Alpalpha Pellets (Horse feed) versus alphalpha meal

mcrean1(z8 GA)February 4, 2006

I was curious to see if any of you had approached this subject before, and what you thoughts were. Alphalpha meal is sold in stores as an "organic fertilizer" and I know that it is primarily used for its nitrogen content. It is usually $13-$16 per not-so-big (20lb??) bag.

At the feed store, one can get a 50 lb bag of Alphalpha pellets as horse feed for quite a bit less.

So, the question is, how much difference is there really?

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Did you look at the ingredients of the alfalfa as fertilizer bag? If it just says alfalfa, I'd go get the feed.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 9:23PM
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wait a minute, I missed the organic part... you are paying for ORGANIC alfalfa... where as the feed isn't organic.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 9:25PM
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There's more to alfalfa than just Nitrogen-- the roots of the alfalfa plant go incredibly deep to get moisture and nutrients that cannot be reached by other plants. All of this good stuff in the cells of the alfalfa plant eventually become available to the plants in your garden. So alfalfa is typically high in trace/micronutrients.

Looking at your product choice, the word "organic" can be a gray and shady term. If the labeling on the expensive alfalfa meal reads "certified organic", then that might explain the difference in price. The word organic is perhaps being used descriptively, not technically, i.e. "organic" as opposed to "synthetic".

Very few growers would put pesticides or even fertilizers into a crop of alfalfa. Alfalfa is grown as a green manure and "hardpan buster" to boost soil fertility and organic matter (there's a huge volume of root mass left in the soil after harvest). Since it IS the fertilizer, it makes no sense to pay for extra inputs to grow it. So you can be reasonably sure that most pelleted alfalfa is not loaded with chems.

Be aware, too, that meals ("fines") are less dense than pellets-- you'll be paying for the air in bag. Fines may be little less unsightly in the garden, if that kind of thing bothers you. The fines will mix in nicely with the soil, even when dry; the pellets will remain pellets for several weeks, until rain and nature break them down. I usually soak the pellets in advance to speed up this process.

You mentioned that alfalfa is used for Nitrogen. The N content of alfalfa is far less than starchy meals such as soy, corn, or cotton. Typical alfalfa N is between 2 and 3 percent. So if you're growing heavy feeders like tomatoes or roses, you'll probably need something that packs more of a punch.

I'd go with the feed.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 1:32PM
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Alfalfa meal has a higher nitrogen contain that corn meal. Alfalfa being 3, and corn meal being less than 2. But then again, we are talking about chemical fertilizer considerations rather than organic. What is important for organic fertilizer is the protein content. Nitrogen has no food value at all. It's the protein that feeds the soil foodweb.

The crude protein content of Alfalfa pellets is 17%, and corn meal is less than 12%

But there are other considerations when choosing a protein meal, such as, Corn meal also gives you fugus control, Alfalfa provides growth hormones, Corn Gluten Meal is a root inhibitor.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 2:17PM
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Opps, I mistyped...It should say Corn meal give you fungus control...not fugus...LOL...sorry.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 2:27PM
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There has been a lot of discussion about the protein meals so if you punch in alfalfa pellets, CMG, soybean meal, or corn meal in the forum search, you'll get a lots of folks' "expertise" and thoughts.
Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 3:31PM
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mcrean1(z8 GA)

Thanks for all the feedback, folks. Actually, I've used the pellets for the last three years on my roses. Good point, Bev, on the nitrogen content being a bit low for tomato. Also true that there are other beneficial components of the pellets, as with all organic (non-chemical) fertilizers/amendments, but a search in nearly any organic gardening and fertilizer reference chart puts alphalpha and its many forms under the nitrogen category.

As to the "organic" label of the meal, I don't believe it's in the purist sense of the word. It's simply used by the marketing spin doctors to point out the fact that it's not a chemical.

