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Experience with alfalfa pellets?

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  • Experience with alfalfa pellets?

    I garden in a very sandy soil and always struggle to get enough organic material and nutrients added to balance the sand. It's a no-chemicals garden. I have read about using alfalfa pellets sold as animal feed for a nitrogen source. I wonder if anyone has experience with these in terms of application rates and timing. Is it a problem to incorporate them at the time of planting, or do the pellets need time to compost first to avoid tying up nutrients as happens when you turn in green manure? (In case you are wondering, I'm not just growing alfalfa because I don't have the room). Thanks for sharing any thoughts you might have!

  • #2
    I love your screen name!

    I think it would be more cost-effective to buy a few yards of compost or grow a green manure crop in place.

    Depends on where you are, but alfalfa pellets would likely not be a cheap solution! They're kinda pressed together, I can't imagine seeding into them the first year.

    Have you tried an early mustard or collard type green? Tyfon Greens, mustard, or kale will start growing pretty early (use row cover or white sheets to get a start!) and could be turned in...? Even some ryegrass, it grew slowly all winter long when we lived in TN. Little more work to turn it in (over mustard etc.).

    As far as the nitrogen, again I'd think composted manure would be the most fertile/available option.

    Good Luck!


    • #3
      Don't know if this would be any help to you, but I have used alfalfa pellets along with a bit of Epsom salts to make a "tea" for roses. Just a few days breaks down the pellets - use the tea and put the sludge on the compost pile - or I suppose it could be dug into the soil as well.


      • #4
        I am a big user of alfalfa and have been for over 20 years. It really works magic. Nut I agree with garnet moth. it can seriously increase productivity of the whole garden, but especially cucurbits and solanacae, tomatoes are crazy for it, but you seem to need bulk for water and nutrients retention.

        I much prefer to use alfalfa meal, the powdered stuff that is compressed to make pellets, it is simple and cheaper, but pellets are good once decompressed. Left whole, and I have tried it, they can stay formed under the ground, not providing much benefits, their natural waxes covering the pellets, keeping the shape. Waxes and water.......

        A simple way to build up ''eternal fertility'' in your soil would be to make some charcoal by burning intensely, inefficiently, pieces of wood, so you get a lot of black stuff, crumble it as much as you can and put it in the soil. For more explanations, google ''biochar'' and ''terra preta''.

        You could pre-soak it in whatever tea of your choice for added benefits. Charcoal is pure enough carbon, but it is also a sponge. Farmers in the pockets of terra preta (man made soil by the ancient natives of Amazonia), an otherwise very acid and infertile environment, are having 3 crops a year without fertilization, and this has been going on for millenniums...

        Alfalfa provides lots of nitrogen and nutrients, and also a fatty alcohol called TRIACONTANOL, a growth hormone and also light frost protectant. It is an alcohol after all. Usually, tomatoes will take a few light frosts with it in their system. Other plants too.

        Alfalfa can nevertheless give you record yields, either as a tea sprayed or in the ground, preferably both, but coupled with seaweed extract, well...just do it and see, and taste the tomatoes. And measure their shelf life...


        • #5
          Mike - I have wanted to make charcoal to add to my garden beds, but am having a difficult time of it since we are in town on small city lot. I don't suppose a bit of activated charcoal would work? My theory is any amount would be better than none, but what is your estimate of amount needed? ie., 1 pound per 100 square feet or ???


          • #6
            Any quantity can only help, that is sure. If you look at the biochar files in the net, charcoal, mixed in with dirt, ''becomes'' the soil, so we are talking of larger quantities being desirable, making the exercise profoundly transformational, if I can say that in your language. BTW, I am French speaking, so sorry for linguistic mishaps...

            I intend to slow burn lots of wooden debris in the field, watering it, covering it to cause oxygen depletion in the way the ancients did it in Amazonia. They did not have any charcoal making technology, even small cooking fires can be major help over time, as would be a wood fired grill ( BBQ ?? ) etc...


