[Translated from the ‘‘ Hand-Book of Swedish Agriculture,” by J. ARRHENIUS, Secretary
to the Royal Academy of Agriculture, and late Superintendent of the Ultuna Agricultural
ALSIKE CLOVER (Trifolium hybridum) is a pale red perennial species of clover,
which, mixed with grass, is cultivated with great advantage on permanent grass
land, whether employed for pasture or mowing. This species of clover thrives
best on marly clay with a somewhat moist bottom.
Alsike clover has obtained its name from the parish of Alsike, in Upland,
where it was first discovered, and where it grows in the greatest abundance in
every field ditch. Besides this, it is found wild with us from Skane up to
Helsingland, and also in Norway and Finland, where, on fallow land, we have
seen it growing luxuriantly. This species of clover is consequently native to our
country, and proves itself, both here and in the border countries, to be a hardy
plant, especially adapted to cultivation in our rigorous climate. It was not
until the beginning of the present century that this species of clover was
cultivated by us, and in 1834 it was introduced into England by Mr. George
Stephens, under the name of Alsike clover. Both by this name, as well as by
that of Swedish clover, it is now known not only in England and Scotland, but
also in Denmark, Germany, and France, into which countries it is now annually
imported from Sweden.
This species of clover has pale red flowers, a somewhat lank stalk, and oval
obtuse leaves, which are less and of a lighter green than those of red clover.
The-flower-head, growing from the upper leaf joint, is globular, and formed of
fragrant blossoms supported by stems. These blossoms are at first whitish and upright, and subsequently of a pale red, which, when the flowering has passed,
become brown and somewhat bent. The calyx is smooth, and its tags of equal
length. The seed pods, containing three or four grains of seed, extend out of
the calyx, surrounded by the withered crown. ‘The seed is much less than that
of red clover, is in the form of a kidney, and dark green or verging somewhat
towards violet. Yellow green seed of this plant is not ripe.
Alsike clover does not attain its full luxuriance until the second or third year
after it has been sown, and during the first year seldom arrives at any great
degree of growth. It is therefore best adapted to mixture with grass, for permanent grass land. It yields, on suitable and fruitful soil, rich and good fodder.
It loves clayey soil, especially marly clay, with a somewhat moist position ; but
it also thrives on cultivated fens and marshes. Alsike clover grows but little
after mowing, and no second crop can be expected from it, as is the case with
red clover. Both in this respect, as well as in the longer time it requires before
it yields a full crop, Alsike clover stands after red clover. Its great and undeniable advantage, on the other hand, lies in the fact that it is far more hardy
than red clover, and can be cultivated on moist soil, and land that is flooded at
certain times of the year, on which red clover will not grow. If Alsike clover
be mixed with white clover and suitable grass, it yields rich and certain crops,
and when cultivated on arable land common red clover may and should be
mixed with the seed with which the field is sown, by which the great advantage
is gained that, the first year after sowing, two crops of fodder may be gathered,
chiefly consisting of red clover; and that the following years, in the same proportion as the red clover’ declines the Alsike clover appears in its place, and
yields rich and certain crops, together with the grass with which it is sown.
With reference to cultivation and tending, the same prescriptions will apply,
in the main, that are usually given with respect to red clover, with the addition
of the following: As Alsike clover, in full vegetation, has a great tendency to
lodge, it should always, when cultivated for fodder, be sown together with grass—
by preference with meadow or fox-tail grass on marshy land, and with timothy
grass on drier soil. The crops by this means become much richer, and the
grass supports the Alsike clover, so that it does not fall down to the ground and
As Alsike clover seed is not more than about half the size of red clover seed,
no more than about half as much, in measure, of the former is required as of the
latter, and may be sown winnowed or in its pods like red clover. Every farmer
will soon learn by observation what quantity of seed is required to the acre.
If he uses the unwinnowed, or seed in the pod, the quantity required is four or
five times greater than if he uses the clean seed.
The quality of grass and other kinds of seed that should. be mixed with
Alsike clover in sowing, when it is cultivated for fodder, we will specify below.
Alsike clover seed, both winnowed and unwinnowed, may be sown in the
autumn, directly after the sowing of autumn grain, or in the spring. When the
seed is unwinnowed it is considered best to sow it in the autumn; it may, however, also be sown in the spring on the last snow. From the time Alsike clover
first began to be cultivated by us, it has been found that “the unwinnowed seed
produces a stronger growth than the winnowed,” which has been rightly attributed to the fact that “the.tender shoot derives, in part, its first nourishment
from the husks that surround the seed.” (Annals of the Academy of Agriculture for the year 1819, 2d vol., p. 223.)
