It’s planting time!?
The end of February is one of my favorite times of the year because that means we’re closer to spring and much warmer weather than what we’ve experienced since January! In the North East we’ve been a little light on winter precipitation for the 3rd year in a row, but not as much as the mid-west which is currently experiencing the largest one time winter precipitation event since the 60’s! As they always do, ranchers and farmers are finding the silver lining in all this white snow. When your as dry as the mid-west has been, they’ll take moisture in any form.
But once all this snow soaks in and helps to replenish the much needed moisture, thoughts should quickly turn to winter or "frost-seeding" of legumes like red clover. Weather it’s broadcasted, drop seeded, inter-seeded in existing hay/pasture stands, new-seeding or being incorporated as a low-cost leguminous cover crop, hopefully you either have your seed ordered or have it already on hand.
The next question is, do you have your method of seeding (the planter), ready for that narrow window of planting opportunity?
Frost-seeding is best executed in late February or early March at the latest, and done early in the morning when your soil has "honey-combed" or heaved due to moisture in your top few inches that freezes over-night and pushes up and open’s the soil so your seed will fall into the cracks and crevasses of the heaved soil. Once the sun hopefully warms the soil and it collapses or thaws, it will cover the seed and hold it there until your spring thaw, when it will germinate and give you great stands for the up coming seasons hay harvest or grazing.
Red & White clovers are very winter hardy and does well in poorly or well drained soils. A healthy stand of first season clover can produce as much as two to three ton’s of hay per acre. In it’s second year that number can jump up to 4 ton’s per acre! Red & white clovers are also deep tap rooted, up to 5’ deep, and because of that characteristic, are great for breaking up soil compaction.
Both clover varieties will replenish depleted nitrogen in fields that were previously planted with corn, soybeans or milo. The nitrogen that clover returns to your soils are equivalent to applying 80 pounds of chemical nitrogen fertilizer with out the insane cost of applying those chemicals.
If your going to frost-seed your clover, a good rule of thumb for application rates are 25 pounds per acre if broadcasting or spinning it on, and 18-20 pounds per acre is drop seeding. The reason is that drop seeding is more accurate and provides a more consistent rate across your field or pasture. It is also recommended to not skimp on the application rate because thin stands will allow weed pressure from such unwanted weeds as pigweed, lambs quarters and foxtail which will quickly mature and go to seed.