Who doesn’t want to grow plants that serve two purposes?
As it turns out, there are some plants you can grow that are as beneficial for your horses as they are for your garden. And, alfalfa happens to be one of them. Full of high-quality protein, alfalfa meal is a favorite food of equines. Even better, it also has plenty of advantages for your soil as well.
Whether you choose to grow and process your own alfalfa or pick it up from a nearby garden store, you’ll be sure to notice the soil-nurturing benefits of adding this incredible fertilizer into your garden.
History of Alfalfa Meal
It might be under-appreciated today, but alfalfa has actually been used around the world for thousands of years. Remains of 6,000-year-old alfalfa found in Iran, indicate that it was probably domesticated in that region. The early Babylonians and Romans found it to be an essential way to feed their war horses. As it helped to build up their endurance and make them strong.
Introduced to the United States in the 18th century as America’s first introduced forage crop, alfalfa became popular with early agrarians like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. By the California Gold Rush, alfalfa was growing around the country. As it was an easy way to power livestock like oxen and draft horses.
Today, Alfalfa grows throughout the world. Currently, it takes up over 23 million acres in the United States, most of which is for animal feed.
How It Works
There are dozens of types of livestock feed on the market today. However, none can match alfalfa when it comes to protein per acre. The benefits are even better when alfalfa goes back to the soil as a form of compost. When applied to a garden, alfalfa meal breaks down quickly and becomes accessible to micro bacteria and earthworms. These forces work to break down and process the nutrients in order to make them easily accessible to plants.
The heat produced by these munching bacteria can also do wonders for speeding up a compost pile. Simply mix some into the pile and the rate of decomposition will quickly increase.
What is Alfalfa Meal?
The alfalfa plant is a perennial flowering legume that often grows over three feet tall. Resilient to droughts and other environmental extremes, alfalfa can live for ten years or more. Generally, it is grown as cattle and horse feed. Yet, the home benefits don’t stop there. Though rather under-appreciated as a soil amendment, alfalfa meal is a dried, ground and fermented form of alfalfa. Even more so, it is one of the best plant-based organic fertilizers around for blooming plants. Alfalfa can also contain a lot of minerals due to having a taproot that goes many feet into the ground where they are more plentiful.
Because alfalfa contains a plethora of various nutrients, it works wonders for replenishing degraded soils and speeding up the decomposition of compost piles. The high amounts of carbohydrates and protein that it contains are a first-class buffet for soil microbes. Thus, encouraging them to break down the soil nutrients quickly in order to make them accessible for plants.
Where is Alfalfa Meal Sourced From?
You can buy alfalfa in many different forms, including as a meal or in cubes or pellets. Although, the best garden benefits come from using it in meal form. It’s usually possible to find alfalfa meal in large garden stores. However, you can find cheaper options at feed and livestock stores.
How Does Alfalfa Meal Benefit the Soil and Crops?
By adding easily accessible nutrients back into the soil, alfalfa meal helps to restore soil fertility. Thus, helping plants grow faster and healthier. Below are some of the top ways that alfalfa meal can transform the health of your soil and garden plants.
- Good Source of Minerals: Along with a high nitrogen content, alfalfa is filled with plenty of other beneficial garden minerals, including iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and others.
- Adds Nitrogen: An amazing talent of the alfalfa plant is that it can take nitrogen out of the air and hold it in its roots as a nitrogen-fixing technique to make that nitrogen available in the soil for nearby garden plants.
- Growth Hormone: Alfalfa contains triacontanol, a hormone which stimulates the growth of plant roots, enhances photosynthesis, and increases beneficial microbes which help to suppress many soil-borne diseases.
- Builds Up the Soil: The high nitrogen content in alfalfa makes it easy for surrounding organic material to decompose. This helps prevent compaction in the garden by improving soil structure and acting like a sponge to absorb excess moisture and help prevent erosion.
- Helps Resist Drought: Adding alfalfa to the soil increases its sponge-like tendencies. Therefore, making it easier for water to be absorbed and held in the soil, even during times of drought.
- Encourages Growth: Within alfalfa is a substance called triacontanol is a hormone that stimulates plants to grow better roots and increase photosynthesis, which leads to stronger, larger garden plants.
- Controls Harmful Nematodes: Some studies have shown that the use of alfalfa pellets in gardens can reduce the infestation of root-knot nematodes that attack tomato plants, thereby helping you get a bigger harvest.
- Provides Food For Microorganisms: Everything living in your soil loves alfalfa. This is because of its tasty nutrients, meaning an infusion of alfalfa will help beneficial microbes and worms to thrive.
General Application Rates
You can apply alfalfa to the garden at any time of the year. However, the best results occur when you add it to the soil in the fall or spring when nothing is actively growing.
Because alfalfa is an alkaline substance, it works best when you use it only on plants that don’t like acidic soil. To get the benefits of alfalfa meal in your garden, sprinkle ½ cup around shrub-sized plants like rose bushes or hedges.
For vegetable gardens, the general application rates work well. You can add a light application of alfalfa meal by spreading a quarter cup per plant, or about a pound per 20ft row. You can double this amount if needed.
Additional Tips for Using Alfalfa Meal
For some extra tips on the best ways to use alfalfa meal for your garden plants, you can follow these suggestions.
- Alfalfa meal makes a great foliar spray when you brew it into a tea. Simply mix 5 gallons of water with 1 cup alfalfa meal and add a few tablespoons of LABS or EM1. Let the mixture sit for 24 hours, stirring on occasion, then strain and use as a root drench or foliar spray.
- Have a compost pile that just isn’t working? Add a few scoops of alfalfa meal to the center and watch it heat up in no time!
- For fertilizing lawns, alfalfa pellets tend to work better than a meal because it’s heavier and less likely to blow away.