Anyway, as I mentioned, the pellets are great for roses and gardenias. I've noticed that the acid loving perennials respond the best to it. Has anyone used it to target certain veggies? I tried it with broccili last year with disasterous results, so I have kept it from the veggies until I research a bit more.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 7:18PM
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I use alfalfa meal on my lawn at least once during the course of the year, usually late spring. I also use it with my daylily' and clematis. But I also use corn gluten meal early in the spring on my lawn and soybean meal in late summer and fall. Also in the fall I use feather meal.

The more diversity the better for the soil foodweb. But remember, it's the protein content that's important, not nitrogen.

Alfalfa being so benefical for roses, is also great on hosta's.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 7:27PM
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Pellets are made by steaming the meal so it can be compressed - nutrient content is likely to be reduced just be this process, although the effect may be negligible. Perhaps alfalfa's greatest value as a fertilizer/soil supplement is its concentration of tricontanol, a hormone which stimulates root development. I've yet to discover any research which specifically addresses if this benefit is also reduced in the pelleting process.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 8:15PM
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Alfalfa Pellets: Wonder Drug for Hosta's?

Here is a link that might be useful: Alfalfa Pellets

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 8:55PM
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Hey, Germ, I'm on your side here! I'm not a Monsanto troll! :-)

I understand that the proponents of the chemical paradigm have hijacked agriculture and thwarted our understanding of the way chemical processes work in soil. But just because "N-P-K" has been the mantra of the chem-heads since the 50s doesn't mean we should shun the terms.

Not to put too fine a point on your insistence on protein vs. Nitrogen, but we're talking about the same thing in different forms or stages. The dominant form of fixed N is protein. The process of mineralization converts protein into inorganic N (ammonium, nitrite or nitrate) so that plant roots can use it.

I checked on my claim that corn meal was high in N. I should have said corn gluten meal-- it's about 10%.

This link to an article by Dr. Elaine Ingham has probably already been posted on this forum, but it's so very well written-- always worth another read:

Nitrogen cycle (opens new browser window.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 11:04PM
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mcrean1(z8 GA)

I wanted to also mention that my feeding routine for the roses is to put two full large coffee cans worth of alphalpha pellets around each rose bush in January/February time frame. Then I cover the alphalpha with pine straw since the alphalpha, once wet, is kind of ugly and smells really bad.

I do this in Jan/Feb time fame as that gives the pellets enough time to get rained on and get really funky, which the roses seems to love, at bloom time.

Again, I only do this once a year. I've tried more often, like agian in mid summer, but didn't notice a difference in bloom production or plant growth/health.

Care to share your routines??

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 7:15PM
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re: tricontanol "survival" of alfalfa dehydration process. I couldn't find any research on this either. Last summer I phoned a local dehy company and the owner didn't know either. He didn't know the processing temperature-- or he wouldn't tell me-- but he guessed that the alfalfa might be at a high temperature for about eight seconds.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 9:18PM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Bev- I followed what you said up until "Be aware, too, that meals ("fines") are less dense than pellets-- you'll be paying for the air in bag.". They're sold be weight, rather than volume.

which weighs more- a pound of lead or a pound of feathers? :)

    Bookmark   February 12, 2006 at 1:25PM
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An advantage of steaming (in pellet production) is the destruction of weed seeds. By the way, I have had great success in using leguminous forage crops as living mulch. I plant red clover and birdsfoot trefoil around new shrubs and they do a fantastic job of keeping weeds down and keeping the scorching sun from frying roots. Perhaps alfalfa or crown-vetch could be similarly employed

    Bookmark   June 13, 2007 at 10:50AM
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fertilizersalesman(z6 PA)

Few comments:

There is no such thing as certified organic fertilizer. There are only fertilizers that are allowed for certified organic use. Only food and feeds are actually 'certifed organic.'

To have a certified organic feed, the alfalfa would have to be grown organically on a certifed farm. However, any alfalfa could be used as fertilizer on a certified organic farm. It is like manure, you can use manure from a conventional animal opperation as fertilizer on a certified organic farm.

Hope this helps

    Bookmark   June 13, 2007 at 11:46AM
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