Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Clover for Chop and Drop Soil Creation

I’ve been growing white clover as ground cover for a couple of years now in an attempt to cover up some of my horrible gravel.

I’m now experimenting with a technique called ‘chop and drop’ which is starting to build a new soil layer on top of the gravel. I’ve recently been guest blogging over on Suburban Hobby Farmer on just this topic, so you can find out a bit more about it there. However I thought I’d fill in a little extra detail here about what exactly I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

Any of you regular readers will know my lack of actual soil here is a regular moaning topic. In our courtyard garden (a major part of my ‘permaculture zone 1’) we have no contact with the earth at all, the entire garden here being planted over the top of a concrete base. Much of this has been covered with a layer of sand, plastic and then gravel by the previous owners. It’s terrible to keep weed free and I’m sure the previous owners did this by applying liberal amounts of weedkiller, something I’m never going to do.

So in true permaculture style, I’m trying to deal with what I’ve got in a simple way, rather than ripping the whole thing out and starting from scratch. In this instance, this means simply sowing in a decent ground cover to stop weeds taking over and to give me a bit of green rather than all that boring gravel. As I’m now discovering, my choice of ground cover – clover – is also ideal for helping me to create soil.

I use a technique called ‘chop and drop’ that I heard about from watching Geoff Lawton’s films. You basically grow a vigorous plant, preferably a nitrogen fixing one (such as clover or other legumes) or one that is really good at accumulating other plant nutrients (such as comfrey for potassium along with nitrogen, phosphorous and a range of micro nutrients) and then you just chop it down a few times a year, dropping it back right where it’s grown. The plant matter breaks down, adding a nice thick humus layer to your soil (or gravel as in my case).

The technique is based on the processes that go on in a woodland, where yearly leaf fall adds a nice thick humus layer to the soil. Except this is much quicker as you’re chopping it back numerous times each year. My clover is growing so quickly, it gets cut back once every week or two and I’ve been doing this now for about 3 months. Digging down through all the clover stems, I’m already getting something building up down there. Not a thick soil yet of course, but it’s definitely working! Being as I’ve used clover, which is a nitrogen fixer, this new humus should be really nitrogen rich – great for helping the growth of leaves and stems.

So looking elsewhere on our project, this will definitely be a good technique for us to use when it comes to digging up the concrete on our yard.

We don’t know what we’ll find under there soil-wise, but this area will be the main part of our forest garden and so will need a really good soil in order to grow all our fruit trees, perennial vegetables and cosmetic herbs. Any poor soil would definitely benefit from the chop and drop treatment and any soil where a regular harvest is being taken would also benefit from all the nutrients this technique can provide.


  1. Oh what an excellent idea! I shall have to remember that for future use, should I need to improve soil on beds I don't need for a while.

  2. Interesting stuff, Bees like white clover too.

  3. Looks like you have a pretty daunting task making good soil from the gravel you have now. I'm always looking for ways to improve my soil without spending too much money or work. It seems like this might be one of the best ways that doesn't involve farm animals. Thanks for the link to Suburban Hobby Farmer.

  4. Hello. I have just read your article in the Permaculture Assoc magazine & now exploring your wonderful wonderful blog. We have *just* (this week) moved with our young kids to the Welsh border of Shropshire as have bought a hilariously overgrown bit of land which we hope to establish forest gardens, PYO fruits, green woodworking etc. I'm feeling a but lonely as have moved away from a lot of very dear friends & am wondering whether I could maybe visit you one day to share Permaculture ideas...? Many thanks for finding the time to blog. I haven't updated mine for a while now (becomingdomestic.co.uk). Cathie

  5. Yeah definitely! Be really great to meet you - especially as it sounds like you're doing something just as nutty as us. A nice tidy piece of land would be so much easier wouldn't it! But not so satisfying I keep telling myself. And you're taught by the lovely Steve Jones too I notice from your blog - I did his permaculture introduction course a year or so ago and would love to be doing the design course now. Just can't seem to fit it around the toddler just yet.

    I'll email you via the address on your blog to swap details.



Related Posts with Thumbnails