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Alfalfa







Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) previous to its introduction into California, from Chili, about the middle of the last century, was usually known by the French name Lucerne. The name Alfalfa is probably Arabic in its origin, and the term Lucerne has probably been given to it from the Canton Lucerne in Switzerland. It has followed the plant into Spain and South America, and now it seems probable that soon it will be known by no other name over all the United States and Canada. It has also been known by names applied to it from various countries for which it has shown high adaptation, as, for instance, Sicilian Clover, Mexican Clover, Chilian Clover, Brazilian Clover, Styrian Clover and Burgundy Clover. In yet other instances, names have been applied to it indicative of some peculiarity of growth, as, for instance, Branching Clover, Perennial Clover, Stem Clover and Monthly Clover. Alfalfa is upright and branching in its habit of growth, more so than the common varieties of clover. It usually grows to the height of 2 to 3 feet, but it has been known to reach a much greater height. Although possessed of a single stem when the plants are young, the number of the stems increases up to a certain limit, with the age of the plants and the number of the cuttings. Forty to fifty stalks frequently grow up from the crown of a single plant where the conditions are quite favorable to growth, and in some instances as many as a hundred. The leaves are not large, but numerous, and in the curing of the plants they drop off much more easily than those of the more valuable of the clovers. The flowers are borne toward the top of the stems and branches, and they are in a long cluster, rather than in a compact head. They are usually of a bluish tint, but the shades of the color vary with the strain from blue to pink and yellow. The seeds are borne in spirally coiled pods. They resemble those of red clover in size, but are less uniform in shape. The color should be a light olive green. The tap roots go down deeply into the soil and subsoil where the conditions as to texture and moisture are favorable. It has been claimed that alfalfa roots have gone down into congenial subsoils 40 to 50 feet, but usually less, probably, than one-fourth of the distances mentioned would measure the depths to which the roots go. And with decreasing porosity in the subsoil, there will be decrease in root penetration until it will reach in some instances not more than 3 to 4 feet. But where the roots are thus hindered from going deeper, they branch out more in their search for food. Alfalfa is perennial. In the duration of its growth, no fodder plant grown under domestication will equal it. It has been known, it is claimed, to produce profitable crops for half a century. In some of the Western States are meadows from 25 to 40 years old. Ordinarily, however, the season of profitable growth is not more than, say, 6 to 12 years when grown on upland soils. The meadows usually become more or less weedy or possessed by various grasses, and some of the plants die. The plants at first send up a single stem. When this matures or is cut back the uncut portion of the stem dies down to the crown of the plant, which then sends out other stems. This is repeated as often as the stems are cut down until many stems grow up from one plant as indicated above, unless the plants are so crowded that such multiplication is more or less hindered. The plants grow rapidly as soon as spring arrives, and as often as cut off they at once spring again into vigorous life, where the conditions are favorable to such growth; hence, from one to twelve cuttings of soiling may be obtained in a single season, the former result being obtained in arid climates, where the conditions are unpropitious, and the latter being possible only in congenial soils, where the winters are very mild and where the soils are irrigated. Usually, however, even on upland soils and in the absence of irrigation, not fewer than 3 to 5 cuttings of soiling food are obtained each year and not fewer than 2 to 4 crops of hay. A number of varieties so called are grown in this country. They differ from each other more, however, in their adaptation in essential properties relating to the quality of the pasture and fodder produced, than in the quality of food product obtained from them. The variety commonly grown from seed produced in the West is usually spoken of simply as alfalfa, while that grown from seed European in origin has been more commonly called Lucerne. The former of these has a tendency to grow taller than the latter and to send its roots down to a greater depth. In addition to these, such strains as the Turkestan, the Rhenish, the Minnesota and Sand Lucerne have been introduced. The Turkestan variety was introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture during recent years. It was brought from provinces beyond the Caspian in Russia, Asia. The object sought was to introduce a variety that would better withstand the rigors of a climate dry in summer and cold in winter than the variety commonly grown. Some strains of this variety have proved drought resistant to a remarkable degree. It has also shown itself capable of enduring without injury temperatures so low as to result in the destruction of plants of the common variety. In trials made by growers in North Dakota and Northern Minnesota, it has been found able to endure the winter's cold in these areas. But it has also been found that while the plants produced some seed in the Central Mountain States, they did not produce much seed when grown in the Northern States. Unless seed can be secured from plants grown in the latter in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of growers, it is feared that in time some of the hardy characteristics of this variety will be lost if the Central and Southern Mountain States must be relied upon as the American sources of seed supplies. The Rhenish strain comes from Central Europe. It has been highly commended by some European seedsmen for its hardihood, but it has been as yet grown to only a limited extent in America. The Minnesota strain was doubtless brought to Carver County by German farmers, by whom it has been grown in the neighborhood of Lake Waconia for nearly 20 years. It has been found much hardier than the common variety when grown in that neighborhood, and the endurance of plants grown from seed of this strain far northward has been very pronounced. As this variety produces reasonably good seed crops in Central Minnesota, it would seem reasonable to expect that it will become popular in Northern areas. Sand Lucerne, which comes from Central Europe, has considerable adaptation for poor and light soils, and in trials made at the Michigan experiment station was found possessed of distinctive merit for such soils. Where alfalfa can be grown freely, it is unexcelled as a pasture for swine, and is in favor also as a pasture for horses. While cattle and sheep grazed upon it are exceedingly fond of it, the danger that it will produce bloat in them is so frequently present as to greatly neutralize its value for such a use. It is a favorite pasture for fowls. In furnishing soiling food where it produces freely, it is without an equal in all the United States. It is highly relished by all kinds of farm animals, not excluding rabbits and goats, and when fed judiciously may be fed in this form with perfect safety. Its high value in producing such food rests on its productiveness, its high palatability and the abundant nutrition which it contains. As a hay crop, it is greatly prized. Even swine may be wintered in a large measure on cured alfalfa hay. As a fertilizer, the value of alfalfa will be largely dependent on the use that is made of the plants. When pastured or fed upon the farm, the fertility resulting being put back upon the land, it ranks highly as a producer of fertility. But this question is further discussed on page 191. As a destroyer of weeds much will depend upon the way in which it is grown. This question also is discussed again. (See page 185.)





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