Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
Making natural plant feed isn't difficult and can by made from many different sources like seaweed or even weeds. See part 1 to find out how.
Liquid fertilizers that can be made organically in the garden using herbs. It is a great way to tame those herbs which self seed and spread quickly like fennel or those which grow fast like lemon balm or mint.
Here are some herbs and flowers which can be used to make a natural plant feed in the garden:
1. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), 2. Nasturtium, 3. Strawberry, 4. Borage (Borago officinalis)
You can even make liquid fertilizers using manure, soiled bedding from animals, worm castings and compost. There’s sure to be a recipe you can try in your garden.
As warned in part 1, natural homemade liquid plant feeds smell pretty terrible but the plants love them!
Herby Liquid Fertilizer
Don't be mistaken that this one will smell any better than the others, it doesn't! Like Gardener's Revenge, simply place at least 1/2 bucket of chopped herbs into a bucket and cover with water. Cover with a lid and leave 2 to 4 weeks.
Any culinary herb can be used and some of the medicinal ones. Avoid using anything which is poisonous. Some of the best herbs to use as a liquid fertilizer includes strawberry leaves, mint, dandelion, chamomile, yarrow and nettles. You can use a mixture of herbs or stick with a single variety.
The water should be drained off into bottles or containers and labelled with the contents, particularly if you used a mixture of herbs. To use, dilute around 1/3 cup in 2 gallon watering can for general watering. If using as a foliar feed, reduce the quantity to around 2 table spoons to a gallon of water to avoid leaf-burn.
Comfrey Liquid Fertilizer
Comfrey is a herb which can sometimes get a bit out of hand in the garden. Using it to make liquid fertilizer helps you to keep the plant (or plants) in check.
A young comfrey plant.
How I was originally taught to make this liquid feed is a slightly different process than the other liquid fertilizers.
To make, you will need a container punctured with a hole (or several holes if placing a bucket within a bucket). If using a bucket with a single hole, place up on a couple of cinder (breeze) blocks and place a watering can or container below to catch the liquid which will drain out.
Fill the bucket with comfrey leaves then weigh down with bricks. As the leaves decompose, a brown liquid will drip out into the container below. Store the liquid in a cool dark place. If you place the liquid in a bottle, don’t tighten the lids — the liquid ferments in warmer weather.
To use, dilute 1 part comfrey fertilizer to 15 parts water.
You can also steep the comfrey leaves in water like the other liquid fertilizers then dilute down. In Utah, it is too dry to make comfrey fertilizer how my family taught me above (it’s a lot wetter in England!) so I use the steep in water method.
In summer, it takes about 2 weeks for the comfrey in water to be ready to use.
Comfrey leaves make a great addition to the compost heap by acting as an activator.
Manure Liquid Fertilizer
Take a mesh or net bag and place in it some manure. One piece of horse manure is enough for 10 gallons of water. Let the manure steep in the water, use a wire clothes hanger to hook the bag onto the side of the container.
After 4-8 weeks, the manure can be added to the compost heap once the water has been strained into containers or bottles.
Horse, sheep, goat, donkey, chicken, rabbit and duck manure can all be used in this way. Don't use dog or cat manure as this can harbor diseases and pathogens which can be passed to humans. You can also use compost or worm castings in the same way if you don't have access to manure.
To use place about 1/3 cup of the feed in a 2 gallon watering can and fill with water.
• A mesh bag such as those citrus fruit, onions or sweet potatoes come in can be used to contain the plants or manure in the water. You can also use hessian or burlap to make a bag or container. Using a bag will reduce the particulates in the fertilizer when you want to use it.
• An old sieve or colander works well to strain the bits out.
• Don’t use the rose on your watering can when feeding as this may get clogged with debris from the liquid fertilizer.
• You can make these fertilizers in winter to use in the spring, they will take longer to breakdown and can take up to 6 weeks before they are ready for use.
• Periodically open the containers to let any gases escape to reduce the risk of exploding bottles of liquid fertilizer.
• Variety is the spice of life so they say! Feel free to add in other decomposable materials to boost your liquid feeds. One of the best feeds I made had soiled bedding from the coop, feathers, crab shells, rockdust, weeds and dried kelp in it. The benefit of adding different things to the fertilizer is that you will get a better variety or macro and micro-nutrients and trace elements which your plants will benefit from.
• If you find that the quantities for diluting are not improving your plants much, experiment with adding a little more and seeing what you’re crops respond best to.
• You can use an aquarium pump in the water you are steeping the plants or manure in to improve the microbial quality in the resulting feed but it isn’t necessary.
I love experimenting with the recipe for my homemade fertilizers and the knowledge that they are completely organic. If you want more colourful, vibrant plants and better harvests; I urge you to give it a try and see if you notice the difference too.
Emma Raven has been gardening, cooking, canning and home brewing for most of her life. Formulation scientist, blogger, home brewer and avid gardener. Born in a village on the northern east coast of England, she now calls the Wasatch Mountains of Utah home. Find Emma at Misfit Gardening, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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