How to grow and use alfalfa in your garden

Flowering alfalfa
Flowering alfalfa

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) or Lucerne is a favorite both in the garden and kitchen. It’s faster and easy to grow outdoors as well as indoors to add a nutty taste to sandwiches or salads. Alfalfa is perfect to grow as you can easily sprout in containers and eat it within just a few days, or grow it as green manure in your home garden to help promote a good healthy soil.

The plant offers many essential nutrients for humans –it helps with the purification of the liver and blood, detoxification of urinary tract, and maintaining body alkalinity. But perhaps most people will remember alfalfa for its extensive commercial use as fodder for livestock. It acts as a rich source of calcium, protein, boron and many other essential elements.

Other than human and livestock use, planting alfalfa in your garden helps restore your soil’s fertility and enhance the growth potential of your garden. Below is a quick overview of how to grow alfalfa in your garden.

How to grow alfalfa

It’s important to note that alfalfa is a perennial crop that grows up to 3 feet tall and spreads 2-3 feet. The plant flowers in May-July and the flowers look like clovers, which can be blue, yellow or purple. The leaves are tri-foliate, narrow and oblong or oval in shape.

Planting and Growing Details

Sunlight:

  • requires shade/sun with up to 3-4 hours of sunlight. You can quickly grow alfalfa sprouts in just 3-5 days indoors in a small tray or a glass jar. When sprouts get to about 2-5 inches, you can transplant them to your garden beds.

Water:

  • it requires regular watering, where you water the topsoil whenever it turns dry. You generally need to keep the soil aerated and moist, but not saturated. Too much watering can result in the development of fungal diseases and rots.

Sowing method:

  •  the best sowing season is spring to summer. You need to prepare a weed-free garden with firm soil so that there is increased contact between the seeds and the soil. Plant your seeds at the recommended rate and keep the soil moist to prevent the developing roots from drying. As earlier mentioned, you can also start by sprout the alfalfa seeds indoors before transplanting the sprouts into your garden.

Care:

  • always keep your alfalfa garden free of weeds. If you have a relatively small garden, you can opt for manual weeding. Otherwise, pre-plant herbicides are recommended for larger plantations. Apply fertilizer as per your soil test results. But the most common fertilizer used at planting is N.P.K fertilizer (a combination of Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium)

Pests:

  • Some of the most common diseases include bacterial wilt, common leaf spot, Downey mildew, and leaf rust. Use appropriate pesticides depending on the disease incidence. Commons pest such as whiteflies, alfalfa caterpillars and aphids tend to promote the growth of sooty mold.

Harvesting and use

If you’re growing alfalfa for your consumption, the best time to harvest your produce is at sprouting stage – about 7-10 days after planting the seeds or at least in the early stages of growth. the larger the alfalfa becomes the woodier the stocks are and the stronger the flavor becomes.

When growing for alfalfa green manure, you will need to allow the plants to grow until the purple blooms develop, at which point you can either just mow it back in the garden or leave it in a fallow bed until you are ready to cultivate the bed and put it back into use. Alfalfa will break down in the soil, releasing nutrients as well as stimulating microbial activity. Additionally, alfalfa adds nitrogen to the soil while it grows and provides erosion protection. If you live in a rural location, alfalfa can be used as fodder for livestock such as chickens, rabbits, and other animals, if your fallow garden location is fenced.

If you’re harvesting alfalfa herb for livestock fodder, you will need to harvest and cure it before flowing sets in or at early bloom. When flowering sets in, it gets difficult for livestock to digest the fodder. Harvesting at early bloom also ensures that you take advantage of the most nutrient content. Also, you will want to want to gather your livestock manure and cultivate it into your garden or add it to your compost pile.

Related References

Perennial – How To Grow Garlic (Chinese) Chives

Garlic (Chinese) Chive flowers
Garlic (Chinese) Chive flowers

Garlic Chives or Chinese Chives (Allium tuberosum) are a quick growing, hardy, plant which needs very little maintenance or care. They are a prolific grower, and 1-2 plants are generally enough for a home garden. They are a good choice for a beginner garden and, also, add value to established gardens. They look especially beautiful as a border around a garden with their bountiful blooms. The garlic chive is similar to regular chives, yet, is distinctive for its garlic flavor as opposed to regular chives, which taste like onions. They are also called Chinese chives, Chinese leeks, or allium chives.

Garlic Chives Description

  • Chive plants grow 10-20″ tall. The plant sports tall grass-like foliage that is flat and narrow. As it grows, the leaves curve downward with their tips pointing to the ground. This creates a fountain of green foliage that remains orderly and pretty all through the growing season. At the base of each leaf, the stem is a small white bulb which is edible, as are all parts of the plant.
  • In the fall or late summer, they produce beautiful white flowers that bees and insects adore. The flower stalks emerge from the base of the plant and stand tall above the green leaves. A round bulb-like ball forms with dozens of tiny star-shaped flowers. Flower heads should be removed before going to seed since they self-seed easily and can quickly spread and become an invasive if not monitored.

Are Chives Perennial?

