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There's an Art and a Science to Frost Seeding Red Clover

There's an Art and a Science to Frost Seeding Red Clover
Red clover is a common cover crop.

Frost seeding red clover into wheat is one method of growing cover crops.

According to Jim Stute, research director at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy and former Rock County Extension crops and soils agent, red clover is typically frost seeded in mid- to late-March after the snow melts when cracks form on the soil surface.

"The frozen soil supports application equipment and broadcast seed falls into the cracks which seal upon thawing, resulting in good stands," he says.

Seed can be broadcast with an ATV or 3-point mounted spinner type seeder or it can be spread in conjunction with spring fertilizer applications using airflow equipment, Stute says.

Broadcast equipment will require calibration. Above is a broadcast seeder mounted on a utility vehicle.

"Seed falling into the cracks is placed at an ideal depth, resulting in stands similar to those produced by drilling," Stute explains. Seed can be broadcast until mid-April if cracks are present and the traditional frost-seeding window is missed.

"Usually, ideal conditions for frost seeding occur in mid- to late-March," Stute notes. "Low overnight temperatures cause the surface to freeze and crack. Warm daytime temperatures thaw the surface, sealing the cracks."


Thinking About A Cover Crop? Start With Developing A Plan
Taking time to design your cover crop plan will increase the successful establishment of the crop and potentially allow for improved staggering of fall harvest.


If daytime thaw occurs, the daily "window" for seeding last only a few hours, beginning at dawn, Stute cautions. Driving on thawing soil will compact it and may injure the wheat. With subfreezing daytime temperatures, seeding can occur anytime during the day.

Be ready
According to Stute, ideal frost seeding conditions may only occur a few days each year, so preparation and close monitoring of field conditions are essential for success.

"Seed should not be broadcast before mid-March even if conditions are ideal because extreme cold temperatures can still occur and may kill seedlings," he adds.

Broadcasting equipment will require calibration. According to Stute, factors affecting seeding rate include the gate opening, broadcast width and ground speed. Most equipment manufacturers provide setting recommendations that can be used as a guide. Actual seed flow through the gate may vary due to seed size, condition of the seed (cleanliness) addition of inoculant or other seeding coating and equipment wear.

"Broadcast width and travel speed are easier to measure and adjust," he says. "Begin cautiously to reduce the risk of wasting seed and possibly running out of seed before the field is finished."

Stute recommends using the cheapest inoculated medium red clover seed available and seeding at a rate of 10 to 12 pounds per acre or 50 seeds per square foot. He says it is not necessary to buy more expensive improved varieties because it will not be seeded for multiple years.

"Double spreading at one-half the desired seeding rate will reduce or eliminate skips and aids calibration," he explains. "Adjust the gate setting to the manufacturer's recommendation for the one-half rate and broadcast seed using the specified ground speed for the first trip over the field. Be sure to keep centers as uniform as possible to minimize skips and overlaps."

 To insure adequate coverage of field edges, Stute recommends making a final lap around the field, spaced one-half the spread width from the field edge.

For more information on frost seeding cover crops, contact Stute at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute at 262- 642-3303 ext. 112, or via email at [email protected].


Thinking About A Cover Crop? Start With Developing A Plan
Taking time to design your cover crop plan will increase the successful establishment of the crop and potentially allow for improved staggering of fall harvest.

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