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ALFALFA - THE GREAT CROP TOR
FORAGE AT PRESENT.
Able Paper From the Pen of W. J. Spill
man of the United States Depart
ment of Agriculture.
A large proportion of our readers
are directly interested in growing al
falfa, and even those who are not will
find the following well written and
readable article from W. J. Splllman,
agrostologist of the United States de
partment of Agriculture well worth
Alfalfa is probably the most ancient
forage plant of which we have any
record. It was cultivated extensively
on the irrigated fields of Babylon, and
it is known to have been the principal
hay in the stables of the ancient Per
sian monarchs. It was brought from
Persia to Greece about 470 B. C, and
its cultivation . began in Italy about
200 13. C. It is mentioned by a num
ber of Latin writers, especially Virgil,
Varro and Columella. From Italy it
was introduced into Spain in the six
teenth century, and thence spread to
many parts of the world. Its introduc
tion into the United States seems to
have been through the Spanish mis
sionaries, at an early day, going up
the western coast of the continent
from Mexico and South America.
Origin of the Name..
The name alfalfa is of Arabic origin
and has persistently followed the plant
throughout Latin America and into
those parts of America in which the
Spaniards introduced it. The plant is
not unknown in the eastern United
States, having been introduced a num
ber of times from western Europe,
particularly from France, where it is
known as "lucerne," but it has never
gained a foothold in the east, at least,
until the last few years. It is now
being introduced under its proper
name "alfalfa." At present there is a
genuine craze among the farmers of
the eastern half of the United States
concerning this plant and some of
its more important varieties. It will
undoubtedly become the leading hay
crop of the east in those sections
where soil and climate favor its de
Alfalfa has always been the stan
dard hay plant of arid America, where
it is grown almost exclusively under
irrigation. In those parts of the irri
gated section where the soil and cli
mate are favorable alfalfa is indeed a
marvelous plant. In Southern Califor
nia, where irrigation water- is plenti
ful, and intelligently applied five
crops of hay are cut. in a single sea
son, while as far north as central
Washington three good crops are se
cured, and, in exceptional seasons
Proper Conditions Necessary.
Unfortunately alfalfa is somewhat
particular as regards soil and climate.
From its habit of growth it is not suit
ed to heavy clay soils, or soils under-;
layed by clay hardpan. Its roots pene
trate very deeply and if the soil is of
proper texture it is no uncommon
thing for the roots to penetrate the
soil from fifteen to twenty feet. In
exceptional instances roots have been
known to penetrate the soil more than
a hundred feet. This great depth of
root growth enables alfalfa to draw up
stores of plant food that aro unavail
able to ordinary crops and gives it
great longevity. Many alfalfa fields
in the west aro yielding good crops
of hay after having been cut for
twenty- five years. It is seldom wise
to leave a field of alfalfa for so long
a time as this, because plants will be
killed out here and there by tramp
ing, making the stand thinner and
thinner and allowing weeds to get n
start; but as long as the stand is good
and weeds do not bother there is no
object in plowing up an alfalfa field.
For its best development this crop
requires a deep sandy loam free from
standing water within several feet of
the surface; abundant water to be
preferably applied at stated intervals
by irrigation, in not too large quan
tities; long hot summers and winters
not too severe. Where these condi
tions exist alfalfa has no competitor
as a hay producer, but it will thrive
on a good many types of soil; in fact,
almost anywhere except in .stiff clays,
light dry sands and wet soils. The
great value of alfalfa lies in its great
yielding power, its palatability to
stock and the large amount of nitro
gen it contains. Most of the hay
crops of this country contain too lit
tlo nitrogen and it is necessary for
the stockman to make up this de
ficiency by buying expensive mill
products, such as cottonseed meal,
linseed oil cake, etc. Alfalfa is one
of those plants which draw a large
amount of nitrogen from the atmos
phere. It enriches the ground upon
which it grows as far as nitrogen is
concerned, and it has been found that,
almost without exception, a grain
crop following alfalfa makes phenom
Equal to Bran When Treated Properly.
Some recent experiments indicate
that when alfalfa hay is run through
a shredder and pulverized it is almost
equal, pound for pound, to bran as a
food for cattle. When stockmen learn
this it will certainly have a decided
effect upon the cost of keeping live
stock, particularly dairy cows, in
those sections where alfalfa is grown.
Another point that should not be over
looked is the increased value of the
farm yard manure when live stock are
fed rich nitrogenous food like alfalfa
Although alfalfa is somewhat par
ticular as to soil and climate, or
rather, it should be said, responds
readily to favorable conditions of soil
and climate, it is at the same time
widely distributed in this country. On
the Pacific Coast it has been culti
rated from Southern California to the
British line and even beyond. It Is
not grown west of the coast range of
mountains, but in the interior valleys
of the coast States it has proven itself
perfectly at home. It has also done
well in Louisiana, Mississippi and the
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other (Southern States, and last year a
lamier in i>ew lork reports live tons
per acre, 'mis snows mat tne range
ox tne adaptauility of tms plant is
greater than was previously suppose",
uumig recent years agricmtuiai ex
plorers nave endeavored to tinu vune
lies of aiialia tnat were more haruy
with reference to cold and tnat couiu
be grown on and lands wltnout Irri
gation. Their efforts nave been par
uany successnu. it was mentioned in
me liist part of tnis article tnat ai
laifa was Known to the ancient Per
sians and iiabylonians. It is still ex
tensively cultivated in western and
southern Asia, and several varieties of
it have been recently secured trom
Tumestan and adjacent regions. Some
of these give promise of being able to
withstand the winter of our
•states, and it is possible tnat we may
yet find varieties that will compete
with sage brush on arid lands.
Remarkable Interest Shown.
The interest whicn tne general pub
lic has taken in Turkenstan alfalfa is
remarkable. The United States de
partment of agriculture and the State
department experiment station are be
sieged daily with requests for infor
mation concerning this plant and for
packages of seed. Unfortunately tne
seed crop Jast year seems to have
been a failure nearly everywhere, and
it has been impossible to extend the
cultivation of Turkestan alfalfa dur
ing the season. Every effort will be
made to secure seed for distribution
another year in order that the limits
of its cultivation may be ascertained.
It is probable that we may find varie
ties superior to those already tried.
Owing to the great interest involved,
extensive investigation in this direc
tion would certainly be justified.—Pa
cific Tree and Vine.
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