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Wellington Fields Allotments - Hixon.


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By Mrs FM

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Clover is another of those underrated plants that has several uses to all types of gardeners. We have all seen Clover growing wild in fields and grasslands everywhere, but what a lot of people don’t realise is the benefits that it has to the ground where it is growing. Clover is a Legume that is distantly related to Beans and as such grows little Nitrogen Fixing nodules on its root system. These nodules release Nitrogen, an important plant food, into the soil when the clover dies. Some Clovers are better at this than others and the so called “Red Clover,” is a bigger and more vigorous plant than the normal “White,” and as such releases a lot more Nitrogen. Indeed some farmers deliberately grow Clover in order to fertilize their fields in a more natural way than adding chemical fertilizers. Likewise some Allotment holders also use this method of increasing yields in their plots and after their crops have been harvested in the Autumn will sow special “Green Manure,” mixes of seeds that contain Clover seeds. As Spring comes round this “Green Manure,” crop is then dug in and it enriches the soil.

Also of use to Allotment holders is the Edible variety of Clover commonly called “Oca,” or Oxalis Tuberosa. All Clovers have swollen, or tuberous roots and in this variety these roots are particularly swollen to form small tubers the size of a Radish, or if allowed to develop, the size of a New Potato. It may be necessary to cover your plants though with a Cloche in the Autumn to encourage the last bit of growth that you can out of the plants, because the tubers develop late in the season and if the frost takes the tops too early you end up with all small tubers.
Oca has a chemical in it called Oxalic Acid that is slightly toxic in large quantities. It is in fact exactly the same chemical that is in Rhubarb and gives that its tangy taste. In “Oca,” it is this acid that gives it a tangy “Lemon,” flavour and makes it very tasty when eaten raw. Indeed, this very attractive, little vegetable makes a lovely, colourful and unusual addition to Salads. Equally, the larger tubers from your crop, can be cooked in their skins like mini Yams, or New Potatoes. The cooking process does break down the acid however, taking away most of the flavour of the Oca leaving it as just another vegetable.
Another interesting point about this plant as a vegetable is that because of its nature the tubers will keep very well for weeks at room temperature, unlike most vegetables, and don’t really need to be stored in the fridge. It is also easy to keep some tubers in a cool place from one year to the next so that you can plant another crop the following season.

There are several other varieties of Oxalis that might be of interest to gardeners and indeed I have been propagating some plants for Work by dividing them and separating their tubers out into individual pots. Oxalis Triangularis is one of them, but they are a little bit more tender than some varieties. As a result they are best grown as an unusual house plant. The largish, triangular, maroon coloured leaves give this plant an odd appeal and, growing from tuberous roots that store water, it is quite a tough plant that makes it ideal for warm, indoor conditions where it might get a little neglect.
However, most Clovers are quite hardy outside, and even though they will lose their leaves in cold conditions, they will burst back into growth as the weather warms up again in the Spring. There is a little family of these hardy, but smallish, Oxalis that are better grown as alpines and those are Oxalis Versicolor. Some of them have really exotic looking, multi coloured flowers that put on quite a show as the clumps get bigger with time. As with all Oxalis they can be divided easily and replanted. I recently did that with another bigger, hardy, fancy leafed one called Oxalis Tetraphylla Iron Cross. This variety has pretty pink flowers and what I call a Bulls Eye design on its leaves, again as is shown in the picture. I bought one small specimen back in the Spring which was planted in the garden and have just dug it up to produce 30, or 40 small, bulbous tubers to pot up for work. So you can tell how quickly some Clovers grow to form very attractive, sizeable clumps when planted in good conditions. You don’t often see them for sale in Garden Centres, but they are freely available over the Internet and they are worth looking out.


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