We recently made an alfalfa fermented plant extract (FPE) and applied it to the vegetable garden. We did this because lots of people on social media were telling us that alfalfa had all kinds of benefits for our plants. So, we decided to take a look at some of the top reasons why and we think you should too.
Alfalfa has a long history in agriculture. According to a fact sheet from UC Davis, “remains of alfalfa more than 6000 years old were found in Iran. The oldest writings about alfalfa are from Turkey, dating back to 1300 B.C. Alfalfa was probably domesticated near Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, the Caucasus regions, and other regions in Asia Minor”. Alfalfa can build your soil and provide nutrition to livestock. It is one the main crops fed to livestock, including horses and cattle. Furthermore, “Alfalfa is an important rotation crop as it adds nitrogen to soil and improves soil structure for future crops. Unlike other crops, alfalfa does not need nitrogen fertilizer. Nodules on alfalfa roots contain bacteria that take nitrogen gas from the air and convert it to nitrogen plants can use. This process is called nitrogen fixation.”
Once alfalfa is planted, it will grow for several years. Many farmers use it in rotation to recover their soil and to increase nitrogen and organic matter. Several farmers my company works with in the Southwest will grow it for 3 years in rotation. Adding Activated EM-1(commercially available as Ag1000™) to their regimen has helped establish the plant faster and has increased yields of upward to 35%. We have seen farmers go from 8 cuts to 13 cuts, with an extra trim. The application of Ag1000 is 5 gallons per acre per cut.
For the home gardener, there are several benefits of growing alfalfa.
learningandyearning.com has a list of 10 benefits for using alfalfa in your garden. These include building organic matter, minerals, and of course the nitrogen fixing aspects of the crop. The Epic Gardener (epicgardening.com) goes into more detail, which touches on the main reason people were suggesting we make an alfalfa FPE. All forms of alfalfa contain trianconatol. Check out https://manicbotanix.com/triacontonal/ for more in-depth (with cited research papers) discussion of this growth stimulant. Besides increasing yields, this fatty acid will help alleviate issues with salt stress on several types of plants. It will also increase uptake of nutrients and water. These will all help you have better success in growing plants. Interestingly, the data on the manicbotanix website show that the best yield increases were as a foliar spray, not applied to the soil. This correlates with research TeraGanix did a few years back on tobacco where we achieved an additional 20% in yield on the fields that had a foliar treatment of Ag1000, proving foliar applications can have a significant yield impact.
We recommend doing a 4 week fermentation to ensure full extraction of the alfalfa. There are organic acids produced by the microbes in EM-1® including lactic acid and carbonic acid. There is also a small amount of alcohol produced (by the yeast) during the first few weeks of fermentation that will speed up the extraction process. Not to worry, the alcohol is digested in about a month by another microbe in the formula. Here’s how we do it. Buy a bag of alfalfa meal, some blackstrap molasses (Wholesome Sweeteners or Barbados Blackstrap. It doesn’t matter if they are sulfured or not). You’ll need a container with an airtight lid (a gallon milk bottle will work fine) and a funnel. Finally, get some EM-1 Microbial Inoculant (teraganix.com or your favorite grow store). Using the funnel, pour in 1 cup of alfalfa meal, 3/4 cup molasses, 3/4 cup EM-1. Fill the container with hot water (filter if you have contamination issues such as arsenic or excessive amounts of chlorine). Screw on the cap. Shake to mix molasses. Check the container every day for the first couple weeks, unscrewing to release pressure. After a couple weeks the amount of pressure will decrease and you won’t have to keep gassing the product. It should have a ‘grassy’ smell like hay and also a sweet to sour smell from the fermented EM-1.
The exact dilution rate and frequency is highly debated online, ranging from 1ml to 2oz/gal. I diluted 1oz of the extract and mixed in 1 gallon of water and drenched the plants (I learned about doing foliar later). It worked out great. Most of my plants grew 8” to 10” in about 10 days. I also noticed a lot of greening up in the leaves of all my plants. Choose your dilution and spray your plants’ leaves. Since you are applying to the leaves to get the best benefit, you should mix with a sticker/wetting agent, like yucca extract. That will help the mixture stick to the leaf surface and give time for the plant to suck it up. The extract will be good for up to a year when stored out of direct sunlight in a closed container.
During the vegetative cycle you can apply this mixture once per week (or bi-weekly). You can mix it with any other foliar nutrients and inputs. Mixed info about spraying after flower is out there. I asked a few growers about their applications and got all sorts of answers. Therefore, you will have to experiment and find out what works best for your plants. I imagine it will vary by the plant type.
We suggest you try incorporating alfalfa into your growing operation, if you haven’t already. In our simple trial we saw quite a bit of growth with just one application. We are sure with regular applications you’ll have some monsters on your hands in no time!