Alfalfa

Pulsegleaner

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As far as I know Medicago sativa is Medicago sativa, the kind you use for hay and the kind you use for sprouts is the same stuff. And, barring complicated things like yield per acre, growing conditions, and nutritional ratios, all alfalfa looks pretty much the same to me. The only thing that seems to vary quite a bit is flower color (I have seen some alfalfa plants with flowers that were such a deep shade of purple I would have planted it just for the pleasure of looking at THEM.)

As for growing it myself, the truthful answer is somewhere BETWEEN "yes" and "no". I have never grown domestic alfalfa myself. However, during my grow outs of found seeds, I DID grow out two wild alfalfa relatives, Medicago muricoleptis (a yellow flowered wild alfalfa whose tiny curled spiked pods remind me so much of Murex snail shells* I really wish I knew how to cast in precious metals to make them into jewelry pieces) and Medicago polycerata (which, at that time was still in the genus Trigonella, and so I thought of it as a wild fenugreek rather than a wild alfalfa.)

*Ironically, Medicago murex is a different species of wild alfalfa.
 

digitS'

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Manda_Rae, there are lots of varieties of alfalfa. They have different levels of Winter survival and resistance to pests and disease. Contact your local Extension Service to see which ones they suggest for your area and where you may purchase the seed.

Back on the farm, we grew grass and clover for pasture and hay. Oats was the annual hay crop.

When I lived out in the sticks, I fenced an area too large for what I wanted for my annual garden. It was just a little over 1/2 acre. I planted the surplus ground in alfalfa and harvested it with a scythe and a lawn rake. That was easy peasy.

Steve
 

flowerbug

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Has anyone tried to grow their own Alfalfa hay?
Is the Hay different than the sprouting seeds? Or is it the same and I can just let it grow out to harvest as hay.

yes, it's the same, but now if you buy seeds you might have a choice between Roundup-Ready and the regular kind which has not been fiddled with.

late summer and early fall are good times to plant it as then there is less weed pressure. also it helps to plant it scattered with other plants as it will have some protection until it gets bigger the following season.

i learned all of this by planting it in a garden in the early summer one year and i spent a lot of time weeding. then another year i planted it again as a mixture in the later part of summer and the mixture kept the weeds down and some of the alfalfa sprouts were there the next spring just waiting to take over.

it can take several seasons to get a plant to full size so in the first year you don't want to trim it back too far to allow the plant to get a root down. they do sent roots down pretty far, depending upon your water table and soil. here the water table can be quite shallow at times so the plants i grew normally had roots down a few feet through the mostly clay soil.

after it was full sized plant i cut it sometimes up to three times a season. i used the cuttings for green manure in the gardens and for worm food (in place after cutting i just let the worms in that patch work on it).

the combination of that and birdsfoot trefoil (the agricultural version which can be quite large compared to the roadside wild kind) was a great soil conditioner for that whole area for many years. now the area is being taken over by grass since we've been mowing it instead of me weeding it by hand. i'd like to turn it all into garden space but it takes me a fair amount of work to recoup the sod back to garden along with all the other gardens i keep after. so dunno when i might do it or finish...

aside from the color of the flowers, they smell great when blooming.

oh, and it is not easy to keep a pure stand of alfalfa as the plants will tend to suppress other alfalfa plants from growing really close to each other. so those gaps can be exploited by weeds.

i made the mistake of scattering thousands of bulbules from the garlic i normally grow throughout the alfalfa/trefoil patch and it was always a challenge to harvest and to weed it out once i decided i wanted to get rid of it from back there. mowing after it was taken over by weeds was the easiest answer in the end and we still mow back there until i turn it back to garden space again - a strawberry patch but without a fence the deer eat about everything i try to grow.
 
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seedcorn

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Has anyone tried to grow their own Alfalfa hay?
Is the Hay different than the sprouting seeds? Or is it the same and I can just let it grow out to harvest as hay.
Key to getting alfalfa to come up and survive is soil pH. Anything below 6.8 can spell problems. Below 6 and it won't survive. Heavy lime feeder.
 

ducks4you

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Alfalfa is The most popular grass grown for horses, if not cattle. Some "hot" horses get "high" on the higher protein, and it helps them to produce some extra heat on the coldest days bc of the extra calories, so many horse owners prefer an alfalfa/grass (like orchard or timothy) mix, which is what I have in my barn's loft right now.
Cattle don't need the extra calories from alfalfa, but can put on some fat from it. Cattle can get nutrition from very low protein fodder, like timothy or orchard grass, or even fescue. Some draft HORSE owners feed oat straw instead of hay. Horse owners should study up on hay bc you have to feed it in the north, and sometimes, in the west during the summer if there is a bad drought. I used to be on a horse forum, and several years ago one member in Nebraska read the Farmer's Almanac and the predicted drought That year. She bought all of the hay early, before nobody could scare up any. THAT is what we go through!
Alfalfa sends down 3 ft roots and is often grown to put fertilizer back into a field when it is tilled in, so you will see corn, a very heavy feeder, grown the next season.
In order to harvest tender stems it is best pulled after 3 years, but sometimes a farmer can get up to 5 cuttings/season. In the past I have bought alfalfa from an old field where it had been growing Years past it's best and the stems were like tree twigs.
I have been buying hay for my horses for 37 years and, for the farmers who harvest it, IT IS AN ADDICTION!! They love the idea of cutting/drying/harvesting free grass to make $.
Alfalfa needs to be cut dry and turned several times to fully dry. IF it is even a little bit wet, the bale of squished together grass will heat up and can burn down it's storage building.
MY hay man puts up about 10K bales/season from many fields that he does not own. He tells me that he gets a better season if there is a drought (here, in our very own Illinois Swamp!) than if there is a lot of rain bc the rain interferes with the harvest.
If you have the land and plant/grow alfalfa, your Biggest problem will be finding somebody to harvest it.
This year I paid (for the hay and delivery and stacking) $7/bale. The bales are lovely and fragrant, around 60-65 lbs and, although many of them were not green bc they got sunbleached. This does NOT affect their quality.
Proof of the quality of this winter's hay is that my horses have been eating on it, since I cut them off of one of their pastures, and they are relishing it.
I need 400 bales/winter and I had not fed 40 bales from 2021, so I can afford to feed a few early.
 

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