Peter Cun­dall:

Brews up a nat­u­ral fer­tiliser al­ter­na­tive.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS - with Peter Cun­dall

EV­ERY spring, the de­mand for nour­ish­ment from most plants be­comes al­most fran­tic. The driv­ing force is the com­bi­na­tion of ex­tra sun­light hours and ris­ing tem­per­a­tures.

So the main task right now, apart from plant­ing and sow­ing, is to keep our plants mov­ing, prefer­ably in the most gen­tle way. We do this by feed­ing and en­rich­ing the soil from which roots can then take up all the nu­tri­ents needed by our plants.

Most leafy veg­eta­bles are ex­trahun­gry be­cause they grow fast and need con­stant, quickly avail­able, high nitro­gen fer­tilis­ers. Hun­gri­est of all are cab­bage, cau­li­flower, kale, let­tuce, sil­ver­beet, broc­coli and most Asian bras­si­cas.

So be­fore sow­ing seeds or plant­ing seedlings, in­crease fer­til­ity by fork­ing in plenty of de­com­posed ma­nure, es­pe­cially fast-act­ing pel­letised poul­try drop­pings mixed with slow-re­lease blood and bone.

Once plants start mak­ing strong growth, they need a dif­fer­ent type of push-along.

Plants such as let­tuces and Asian

Com­post tea is ideal for house­plants and hang­ing bas­kets be­cause it has a pleas­ant, earthy smell

bras­si­cas ma­ture rapidly, of­ten eight weeks af­ter ger­mi­na­tion. So sprin­kling blood and bone around is a bit of a waste, un­less im­me­di­ate fol­low-up crops are planned.

This is where liq­uid fer­tilis­ers are so valu­able and I don’t mean those pow­dered chem­i­cals to which water is added.

I pre­fer nat­u­ral, home-made forms of liq­uid fer­tiliser. They ben­e­fit and en­rich the soil with­out dis­rupt­ing the es­sen­tial bal­ance of liv­ing things such as earth­worms, fungi, moulds, bac­te­ria and other mi­cro-or­gan­isms.

I make my own liq­uid fer­tiliser by dan­gling bags con­tain­ing a mix­ture of well-rot­ted sheep, horse or chook ma­nures in large drums or garbage bins full of water. It is left steep­ing for a week or two, with the bags given an oc­ca­sional shake.

The water rapidly be­gins to turn dark brown as nu­tri­ents leach from the ma­nures. I also add a good dol­lop of sea­weed con­cen­trate, half a cup of

Ep­som’s salts (mag­ne­sium sul­phate) and a dessert­spoon­ful of boron.

It helps if con­tain­ers are kept cov­ered with a lid of even a piece of mos­quito net­ting. This keeps out wan­der­ing drone flies (they look a bit like bees). These harm­less in­sects are at­tracted to liq­uid ma­nure in or­der to lay eggs in the gooey, stinky de­bris that floats over the sur­face. They hatch out into those, big re­volt­ing, rat-tailed mag­gots that swim around in the liq­uid. They of­ten breed in old model sep­tic tanks, some­times ap­pear­ing threat­en­ingly in toi­let bowls.

Af­ter ma­tur­ing, the dark coloured liq­uid is too strong to ap­ply di­rectly around plants. In fact, un­less heav­ily di­luted with water, over-strength liq­uid fer­tilis­ers ac­tu­ally re­tard growth.

It is enough to quar­ter-fill a wa­ter­ing can with dark-brown liq­uid ma­nure, then fill to the brim with water for ex­cel­lent di­lu­tion. Drib­ble this brew into the soil around all leafy ve­g­ies, avoid­ing the leaves. Do about twice weekly and watch them shift.

Prob­a­bly the best form of liq­uid ma­nure to pur­chase is an emul­sion made from fish waste. It has a high nitro­gen con­tent plus a good bal­ance of other min­er­als. It pongs a bit when first ap­plied (al­ways mas­sively di­lute it with water), but the smell dis­ap­pears overnight. Some fish emul­sions are sup­ple­mented with min­er­als and mi­cro-el­e­ments and these cer­tainly need to be heav­ily di­luted.

The most gen­tle form of liq­uid fer­tiliser is made from com­post, in­clud­ing the ex­hausted mush­room com­post we can buy ev­ery­where. Fill a garbage bin with water, al­most to the brim and chuck in a cou­ple of buck­ets full of com­post. Af­ter a bit of stir­ring and steep­ing of a week or two you fin­ish up with ‘com­post tea’.

This liq­uid – and solids - can be used di­rectly and undi­luted around the most leaf veg­eta­bles and even ex­tra-sen­si­tive plants.

Com­post tea is ideal for house­plants and hang­ing bas­kets be­cause it has a pleas­ant, earthy smell. A few years ago I also ex­per­i­mented with this nu­tri­tious brew around seedling let­tuces, broc­coli and Chi­nese cab­bages, planted in im­pov­er­ished, sandy soil.

Af­ter three months of this treat­ment the top 15cm be­came won­der­fully fer­tile and seething with earth­worms while the har­vested veg­eta­bles were crisp, juicy and amaz­ingly tasty.

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