Hops and Legumes: Nitrogen Benefit?

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WilliamstonBrew

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Is there any tangible benefit from planting some bush beans around (basically right at the base) my first-year Cascade hops? Instead of using chemical fertilizers, and since the hops look a bit nitrogen deficient (I'm not positive, though), is there any appreciable and real fertilization that happens in the presence of legumes, or is that just one of those I-keep-hearing-it-so-it-must-be-true ideas?

My tallest bine is about 7 feet at the moment and still climbing rapidly, about 1-2 inches per day. There's plenty of sun at the base, and the bush beans won't get high enough to block any sun obviously.

Thoughts?
 

alane1

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I planted bush beans around my hops this year just to try it.but I think the soil wont benefit until the next season, but I could be wrong.I believe that legumes take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots that then break down and release it in the soil.
 
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WilliamstonBrew

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I planted bush beans around my hops this year just to try it.but I think the soil wont benefit until the next season, but I could be wrong.I believe that legumes take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots that then break down and release it in the soil.
Confirmed. From a publication from New Mexico State University College of Agriculture:

The amount of nitrogen returned to the soil
during or after a legume crop can be misleading.
Almost all of the nitrogen fixed goes directly into
the plant. Little leaks into the soil for a neighbor-
ing nonlegume plant. However, nitrogen even-
tually returns to the soil for a neighboring plant
when vegetation (roots, leaves, fruits) of the le-
gume dies and decomposes.

...

A perennial or forage legume crop only adds
significant nitrogen for the following crop if the
entire biomass (stems, leaves, roots) is incorpo-
rated into the soil. If a forage is cut and removed
from the field, most of the nitrogen fixed by the
forage is removed. Roots and crowns add little soil
nitrogen compared with the aboveground biomass.
Interesting. Makes sense, too. Looks like I'll try some compost tea instead. (Though I will let those beans continue to grow, too!) I'd like to rely as little on chemical fertilizers as possible.
 

gamb0056

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The other thing to remember is that your bush beans will be competing for water with your hops. Of course, this won't matter if you water regularly. As an agronomist, I'd agree that the N benefits of legumes tend to be overblown. As mentioned above, the plants themselves don't 'leak' nitrate, they must decompose to do this. Also, if N is readily available, many legumes (rather the rhizobium bacteria that the legumes are in symbiosis with) won't fix atmospheric N and the plants will just use the available soil N and compete with your hops for this limiting resource. Compost is definitely a better way to go, unless you do a legume cover crop and plow it into the soil in the fall or spring prior to hop growth.
 

GVH_Dan

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We use dutch white clover, strawberry clover, etc. in our fields as a cover crop. As stated, it doesn't return a lot of nitrogen to the soil unless you turn it back in. What it does is it out competes all the other weeds that steal both water and nitrogen. Yes, it takes more water but overall it is worth it. The only other options for us is hand weeding...ugh...or killing everything and having bare soil.
 

gamb0056

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We use dutch white clover, strawberry clover, etc. in our fields as a cover crop. As stated, it doesn't return a lot of nitrogen to the soil unless you turn it back in. What it does is it out competes all the other weeds that steal both water and nitrogen. Yes, it takes more water but overall it is worth it. The only other options for us is hand weeding...ugh...or killing everything and having bare soil.
Good point. If you have a large hop yard, a leguminous ground cover is well worth it - especially considering this will reduce soil erosion too. It sounded like OP is only growing a few plants (maybe I'm assuming this), and in this case it might be more work than hand weeding.
 

GVH_Dan

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Your correct. For a couple of plants, it doesn't matter much either way. You can hand apply enough fertilizer and water to make up for any weed or just hand pull them. Personally, I just think it looks pretty.

I should also mention that even though those clovers are annuals, they will drop enough seed to re-sprout. Plus they pull in some beneficial insects.
 

gamb0056

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As far as I know, all Trifolium species (white, strawberry clovers, etc) are perennials, though they do have limited persistence and reseeding or allowing them to go to seed helps maintain stand vigor.

I think the 'beneficial insect' piece is really cool (and under utilized). Flowering perennials certainly do bring in all sorts of beneficials. Some research here at the University of MN is demonstrating that native prairie remnants and some bioenergy crops provide suitable habitat for insects that prey on soybean aphid (which is becoming a huge problem here in the Midwest). So cool that understanding ecology can result in reduced chemical use/reliance.
 
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