Jul 182013
Alfalfa Meal

Alfalfa Meal

Alfalfa as a Plant Growth Stimulant has been used for many years, particularly by rose growers and horticulturists. Its not-so-well-known growth booster is called triacontanol, which fertilizer companies can extract from the plant as an alcohol ester compound. There are three commonly found ways to utilize this powerful addition to your organic arsenal: buy alfalfa meal, which is N-P-K rated often as 3-1-1, but this varies depending on the source, buy some rabbit feed, which is usually alfalfa pellets, or get hold of a bale of alfalfa. Some vermicompost tea/extract producers use alfalfa meal for its simplicity of use; when using this, I add it directly into the brewer at the rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. If you’re using rabbit feet, just soak the pellets until they break apart, then add to the brewer.

Alfalfa - round bales

Alfalfa – round bales

If using a bale of alfalfa, you can soak some in a bucket of water to help release the growth stimulants so they can go into solution. Some growers recommend a cup of baled alfalfa per gallon of brew water. Any of the three sources of alfalfa will be relatively fast acting due to the high nitrogen content, so take care not to use too much of it. Alfalfa is also a very good inoculant and compost starter because of the nitrogen. As always, there are many more benefits than just the N-P-K; when using an organic, soil-based product, it will also benefit your soil and plants (and you!) by its large amount of diverse micronutrients.

Here’s some links with alfalfa info to follow up on:

Mar 252013
Compost - wikipedia

Compost – picture from wikipedia.com

There can be confusion about compost piles and the liquids that come from them; this post should help clarify things.

Leachate: This is the stuff that oozes from the bottom of your compost pile when it rains heavily or you overwater the compost pile. Since this liquid comes from noncomposted or partially composted material, this liquid should not be used on plants since it may contain pathogens that have not been killed via bacteria during the composting process.

Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT): High quality compost or vermicompost is added to water, as well as additives to promote bacterial and/or fungal growth. Oxygen is bubbled through this mixture which increases the population of the microbes. This tea can be an effective microbial fungicide/bactericide when applied directly to plants; foliar application is specifically suggested for this tea as it will be absorbed by the plant readily. This tea is normally brewed for 24 – 48 hours depending on the type of tea and the ambient temperature. The advantage of AACT is that it can be selectively brewed for a particular use, and the tea has a larger number of microbes than Compost Extract.

Compost Extract: As done in the AACT above, high quality compost or vermicompost is added to water, but this is the only item placed in the tea brewer. The brewing time is much shorter – it can be 15 minutes to 2 hours. The bacteria/fungal count in the extract will be lower than in the AACT. The advantages of extract are a minimum of biofilm buildup in the brewer which allows for easier cleanup, and the extract can have a much longer shelf life. There is some evidence that there may be a broader diversity of microorganisms in extract.

For Tea or Extract, apply when temperatures are below approximately 85 degrees to promote microbial life. Repeated applications are recommended for maximum effect. At the minimum, one application in the spring and one in the fall may improve your garden’s soil and plant production.