  • Yes! Garlic chives grow in USDA hardiness zones 3-9. They have a long growing season and will grow all year-round in climates where the ground doesn’t freeze. In climates where the ground freezes, they will die back during cold weather and reemerge in the spring.

Growing Chives

Location

  • To begin, choose a space in your garden which will be a good permanent place for them. Since they are perennial, they will need a designated spot. They need between 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. They like rich, well-drained, soil yet are adaptable to growing in a variety of soil types.

Planting

  • Garlic chives can be grown from seed or started from divisions. To start them from seed, plant them 1/4″ deep and 6-8″ apart. Garlic chives grow slowly, just a few inches a year until they reach their mature height of 10-20″.
  • To start growing chives from a division, carefully dig out a mature plant. Divide the plant into sections and plant each section in its own location with plenty of space. When you plant from divisions, hold off harvesting any leaves for the first year as they establish themselves.

Maintenance

  • Once they are established, garlic chives need little care. They are very hardy and tolerant of heat, cold, and drought. Sometimes the center of the plant will die when it gets too large. If this happens, pull up the plant and remove the parts that are still good. These can be replanted as divisions.

Harvesting

  • The leaves can be cut and used as soon as they are 3” tall. Cut down the leaves to the base, leaving just a bit of green showing. Like most greens, the leaves should be cut back on a regular basis to encourage new growth. The flower heads of Garlic chives can be cut off and used in salads. The small bulb roots can be pulled up for use in cooking. They have a strong garlic/onion flavor that can be used for a variety of culinary purposes.

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Oregano

Oregano Herb
Oregano Herb

Life Span

  • Perennial

Scientific name

  • Origanum vulgare

Height

  • 18 inches

Spread

  • 12 inches

Description

Oregano Flower
Oregano Flower
  • Oregano is a bushy, spreading, perennial with abundant oval leaves and purple blooms. Be careful to get the correct species. To be sure of avoiding disappointment, buy a plant that you’ve tested by crushing a few leaves and smelling or tasting them beforehand. It should have the distinct aroma of oregano.

Ease of care

  • Easy

How to grow

  • Grow in full sun, in average to sandy and preferably alkaline soil (add lime generously, if the soil is acidic).

Propagation

  • Buy your first healthy plant, then use division, layering, or cuttings to obtain additional ones.

Uses

  • Fresh or dried leaves tomatoes, cheeses, eggs, beef, pork, poultry, she potatoes, sauces; Flowers floral arrangements, Dried branches baths

Preservation

Dry Oregano
Dry Oregano
  • Clip fresh as needed.
  • Harvest at the time of bloom and hang dry or freeze.

Coriander, Cilantro, Chinese Parsley

Is it an herb or a spice?

The coriander plant is both an herb (cilantro leaves) and a spice (coriander seeds).

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a very fast-growing herb which can be grown just about anywhere. Cilantro is a relative of the carrot family, sometimes called Chinese parsley, or Coriander. Cilantro is the leaves, roots, and stems (eaten as herbs) of the Coriander plant, while the seeds (coriander) are used in cooking as a spice.

Cilantro has a very strong unique odor and is relied on heavily for Latin, Asian, and Caribbean cuisines. Cilantro, also, resembles Parsley in appearance which is not surprising since they are related. Cilantro has been in use a long time in Egypt, India, and China, and later it was introduced to Latin America where it is still used today.

Cilantro can and has been used to mask the scent of rotting meat. Cilantro has two identities since Cilantro is what the plant is referred to in its earliest stages, and when it is fully developed and sets seed, which is the Coriander spice. Cilantro is fast growing grows very quickly but will bolt in hot weather and die  fast also.

Cilantro can easily grow in a pot, or as microgreens. Cilantro is best harvested early and frequently before the onset of bolt or flowers.  Once the bolt or flowers begin, it is best to let it go to seed And harvest the seed for coriander or stock seed for the next planting.

Today, Cilantro can be found in most grocery stores in the United States both as fresh green or as dried herbs. Not everyone likes Cilantro. Generally, people either love Cilantro or hate Cilantro.

Life Span

  • Annual

Scientific Name

  • Coriandrum sativum

Height

  • 24 to 36 inches of inches leaves look

Spread

  • 6 inches

Description

  • The bright green, lacy leaves look very similar to flat-leaved Italian parsley on the lower part of the plant but become more finely fernlike further up. This large annual has a leaf and root flavor that is a cross between sage and a citrus. The seeds, however, are simply citrus like.

Ease of care:

  • Easy

How to grow:

  • Plant in rich, well-drained soil in full sun. Coriander plants are best located where they are protected from the wind since they blow over easily.
Flowering Coriander, Cilantro, Chinese Parsley
Flowering Coriander, Cilantro, Chinese Parsley

Propagation:

  • By seed, once the soil is warm in spring. This service a cool weather loving herb, when the weather turns warm it will Bolt and go to seed

Culinary Uses

Cilantro Herb
Cilantro Herb
  • Fresh or frozen leaves (Cilantro) can be used on potatoes, rice, clams and oysters or chicken. Fresh leaves are frequently used in salsas and on chicken soup.
spice (coriander seeds)
spice (coriander seeds)
  • Seeds (Coriander)  can be used in marinades, cheeses, pickles, mushrooms, stews, curries, chicken, quickbreads, potpourris
  • Fresh roots can be used in salads, relishes

Preservation

  • Harvest only fresh, young leaves and freeze them promptly.
  • Harvest seeds when they have turned brown but are not yet released.
  • Cutoff whole plant and hang-dry inside paper bags to catch seeds.

