A small stand of alfalfa grown in shade, contaminated with a bit of buttercup that has seen its last days. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: The many charms of alfalfa

A few years ago I bought a small packet of alfalfa seeds

By Mary Lowther

I use alfalfa seed meal, also called “Lucerne”, in my fertilizer mix because it contains abundant protein. There’s a reason it’s named “alfalfa”, an Arabic word that means “father of all foods”; it has the highest nutritional value of all forage crops.

A legume, alfalfa takes nitrogen from the air and affixes it to the roots that eventually send it up the stalk to form protein in the seeds.

But alfalfa hay grown hereabouts doesn’t contain decent enough nutrients so sellers import it from drier climes like the prairies. Our rain washes too many nutrients away so, if one wants to grow decent alfalfa (and everything else), one must amend the soil. Since these amendments don’t come cheap, alfalfa isn’t grown commercially here. You and I, however, can afford these smaller amount of amendments because we don’t need to make a profit and can grow nutrient dense alfalfa to make our own fertilizer.

A few years ago I bought a small packet of alfalfa seeds and sowed it in a 10 by 10 foot shady patch of the yard that only grew grass and weeds. First I laid a sheet of clear plastic over the area in the fall and left it on until late spring when everything under it had died. After removing the plastic, I spread compost and Solomon’s fertilizer, broadcast the packet of alfalfa seeds and watered the area with a sprinkler every other day until the seeds sprouted. Then I just left it alone and one section along the house grew well, producing enough seeds for the following year.

I should have watered the patch a couple of more times during the summer, but I wanted to see how it would do without any.

I followed the same routine without using the plastic the following year using my harvested seeds, and a few more plants grew around the perimeter. I left these alone, allowing their seeds to fall where they may and this summer I’m going to water them a few times to encourage the seeds in the centre to grow. These alfalfa plants overwintered well so I plan on using the seed as a winter cover crop for my garden when I have amassed enough.

I doubt that there will be enough alfalfa seed to make my fertilizer with, so I’ll keep buying that, but who knows? Maybe I should tear up the rest of the lawn and grow alfalfa for my fertilizer since I only use the lawn to push the wheelbarrow over anyway.

Hmm, not a bad idea, grow alfalfa over winter and allow it to go to seed, then cut down the alfalfa and put it into the compost to boost the nitrogen and augment the fertilizer. Or, save the seed to sow as a cover crop in the garden where the roots will add nitrogen to the soil. That would do away with spring mowing too! No grass, just an excellent fertilizer resource.

Columngardening

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