Alfalfa (Medicago sativa):
Alfalfa is a flowering legume in the pea family; it grows to a height of 1m (36in) and resembles clover. With many clusters of beautiful small purple flowers, also known as Lucerne, it is noted for attracting wildlife including bees and butterflies.
Alfalfa is one of the most important legumes used in agriculture and one of the oldest fodder plants, being one of the first to be domesticated. It is widely grown throughout the world as a multi-purpose forage crop. Able to be used for both grazing and conservation, it is often harvested, cut and baled as hay.
Proponents of alfalfa describe it as a wonder crop. It is very vigorous from its second year, producing a huge bulk of material that can be cut down 2 or 3 times during the season. Alfalfa’s competitive edge is that it has the highest feeding value of all common hay crops; very high in protein it is extremely nutritious.
The plants are very deep rooting; the vigorous roots can draw up sub-surface minerals and break up soil pans. The plants are able to fix large quantities of nitrogen from the air in root nodules and add carbon; it creates its own carbon sink which enriches the soil. Its long roots prevent erosion and improve soil and water quality. This makes alfalfa one of the very best green manures.
Sowing Period: Spring to Summer, usually April to July
Soil: Avoid acid or wet soils, likes dry soil best.
Growing Period: 2 to 3 months or up to 1 year for overwintering
Flowering period: June to July
Coverage: 3.5-4.5kg per acre 50gm covers 20 square metres
As a green manure, alfalfa can be grown for a few months or a year. It adds organic bulk to the soil and should be dug in whilst plants are fresh and green.
If grown long term, it should be cut down 2 to 3 times a year to encourage new growth, the cuttings can be composted or left on soil surface as a mulch. When grown as fodder, the first cutting should ideally be taken at the bud stage and the subsequent cuttings just as the field is beginning to flower, (one tenth in bloom) as this is the period when carbohydrates are at their highest.
Alfalfa prefers dry or moist, well-drained soil. It can grow in nutritionally poor soil and can tolerate drought. It prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soil. It dislikes waterlogged soil and cannot grow in the shade. It is self-fertilising and lives from five to twelve years.
Sow in late spring to early summer, usually sown in April to the end of July.
Prepare the soil by removing weeds, digging over if it hasn't been recently cultivated and raking level. Scatter seeds over the surface of the soil.
Make sure the seed is in firm contact with the soil by gently tapping over the surface with the back of a spade. Water in well.
Bare patches should be covered within two to three weeks and plants will do the most good if they are left for around eight weeks before digging in.
If plants start to flower before this, cut off the tops and dig in. Leave the green manure to decompose in the soil for up to four weeks before growing vegetables.
Don’t forget !
Rotate green manures as you would any other crop. For example - Rotate Vicia, and Alfalfa, with Peas/Beans, Mustard and Fodder Raddish with Brassicas
There's something about growing cover crops makes a person feel like a farmer!
- Additional Information
Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 60 seeds / gram Common Name Lucerne. Green Manure or Cover Crop Other Common Names Luzerne, Lucerne Grass, Purple Medick or Trefoil Genus Medicago Species sativa Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Many clusters of beautiful small purple Natural Flower Time June to July Foliage The leaves resembles clover. Height Grows to a height of 1m (36in) Soil Avoid acid or wet soils, likes dry soil best. Harvest Dig in whilst plants are fresh and green. Time to Harvest As a green manure, alfalfa can be grown for a few months or a year. Coverage 3.5 to 4.5kg per acre. 50gm covers 20 square metres Growing Period 2 to 3 months or up to 1 year for overwintering Notes Cover Crop