To Organic gardeners, a pile of well-rotted horse manure is really a gorgeous sight. In the days when cities bustled with carriage traffic, the abundance of the rich nutrient source contributed to the fertility and productivity of small, suburban market farms. Today, gardeners have readily available, easy-to-handle alfalfa (Medicago sativa) pellets — in a feeling, “precursors” to horse manure. Modern rosarians sing alfalfa’s praises as a food and tonic because of his or her beloved roses.
Why Alfalfa Works
Alfalfa, named from words meaning that the “greatest horse fodder,” can also be referred to as lucerne. Its historical use dates back thousands of years as a highly nutritious diet for warhorses in Persia, Greece and Rome. Alfalfa’s literal roots also run deep — taproots pull water, minerals and nutrients out of as much as 20 feet from the earth. As a cover crop, alfalfa increases yields in succeeding plantings of strawberries and tomatoes, members of the rose family (Rosaceae) of plants. Alfalfa plants are legumes that “fix” their hydrogen from the atmosphere, which makes alfalfa products, like hay, pellets and tea, rich sources of nitrogen. The antiviral activity in fermenting or rotting alfalfa makes the nitrogen readily available to plants. The naturally occurring fatty alcohol triacontanol, a byproduct of alfalfa breakdown, which is a highly effective plant-growth stimulant.
Dry alfalfa pellets arrive packaged for livestock feed and can be found in economical 50-pound bags in feed stores — be sure to buy organic alfalfa without additives like salt or molasses. Nurseries have started making variously packaged alfalfa products available for gardeners, too. Organic and plant-based, alfalfa pellets are easy to work with without the necessity of precision measuring. Simply scatter a few or 2 around the base of each rosebush when new growth starts in late winter or early spring. Rainfall or irrigation naturally breaks it down over time, providing slow-release nutrients to your rose bushes. A 50-pound bag of alfalfa pellets or a bale of alfalfa hay spread over the compost pile in autumn contributes to wealthy “black gold” for spring.
Ingredients for alfalfa tea may be just alfalfa pellets and water using a cup of pellets per gallon of water. A more intricate brew comprises Epsom salts or other nutrients. Combine the ingredients in an 32-gallon plastic trashcan and allow them to steep in sunlight for several days or up to several weeks. Make certain the trashcan is at an out-of-the-way garden place since the concoction gets malodorous as it ferments. Care for your roses to a dose of alfalfa tea, about a gallon for each massive bush, every six weeks during the growing season. It’s a highly effective tonic for everything in your garden.
Homemade Alfalfa Meal
Alfalfa pellets break down slowly — help nature in addition to building a stack of alfalfa meal at the beginning of the season. Pour a 50-pound bag of alfalfa pellets to your 32-gallon, plastic trash can and fill it to the top with water. The pellets swell and break to a fine meal over a few weeks. Scoop shovelfuls out to spread round the garden, especially on your roses. Gently rake the meal into the soil surface to incorporate. Spread this throughout the rose bed in the spring and again in the autumn to enhance the total land condition, tilth and mineral composition.