Why Inoculate, Exactly?

That little packet of dark powder you are coerced into purchasing along with your clover seed can be mystifying. It only weighs a few ounces, and it has to be kept cool and dry and managed like a living pet (it is, after all, alive). Plus it invariably gets all over your hands and clothes. What is it, anyway, and is it really necessary? The short answer is yes, it is necessary in the vast majority of cases, if you want to do everything possible to stack the deck in your favor. Legumes (clovers, alfalfas, vetches, peas, beans, trefoil, etc.) play a prominent role in many farming systems. Many farms, not just organic systems, use them to fix atmospheric nitrogen and save on application costs of synthetic fertilizers. How do legumes take nitrogen in the air and convert it to a form they can use? They rely on several species of rhizobia bacteria that form symbiotic relationships with their roots. Within a period of 30-40 days, the bacteria form visible nodules along the roots, and you can tell that they are active when you can cut open some of the nodules and they are pink inside. The bacteria rely on the plant for carbohydrates, and in return, they produce nitrogen the plant can use. Many legumes can fix up to 200 lbs per acre of nitrogen by the time of full bloom. This little packet of dark powder is taking the place of a substantial quantity of synthetic nitrog

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