Wednesday, 5 March 2008

GROWING LUCERNE



Every year I intend to follow my own advice and plant at least one section of my vegetable garden with a green manure. Maybe then my garden would be as amazing as Kathy's. I have done it often in the past but now I have so many different vegetables I want to grow in the cooler months that I seem to be always putting off sowing the green manure crop..





Those of you who know my place will know I have an area down at the bottom of my block of 2 beds for rotation between things that don't need much attention and take up a lot of space - usually pumpkins in summer and broad beans in winter. Sow and forget. Check occasionally from the balcony. Come back in 5 months and pick. The third bed is a patch where I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to grow berries. This autumn that will become lucerne. My grandmother - a fine Scottish woman (who hated the heat!) - evidently had a bed of lucerne that she would cut for the chooks during summer when green feed was in short supply and also use to feed the soil of my Irish grandfather's mighty good vegie patch. (I have just realised that both sides of my family had sap in their veins - interesting). Anyway, the gist of all this is that Scarecrow recently put a post on her blog about growing lucerne.

Generally I would do as Maggie commented, on Scarecrow's post, and sow a range of things as green manure which would then be dug in before planting vegetables in spring and I intend to do this in the main vegie patch if I can find the space ha, ha! Actually I have sown mustard into the stone circle where the failed tomatoes were as it is very fast growing and I can dig it in even before I need to use that space for late autumn vegetable plantings! I hope I can keep it going in all this hot weather this week; it was a risk I knew I was taking when I sowed it so early but it was an opportunity I couldn't resist.

Lucerne (Medicago sativa), or alfalfa, as it is also called, is a perenial plant lasting 3 - 12 years, as a cut and come again crop. It has lots of history and there is excellent info on the wikipedia. It sounds like quite a magical plant so, when next you come to visit, don't be surprised to see acres and acres of bales of lucerne and me out there on a tractor, mowing my 20 square metres of crop!

5 comments:

Maggie said...

I decided to grow a variety of seeds for a green manure crop. My thinking was that if I was going to grow green manure I might as well grow some edible stuff. So I planted barley, parsley, coriander, fenugreek and beansprouts and mustard. We ended up with heaps to eat and plenty to dig in. We left some to flower to attract bees It was fun to do and I shall do this again after this hot spell.
We do not know the benefits of this kind of green crop but it seemed to be good for the soil and what we have planted there has done well.
And as I froze parsley and coriander I just had to snip the frozen flavour filled herbs into whatever I was cooking.

Pattie said...

Also, my hairy vetch is doing really well! It grew all winter and provided a pretty green landscape. It is very thick and lush now, and will probably flower soon.

Patrick said...

I didn't know lucerne and alfalfa were the same thing, or I guess I never really thought about it before.

I had really good luck one year with a combination of fava (broad) beans and white clover. Especially with the worn out heavy clay I had at the time, this combination really worked wonders.

At the same time, I've had more failures than successes with cover crops. My most common problems seem to be either a nitrogen fixing crop not establishing itself (probably due to a lack of soil bacteria), or a nitrogen fixing crop not competing well enough and becoming overrun with weeds.

I'm also intend to avoid digging on all or most of my beds in my new garden, so I'm on the lookout for a good annual cover crop that can just be cut back instead of dug in. I understand this can be done with winter rye, but I've never tried it before. I can image the crop that follows would have to be strong enough to grow through the tangle of roots the rye leaves behind.

Anyway, I look forward to hearing how the lucerne goes.

Will said...

Good luck with the lucerne plants Kate; that will be delicious!
I occasionally sprout seeds, including alfalfa - usually ones from the Diggers Club - but it's been a bit too hot recently.
Hope you and everyone are well.
-Will

Kate said...

Patrick, in Eliot Coleman's (USA)books he has a section on doing all sorts of interesting things with cover crops. I hoped to sow a cover crop between my tomato plants, as he suggested, but with the water restrictions I couldn't do it this year. Various clovers seem to feature and he also has an excellent section on the depth of the roots of the main crop and suggests cover crops which will not compete. Worth chasing up.