The yield of mixed grass and Alsike clover seed is, on good and rich soil,
very considerable, Lundström (Hand Book for Farming, p. 294,) considers
that it should yield, with certainty, from two to three tons per acre. At Frötuna,
in Nerike, in four years, one of which was a very dry year, the average yield
was nearly two tons of Alsike clover and timothy hay per acre; the largest
crop, on well manured and lime strewed soil, amounted to between four and five tons per acre, (Farming Transactions, 2d vol., p. 104,) a yield that certainly
cannot be expected, excepting on very rich soil and in rainy years, in which
Alsike clover especially thrives and attains much greater luxuriance than in
ordinary dry summers. It yields, however, in general, good and safe crops,
and both in the middle of Sweden, (especially in Nerike,) as well as at several
places in Upland, Gestrickland, and Helsingland, Alsike clover mixed with
grass is prized as being far more reliable than red clover. Alsike clover yields,
too, better and finer hay, and when ripe the stalk is not so hard as red clover.
Gathering the seed of Alsike clover demands especial care, as it is of im-
portance to gather seed for home use; the purchase of such seed being always
connected with considerable expense. In addition to this, however, the gathering
of Alsike clover seed for sale may be attended with considerable profit, it being
in great request in the foreign markets and fetching high prices. It is also
well known that the gathering and sale of Alsike clover seed is now prosecuted
on several estates as the main object, and it is desirable that the production of
this seed for sale were more generally carried out, as from it might be derived
a very profitable article of export.
On one estate in Sweden, where twenty acres were set apart for raising the
seed, the average annual ‘production for five years was 133 pounds per acre,
while the production one year was 200 pounds per acre. When it is recollected
that Alsike clover seed generally obtains in the market about double the price
of the common red clover seed, it is evident that the gathering of the former
seed must render a very handsome return.
Alsike clover seed is more easily threshed than red clover seed. When cultivated and threshed together, the Alsike clover seed always comes out of the
pods before the red clover seed. The ripened seed-head of Alsike clover,
however, falls off easier than that of red clover, and therefore in mowing Alsike
clover that has been allowed to ripen, still greater care must be taken than with
the seed of red clover.
The mowing of ripe Alsike clover should always be effected either early in
the morning or late in the evening while it is moist with dew; otherwise the
riper seed pods fall off with the best and finest seed, however carefully the
mowing may be performed. The mowed Alsike clover is left lying as it falls,
and is turned once or twice while moist with dew, after which it is housed when
dry. In carting home canvas lining should be used in the carts, of sufficient
size to cover the whole of the bottom and a part of the sides of the carts, so
that those seed pods that fall off in carting may not be lost.
If Alsike clover be employed for home use, it may, as mentioned above, be
used unwinnowed or winnowed, and if in such case it be mixed with the seed
of red clover or timothy grass, no injury would be caused, as, for the reasons
before stated, the seeds of these plants may in any case be advantageously
mixed with the seed of Alsike clover. If Alsike clover seed is to be sold, and
especially if it is to go abroad, it should be perfectly clean and free from ad-
mixture with other seed. Every grain of seed found amongst another kind of
seed which is intended to be perfectly winnowed, must be considered as weed
seed, and the worst weed in Alsike clover that is left to ripen is timothy grass.
Red clover seed may be separated from Alsike clover seed by means of a fine
riddle adapted to the purpose, so that the former remains while the latter passes
through the riddle; but this is not the case with timothy seed, which is so fine
that even in the last riddling (of which more below) it cannot be separated from
the Alsike clover seed. It is therefore best in the early summer, if it be observed
that the Alsike clover is mixed with timothy, to mow the timothy as soon as it
has shot into the ear, provided the seed of the Alsike clover is intended for the
Alsike clover is threshed like red clover. The experience of the farmer will
direct him to the best method of separating the seed from the pod. It may be done by passing the straw through a threshing machine, and then carefully separating it from the pods, which must be again (and perhaps more than once) passed through the machine to open them. But a better method, probably, is to thresh with the flail; for by this method the seed is disengaged from the pod
and falls on the floor, instead of being blown away and often lost by the action
of the machine. The pod is also more effectually and surely opened by the use
of the flail.
When the seed has been winnowed on the corn sieve, it is riddled through three riddles of different degrees of fineness adapted to the purpose. The
coarsest riddle is used first to separate coarse weed seed and anything else that
may be mixed with the Alsike clover seed; then the second; and, lastly, the
third and finest riddle. If the seed be dusty when it has passed through the
last riddle, then, as a final process, it is slowly and cautiously passed through
the corn sieve once more, by which means the dust is blown away.