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What Is Alfalfa Meal?

Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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Most gardens and lawns need fertilizer treatments to receive adequate nutrients and thrive. Some use compost or various artificial fertilizers to provide the basic nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium (NPK) combination — well known by green thumbs. Others prefer odorless organic alternatives like alfalfa meal, which is pressed into pellets that provide plants with the proper nutrition.

Alfalfa meal is made from the alfalfa plant, a member of the Fabaceae pea family called Medicago sativa, which originated in the Middle East and now grows throughout much of the world. Primarily used for grazing cattle, alfalfa also is a common constituent of hay, along with clover and Bermuda grass. Aside from these uses, this substance is manufactured into pellet size for use as an organic fertilizer.

After or while tilling a garden or field of crops, farmers will mix alfalfa meal into their soil to re-energize its potential. Since growing can strip the dirt of vital carbohydrates, proteins and minerals, alfalfa meal will replace levels of folic acid, niacin, thaimin, riboflavin and vitamin A as well as the needed combinations of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. A typical blend of the latter three elements is three parts-one part-two parts, respectively; however, some farmers and gardeners will change this combination to suit the specific plants they are growing. In the United States, many farmers and gardeners go with advice from their state's university-connected agricultural extension.

The amount of alfalfa meal that should be added to the soil also depends on various factors. The length of time the soil has been utilized for growing is one important consideration. Another is whether the climate is arid or fertile. In general, however, about 0.5 cup (about 113 g) of alfalfa meal should be used for each plant. For an entire garden or field, as much as 5 lbs (about 2.4 kg) of alfalfa meal can be used for every 100 square feet (about 9.3 square m).

Fertilizing with alfalfa is not the only plant-based way to replenish soil for successful gardening or thick, green grass. Composting is another popular method for adding a diverse array of recycled materials. Meal is also made from soybeans, cottonseed, corn gluten and even seaweed. Some specialized fertilizers combine several of these ingredients into a nutrient-laden mixture. Still, others prefer a combination of plant and animal fertilizers, along with various mineral-based substances like epsom salt, gypsum, phosphate and limestone to hit as many nutritional bases possible at an affordable cost.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is alfalfa meal and how is it made?

Alfalfa meal is a nutrient-rich plant derivative produced from the dried and ground leaves of the alfalfa plant. It's made by harvesting alfalfa plants, drying them to reduce moisture content, and then grinding them into a fine meal. This process preserves the essential nutrients, making it an excellent organic fertilizer and animal feed supplement.

What are the benefits of using alfalfa meal as a fertilizer?

Alfalfa meal is a powerhouse of nutrients, containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and several trace minerals essential for plant growth. It acts as a slow-release fertilizer, enriching the soil over time. Additionally, it promotes beneficial microbial activity in the soil, improving soil health and structure, which can lead to more robust plant development.

Can alfalfa meal be used as animal feed, and what are its advantages?

Yes, alfalfa meal is commonly used as animal feed, especially for horses, cattle, chickens, and rabbits. It's high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, supporting animal health and productivity. Its fiber content aids in digestion, and the presence of natural compounds can improve the quality of animal products like milk and eggs.

Is alfalfa meal safe for use in organic gardening?

Alfalfa meal is considered safe and is often recommended for organic gardening. It is a natural, non-synthetic source of nutrients for plants. As an organic amendment, it complies with organic farming standards, helping gardeners and farmers maintain ecological balance and biodiversity in their soil ecosystems.

How does alfalfa meal compare to other natural fertilizers?

Compared to other natural fertilizers, alfalfa meal is less concentrated, providing a balanced nutrient profile without the risk of burning plants. It releases nutrients slowly, which means it feeds plants over a longer period. Alfalfa meal also offers unique benefits like triacontanol, a natural growth promoter, which some other fertilizers may not have.

How should alfalfa meal be applied to the garden, and in what quantities?

Alfalfa meal should be applied to the garden by evenly spreading it over the soil and then working it into the top few inches. The quantity varies depending on the specific needs of the plants and the existing soil fertility. Generally, a rate of 5 to 10 pounds per 100 square feet is recommended for garden beds. For individual plants, a handful or two around the base should suffice. Always consult the packaging for specific application rates.

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Discussion Comments

By Heavanet — On Feb 02, 2014

If your lawn is in need of extra nutrients, it is always best to use an organic product like alfalfa meal. Products made from chemicals can be harmful to the land and water. Organic products are natural and give you results without harming the environment.

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