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Alfalfa is for Horses, Sheep, Goats...and Gardeners!

By Jennifer DeDora

An average of a million acres in California is planted in alfalfa every year, most of the yield is used as animal feed, but some is used in other ways....such as gardening!  Medicago sativa, alsoknownaslucerne, and in California as alfalfa, is a perennial that belongs to the legume family.  It is a low growing deep green plant with lavender flowers. It lasts for 3-5 years in production. Alfalfa requires natural pollinators so bee boxes are commonly clustered between rows at various intervals. For the home gardener it has many uses beyond animal forage. 

animal forage

Alfalfa can be used as an effective mulch, it can be worked into soil to build bulk, curtail erosion and add nutrients, especially nitrogen. This is done with the dried plant found in bale form. It can also be grown on the spot as a cover crop and tilled under the soil, this is especially valuable if you have large areas of land with poor quality soil that you'd like to improve. It can also add nutrients to your compost pile and help create beautiful black dirt for next years planting. Due to the fact that alfalfa is the main source of food for the animals that supply the manure for sale many gardeners use "second hand" alfalfa without even knowing it! 

Alfalfa can be used as an effective mulch

In pellet form alfalfa can be used in the smaller home garden. It can be mixed in a bucket with water to create a sort of fertilizing "tea" to be poured into pots or around the base of shrubs. It is common to add pellets to rose beds. I place a small pile around each rose bush right before a big rain every year and let the resulting "mush" seep into the roots. The alfalfa creates thefattyalcoholtriacontanol which is a plant growth stimulant, along with high levels nitrogen, so it helps the plants grow strong. When buying alfalfa pellets be sure to ask for straight alfalfa pellets with nothing added such as oats or molasses. It is a staple product at feed stores, it is the same product and will be much cheaper than you would find at a garden center. 

pellet form alfalfa can be used in the smaller home garden


Another use for alfalfa is for human consumption, in its just sprouted form it is a delicious topping for salads and other foods. Alfalfa sprouts can be grown inside in glass jars or special sprouting containers. They are considered "microgreens" and are hugely popular right now, but they require great care to ensure healthy growth and edibility.  I planonanotherblog based solelyongrowingmicrogreens along with the some very important safety measures necessary to grow and eat these types of sprouts. Do not growyourownmicrogreens without thorough research and knowledge of their safeness. So stay tuned for that! 

alfalfa is for human consumption

If you drive any of the country roads out and around Solano County you will inevitably see the rows upon rows of the low growing plant. It is a vital part of our economy, being the county's fifth most valuable crop. In summer the air becomes sweet with its fragrance while the cut rows are drying in the valley's hot, dry air. The smell of alfalfa will always mean summertime to me. 


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