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Edible Flowers

Edible Flower Mixed Greens Fresh Salad
Edible Flower Mixed Greens Fresh Salad

Flowers are something most people don’t consider edible, even though the have likely been eating and or drinking them most of their life without much consideration.

Taking advantage of edible flowers and allow the multi-use their plants as food sources.  May flowering plants also have edible leaves, stems, berries and/or fruit. Given some care not to hinder your berry or fruit production, edible flowers and allow your family to begin eating from more of your garden earlier that would otherwise be possible.

Here is a quick list of edible flowers:

Edible Flowers

NameLongevity
Anise hyssopTender Perennial
ApplePerennial
Bee BalmPerennial
BorageAnnual
CalendulaAnnual
ChamomilePerennial
DandelionPerennial
Daylily Perennial
DianthusPerennial
Elder (Elderberry) flowerPerennial
English DaisyPerennial
FennelPerennial
HibiscusPerennial
HoneysucklePerennial
JasminePerennial
Johnny-Jump-UpAnnual
LavenderPerennial
LemonPerennial
LilacPerennial
LindenPerennial
Malabar SpinachAnnual
MintPerennial
New Zealand SpinachAnnual
PansyPerennial
Pineapple GuavaTender Perennial
Pineapple sageTender Perennial
PumpkinAnnual
Red CloverBiennial
RosePerennial
Scented GeraniumTender Perennial
Signet MarigoldAnnual
Squash (summer & winter)Annual
SunflowerAnnual
Sweet WoodruffPerennial
Tuberous BegoniaPerennial
TulipPerennial
Turkscap Perennial
VioletPerennial

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Perennial – Mexican Oregano (Poliomintha longiflora)

Mexican Oregano (Poliomintha longiflora)
Mexican Oregano (Poliomintha longiflora)

Mexican Oregano is a culinary herb and native to North America,  even though in central Texas you are more likely to see it in landscaping that in the vegetable or herb garden.   Mexican Oregano has a very different flavor than Mediterranean oregano. Mexican Oregano stronger and more bitter, this more robust flavor makes a good companion for the spicier and stronger flavored seasons used in Mexican cooking. peppers, cumin).

Common Name

  • Rosemary Mint

Origin

  • Mexico and the southwest United States

Hardiness

  • Perennial
  • Evergreen
  • Drought tolerant
  • USDA hardiness zones: 9-10

Height

  • 2 – 4  feet

Spacing/Spread

  • 3 – 6 feet

Flower Color

  • Tubular lavender flowers, about,  1 inch long

Season

  • Blooms Spring until frost

Repels

  • Deer Resistant

Attracts

  • Butterflies
  • Bees

Requirements

  • Full to Partial Sun
  • Well-drained soil

Propagation

  • Easy to grow from root cuttings
  • Like Rosemary, the branches can be rooted and, pruned and transplanted.  Basically, scrap the bottom of a branch, cover with soil,  weight/pin it to the ground, and keep moist (don’t over water) it roots.  Then, prune the branch from the parent plane, gently dig it up (if you didn’t root it in a transplant pot), plant in new location water regularly, until the transplant has set in for the first season.

Use

Culinary Use

  • Frequently used as a replacement for oregano, although not botanically related. It is sweeter and less bitter than oregano. Used to flavor marinades, meats, tomato dishes, bean dishes, eggs, soups, and stews.

Medicinal Use

  • Used as a tea for respiratory infections, gastrointestinal tract disorders, nervous system complaints, and a palliative for sore throats. The plant was said to contain oils that had bacterial fighting properties.

Landscape Use

  • In central Texas, popular in landscaping as a middle tier perennial.  I usual plant them in groups of three to five plans, about 18 inches to two feet apart.

Perennial – Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Perennial, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

This herb plant was first used by ancient Greeks over 3,000 years ago. Largely used for medicinal purposes.  Yarrow is also, sometimes, used as an ornamental flower and as a companion plant.  Yarrow has Fern-like, finely divided leaves. Has tiny florets, about 4 inches wide, which depending upon the variety may be white, yellow, cerise, and red.

Hardiness

  • Perennial

Location

  • Full sun

Habit

  • Upright with some side growth
  • About 18 -24 inches’ height and about the same in width.

Use

  • In dried flower arrangements
  • As a compost simulator
  • Companion plant near aromatic herbs to enhance the production of essential oils.

Cautions

  • May cause an allergic reaction if taken internally.

Attracts

  • Butterflies

Requirements

  • Select a site with full sun and very well-drained soil. Yarrow thrives in hot, dry conditions and low soil fertility, but won’t tolerate wet soils.

When to plant

  • Sow seeds in fall or spring

Season

  • Foliage will appear with warm weather and may bloom from spring until the fall frost.

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