(Medicago sativa) Heirloom being one of the first fodder plants to be domesticated. Alfalfa (also known as lucerne) is a flowering legume in the pea family resembling clover in appearance. When left to grow, plants will reach a height of 1m & produce clusters of small purple flowers which are beneficial in attracting wildlife including bees and butterflies to the garden. Although widely grown as a fodder crop being valued for its high level of protein, it is highly beneficial when used as a green manure crop in the garden & especially for breaking up compacted soils. The plants are very deep rooted, enabling the roots to draw up sub-surface minerals and break up compacted soils. The plant is able to fix large quantities of nitrogen from the air in root nodules and add carbon back to the soil. Due to its long, deep roots, it is also beneficial in preventing erosion.
When grown as a green manure crop, plants are best dug back into the soil when the leaves are still fresh & green after approx. 8 weeks after planting. Should plants begin to flower prior to this time, the tops should be cut off & then the plant dug in. Allow the green manure to break down in the soil for up to 4 weeks before planting any vegetables.
When used as a fodder crop the first grazing should be undertaken at the bud stage & subsequent grazing just as the field is beginning to flower (approx. 1/10th in bloom). This is the stage when the carbohydrates in the plants are at their highest.
Although best grown on alkaline to neutral soils with good drainage & high fertility, the plant is hardy & will tolerate nutritionally poor soil & even drought. Plants will not grow in waterlogged soil or in the shade. When left to themselves, plants are self-fertilising & will live from 5-12 years.
Best sown in Autumn & Winter, and in temperate areas Spring.
Broadcast at a rate of 5-10 kg/ha
Smaller packets are ideal for the home garden.
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