d rather not be known as those people in the neighborhood who just don’t give a crap.
I have no problem at all, on the other hand, being known as those hippies who want to take care of the honeybees. If anyone complains about my beautiful clover, I can just say, “I think what you mean to say is ‘thank you for saving the world.’ You’re welcome.”
Which brings me to my last point:
Bees love clover, and the bees need our help! They probably need even more help than I can give them by planting clover. Sorry, bees: that’s all I’ve got for you!
So what have I done with all this information I’ve been collecting about how awesome clover is? So far not that much.
But! I have big, big plans!
I noticed this spring that our back yard is already getting to be pretty clover intensive. And I remembered reading some of these great things about clover earlier, so I started doing some research, and, what with my poor impulse control and all, I had a big bag of clover seed at my house within a couple of days, thanks to Amazon Prime.
There are different varieties of clover, but I went with the most common kind, White Dutch Clover (if you already have some clover in your yard, that’s probably what you have):
I’m going to do a follow up post later on to tell you how things go with the great clover lawn experiment. We did spread some seed around in our front yard, but I’m not sure it’s going too well (or it might be going great. There’s some stuff growing that might or might not be baby clover), and we’ve been too busy this month to really baby it the way we should (by “baby” I pretty much mean “actually remember to water every day”). We’re not trying to do a full clover lawn (which I understand is probably not a good idea for most people, but I couldn’t get a good idea of why); the plan is to overseed our exisiting grass with clover, so that we have a nice blend of the two.
Here are the before shots. In the front yard (this picture is blurry only when I upload it. I can’t figure out why, and it’s driving me insane), you can see a small patch of clover in the foreground near the driveway, and there’s another one over by the house:
There’s a lot more existing clover in the backyard, but the backyard as a whole is very patchy and terrible. With lots of awful soil just itching for some clover to come along and help it out:
We have a lot of travel coming up, so it may be a little while before we really make a serious effort with our big bag o’ clover seed. But look for part two of this series sometime in the next few months!
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