Brews up a natural fertiliser alternative.
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.