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greenthumbomaha September 17, 2018 07:23 PM

Alfalfa in the Garlic Planting Hole ?
I have heard of using alfalfa pellets in the planting hole to improve clay soil and add nitrogen for young transplants. This got me thinking about buying organic pellets to improve a new area of clay soil for garlic.

Would the pellets break down soon enough to release nitrogen to the newly planted garlic? Is this a good use of resources for soil improvement? I have seen the organic variety of pellets selling for $20/ 40lbs from a feed store and it has to be ordered.

- Lisa

clkeiper September 18, 2018 09:13 AM

No idea but I have seen weed seeds germinate from alfalfa pellets... Lots of weeds and specifically crabgrass. So, you might want to do a germination spot before using them all up.

PureHarvest September 18, 2018 11:15 AM

So alfalfa pellets have 3% N.
This means that there are only 1.2 lbs of actual nitrogen in that 40lb bag.
Than means you are paying $16.66 per pound of actual nitrogen.
Not a big deal for a small area, but relative to large scale that is expensive.
The chicken manure based stuff I have is $3.13 per pound of N.
As far as soil conditioning, yes you are adding carbon/organic matter with the pellets, but you would have to add a lot to a given area to make a difference.
This is fine if you are planting a few tomato plants in a short row, but if you are making beds of any decent length, your 40lb bag is going to disappear faster than can cover the beds at a rate that will amend your soil. Fertilizer wise, still doable, but soil conditioning wise, not really a needle-mover because it is just not that much biomass.
Lets say you want to prep a 3' x 50' bed that you will plant 3 rows of garlic in.
That is 150 square feet. In acre terms, that is .0034 of an acre.
The rec for nitrogen per acre for garlic is 100 lbs for the crop, with all 100lbs of that coming from a pre-plant application if it is a slow-release form like your alfalfa.
If you use a soluble form, you would do that application in the early spring, split into multiple apps over a couple months ideally.
So, lets say you want to put down 100lbs before you plant.
100lbs x .0034= .34 lbs of actual N needed.
But your pellets are only 3% N.
So, .34 / .03= 11.33 lbs of pellets to fertilize a 3' x 50' bed with a rate of 100 lbs per acre.
So, how big and how many beds are you planting?
Ideally, you add compost or do cover cropping the year/years before you plant to amend and condition your soil, and look at organic fertilizers as, well, just fertilizers, not major soil conditioners.
Remember, the soil is biological, physical, and chemical.
Adding organic fertilizer will change the bio and chemical, but probably not the physical by itself. Changing any one of the component does affect the others, but a holistic approach to changing all three over time is a multi-year process.
I know that does not help this year, but if you can look at where you will plant 2 years from now, you can start to look at cover crops in spring and fall that will alter your soil positively. Biomass above the ground is not what you are chasing. It's what everyone sees, so it is over-rated. It's the bio-mass below ground via roots that matter. Those roots interact with microbes, sink exudates and carbon to feed the rhizosphere and physically penetrate deep into the clay layers, opening up channels for air and water exchange.
Look for mixes that will give you fiberous (shallow) and deep penetrating (more chord like).
Permanent covers like grass and clover are good too but can provide good habitat for wireworms (bad).
The areas I will move into in the future have been in tall fescue and clover for 4 years. Permanent cover is always one of the best soil health builders.
Currently, I kill that off and plant into those areas.
But, the wireworms. I have too much bulb damage from them.
So, brown mustard is the crop I am looking at to move from my tall fescue/clover pasture.
This means that I need to tarp off next fall's area at the beginning of next year so that I can plant mustard there in early spring. Then come fall, I just need to till in the dead/dying cover of mustard and plant into it.

bower September 18, 2018 07:21 PM

Math! I love it! (as long as someone else figures it out...) :yes:
I've been using bone meal in the planting hole for my garlic. We tend to acidic conditions here so the extra calcium is a plus. The bone meal is 10-14-0, I have no idea how my little jigger works out in pounds per acre though.

I really like the dried chicken manure products that have been available here the last few years. Very handy and a nice balanced fert to dig in overall the bed. We don't see alfalfa pellets here, too far from the source I guess. So I have nothing to add about that. :?!?:

PureHarvest September 18, 2018 07:46 PM

Bower, take the square feet of the area you are going to grow in and divide by 43,560 (sqft in an acre). Most likely will be a tiny number.
Multiply that times the number of pounds per acre your crop is recommended to get.
Then divide that by the percentage of the element you are calculating for.
I do this because all of the professional recommendations for nutrients are in pounds per acre.

greenthumbomaha September 18, 2018 10:28 PM

Once again, thank you for the excellent information ph, and the warning carolynk.

The idea of using the alfalfa pellets came from a garden club lecture I recently attended about daylilies. The breeder has a demonstration garden on a quarter acre suburban lot very near me and her topsoil was stripped when the subdivision was platted, leaving hard pan clay. She throws a handful of the pellets before planting and has very friable soil now. Good producing heirloom tomatoes too.

If the local nursery comes through with tilling services I can have cover crops in the future. It was way too hot for even radishes this spring.

- Lisa

A row of hot peppers will be in the last row to the left. I can grow hots out in the open if I don't use Osmocote. The critters didn't bother the hot peppers the way they did the sweets with organic granular fertilizers or ripening fruits.

bower September 18, 2018 10:39 PM

Thanks PH!! That's a really useful formula to know. :)

greenthumbomaha September 18, 2018 10:51 PM

Also useful for lawn fertilizer if that is your thing :) :)

- Lisa

PureHarvest September 19, 2018 06:51 AM

No problem.
The tricky part is who’s recs do you use as far as how many pounds per acre a given crop needs.
Soil type matters too. Then, when do I split the app and how.
There is a commercial vegetable recommendation guide I use from the colleges in this region.
Gives you a starting point. Then your own experience over time let’s you figure it out. Plus new research on specific crops comes out often.

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