Planting Alfalfa Again

I’ve planted alfalfa . . . again. I think the last time I planted alfalfa in this field was 1964. Then it included a lot of disking, and I planted wheat in 1963, then vernal alfalfa with a nurse crop of oats in Spring of 64. The alfalfa has pretty much ran out in nearly sixty years, and the field just doesn’t look right without it.

It isn’t a great hayfield – over a century ago, draining a shallow lake with dynamite looked like a fast way to make a hayfield. The problem was the soil under the lake – not just high in calcium, but high in calcium salts. Not just clay, but one of the few northern vertisols. Taking the top water off by draining the lake didn’t keep from having a high water table. No matter how much I liked alfalfa, it was challenged.

The world has changed over the last half-century. This time, I’m planting a variety of alfalfa that was developed for the saline seeps of the east side. It’s salt tolerant. It’s more water tolerant. It has branching roots as well as the deep taproot, which help with poorly drained soils – kind of turning poorly drained into sub-irrigated. If I’m reading the literature correctly, it should be better suited for my field than the Vernal I planted over 50 years ago.

It even tolerates herbicides.  I’m used to alfalfa curling and dying if a delivery truck drives by with a closed jug of 2,4 D.  This variety tolerates using Imazethapyr to control broadleaf weeds and Sethoxydim and Clethodim for grasses.  The tag claims that I can get away with using up to 3 quarts per acre of 2,4 DB with only minor crop damage.  Other varieties even offer roundup tolerance – but I’m more concerned with salt tolerance.

If all goes well on my planting, I’ll be adding 16-20-0 fertilizer next year – a little nitrogen, a little phosphate and a bit of sulphur.  My clay soils have plenty of Potassium, so fertilizing the first little alfalfa field with Dad’s old fertilizer spreader will be fun.  I suspect the deer will like it.

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