            • #7

              Thanks for your suggestions, everyone. I live in a very suburban area where we have carefully filled all our farms with houses and large green lawns... So although I make as much compost as I can, whatever I have to buy to supplement that, I have to buy at garden centers in plastic bags. It's usually expensive and I haven't been impressed with the quality. Not much nitrogen. I haven't found any compost by the yard yet. That's why I was looking around the internet for alternative suggestions. My strategy is to try a little of everything! I do grow a bunch of green manures (in small amounts, though), and I will investigate the charcoal idea. I will have to see if I can find a source of alfalfa meal, rather than pellets. Thanks for explaining the difference! Is the meal sold as an animal feed as the pellets are? Do you think I could soak the pellets in buckets of water to get them to dissolve?

              Garnetmoth, I'm not kidding about my screen name... We're digging hardware cloth a foot into the ground around the garden perimeter in the spring. I don't mind sharing, but last summer was ridiculous!


              • #8
                It is animal feed, yes, usually horses I think. You can actually drop the pellets on the ground and water them with the hose, and come back later, they will be OK. You can incorporate in at planting time with no harm done. I would suggest adding dolomitic limestone at the same time.

                Bagged manure is a joke. I would go around the neighborhood and steal all the leaf bags on the side of the streets in the fall, or better, ask as many people as I can for them. I did that where I used to live once. I got lots of them, and people deliver them to you often, thanking you like crazy... if you have access to a chipper/shredder, pass them through it, they dramatically reduce in volume, then till them or turn them in the soil. You can also do it without shredding, it is just slower to decompose. You'll end up walking on a spongy soil in 3 to 5 years or so, depending on how much you did put in. Don't forget to add lime... you should do it in sand most of the time anyway...


                • #9
                  Originally posted by canadamike View Post
                  Don't forget to add lime... you should do it in sand most of the time anyway...
                  That is, IF the soil pH is 6.5 or lower.


                  • #10
                    Right, Martin. Thanks for noting. I usually test with a little kit. But usually, sandy soil plus lots of leaf material....


                    • #11
                      Interesting article on Biochar in the latest edition of Mother Earth News


                      • #12
                        I just ordered some alfalfa meal through NOFA. I am now very glad I did. Should I just scratch in the surface of the beds (will be new this year)?

                        I am in MA and our NOFA is doing a bulk order in a week or so. There is a cost to become a member but the savings on garden products makes up for it if you need quite a few things as I do. Just for reference 5#'s alfalfa meal is $4.25 and 50#'s is $28.75. Not sure if all states have the program.

                        When I first heard of using alfalfa as a nitrogen source the gardener was using pellets. He may have soaked them in 5 gallon buckets before turning in the soil but I can not remember.


                        • #13
                          Interesting thread. I've just recently become familiar with terra preta, and I'm planning on incorporating crushed charcoal into a few of my beds this coming year, to see how much it improves productivity. It sounds like amazing stuff; definitely worth some googling, if you're not familiar with it.

                          One thing I ran across, was the idea of using alfalfa pellets as the source material for biochar. They gasify the pellets into charcoal, just exactly the same way they do with wood.


                          • #14
                            Rainbird - thank you for the information on using alfalfa pellets as a source for biochar. Can you provide a link or any more information on the actual process? ie - was it a large industrial/commercial process or a backyard operation?


                            • #15
                              I use alfalfa meal from my local grain elevator - cheap! Toss a couple handfuls over the surface when planting, side dress a couple times throughout season.

                              Have the opposite problem of sandy soil, clay that dries to rock in mid-summer. Have finally turned to the dark side after:
                              landfill "compost"
                              green manure (clover, buckwheat, alfalfa)
                              undersowing ""
                              wide rows
                              flamethrowing !

                              The best, best thing I ever did was put a compost pile on two beds two years ago. Those beds last year you could dig with your hands - the rest of the garden would put you in the hospital! Absolutely night and day difference. Piles started 2.5-3.5 feet tall, last year you couldn't tell except for soil quality. Last year I was putting grass clippings (untreated) layered with bales and bales and bales of straw. I have a feeling none of that is going to compare with just putting a compost pile over every square foot of the garden though. And since bales are now going for $8.00, that is over for me!