Growing Alfalfa For Seed: What Is Alfalfa?
Alfalfa is a grass that grows naturally in North America. It is considered one of the most common plants found in many areas. It can be used for food or feed for livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats and horses. Alfalfa seeds are also edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. Alfalfa is grown for its nutritious leaves which have high levels of protein, vitamins A, C and K2 (beta carotene) and calcium. The leaves contain no cholesterol, fat or sugar content making it a good source of dietary fiber.
The main use of alfalfa is for animal feed because it provides excellent nutrition to animals including beef cattle, dairy cows, hogs and poultry. Alfalfa is also a valuable crop for farmers since it produces abundant crops and improves soil fertility.
How To Grow Alfalfa Seeds For Seed?
There are two ways to grow alfalfa seeds for seed. One way is through the use of hydroponics where water is pumped into the soil around the seedlings until they sprout. Once the seedlings have grown roots in the hydroponic solution, the plants are then placed into the ground. The other way is to plant alfalfa seeds directly into the ground.
How To Plant Growing Alfalfa For Seed?
Alfalfa can be grown in most temperate regions, however it is not suitable for very hot or dry areas. To grow alfalfa, you need a sunny area with well-drained soil and nutrients. It is best to prepare the soil in the fall before planting. Loosen the topsoil with a cultivator then add a mixture of organic matter such as aged manure or compost. This mixture should be worked into the top 10 to 12 inches of soil. If your soil is heavy and clay-like, also work in sand or gravel to improve drainage.
If you want to start your alfalfa crop indoors, you can plant the seeds in individual pots 4 to 6 weeks before the last anticipated frost date. Plant three seeds per pot and remove all but the strongest seedling. Thin the remaining seedlings to 1 foot apart when they reach 6 inches in height.
When the risk of frost has past, you can transplant your alfalfa seedlings outdoors into a prepared bed. Space the plants about 2 feet apart. Keep the young plants well-watered and well-fed with additional organic fertilizer.
Consider growing alfalfa in a grid formation to maximize harvesting efficiency. Each plant should be 1 to 2 feet apart. It can sometimes be beneficial to intersperse flowers in the grid to add a bit of color.
How To Grow Alfalfa For Seed?
Once your alfalfa plants are at least 4 to 5 inches in height, you can begin the blooming process. This causes the plant to put all its energy into producing seeds rather than growing larger.
Prepare the soil bed in late spring and add a 2-inch layer of dried grass, leaves, sawdust or straw. Work the material into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. This will help prevent the alfalfa plants from growing too large and keep their energy focused on seed production.
Then water the plants well and check daily to be sure they continue to have moisture.
Once you begin to notice the first blooms, it is time to remove all of the foliage from the plants leaving only the stems. This will divert the plant’s energy into the blooms.
It will take about two months for your alfalfa plants to develop seeds, which should be ready by early fall.
How To Store Alfalfa Seeds?
Alfalfa seeds are very hardy and can be stored for several years if kept in a cool, dry location such as a cellar or refrigerator.
When you are ready to plant, place a small piece of the alfalfa plant in some soil or moist sand to regenerate the seeds before planting.
How To Grow Alfalfa For Hay?
Once your alfalfa plants have bloomed and the flowers have gone to seed, you can begin cutting the hay. After a light mow, take some of the plants out to leave 1 or 2 feet of foliage on the plant. This will keep it from blooming too early the next year. If left in the field, the plants will soon turn brown and become hay on their own. Once it has dried, mow the plants a second time and leave them to dry in the field. If there is a chance of rain coming, you will need to get the hay harvested quickly.
You can leave the alfalfa to cure in the field or rake it up into windrows and allow it to finish drying. To make baling the hay easier, try mowing the plants for the third time just before you are ready to bale. This will allow the hay to dry very quickly.
Then bale it and place it in a barn or storage shed to protect it from any further moisture.
How To Harvest Alfalfa For Animal Feed?
After the first year, you can begin cutting the alfalfa for animal feed. Cut at least one third of the plant in the early spring before new growth begins and again when flowering begins in the middle of summer. If you wish, you can cut a third to half of the plants in late summer when they are in full bloom.
Harvesting the first year will not produce as much feed, but it will help the alfalfa recover after being cut down and will strengthen the remaining plants. You should also fertilize the soil with manure or compost to keep it healthy and encourage future growth.
You can continue to harvest the alfalfa in this way until winter when you should allow the plants to remain untroubled until the blooming process begins again the next year.
How To Sow Alfalfa?
If you want to have an ongoing supply of alfalfa, you will need to plant more plants each year. You can plant alfalfa in the autumn after cutting down the plants and allowing them to dry for a month or you can directly seed it in late winter.
Planting in the fall is much easier as all you need to do is scatter the seeds on the ground and rake them lightly into the topsoil. If you choose to plant in the fall, you will need to wait until all threat of frost has past and the soil has had time to warm. Sow about 1/4 to 1/2 pound of seeds per every 10 feet of row, or four pounds for every acre that you intend to plant.
Sources & references used in this article:
Pasture yield and soil water depletion of continuous growing alfalfa in the Loess Plateau of China by Y Li, M Huang – Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 2008 – Elsevier
Cation-equivalent constancy in alfalfa by FE Bear, AL Prince – Journal of the American Society of Agronomy, 1945 – agris.fao.org
Alfalfa by DK Barnes – Hybridization of crop plants, 1980 – Wiley Online Library
Alfalfa yield and plant water relations with variable irrigation by DW Grimes, PL Wiley, WR Sheesley – Crop Science, 1992 – Wiley Online Library
Epiphytic microflora on alfalfa and whole-plant corn by C Lin, KK Bolsen, BE Brent, RA Hart, JT Dickerson… – Journal of Dairy …, 1992 – Elsevier
Cobalt requirement of symbiotically grown alfalfa by DO Wilson, HM Reisenauer – Plant and Soil, 1963 – Springer
Regeneration of diploid alfalfa plants from cells grown in suspension culture by TJ McCoy, ET Bingham – Plant Science Letters, 1977 – Elsevier
Nitrogen release from roots of alfalfa and soybean grown in sand culture by LS Brophy, GH Heichel – Plant and Soil, 1989 – Springer