Making organic plant feed

It smells foul – but nettle ‘tea’ is meant to be a great (free and organic) feed for productive soil

I’ve done a fair bit to nourish and cultivate the soil in the garden since we move to Ballyfermot last July.

I started out rotting down green waste into the soil under a cover of carpet and cardboard over the winter months.

Then I sieved the top soil in the 2.5 metre by 1.5 metre raised bed – breaking it down and picking out stones, random bits of plastic and metal junk, and the bones of deceased family dogs buried long ago.

I then mixed in garden centre-bought compost – litres and litres of the stuff. Paying the extra for high-quality, organic compost.

I transferred compost infused soil from the bed into pots for planting various veg, herbs, fruits.

And the bed itself is host to brassicas (broccoli, kale), alliums (shallots, garlic), and ‘goosefoot’ veg (spinach, chard, beetroot).

The soil has been working for two months now and I’m conscious that its nutrients will be dwindling.

In my bid to be 100% organic, I bought a wormery with a view to using the ‘castings’ (liquid) from this to feed the soil. I left it a little late to get this set up, and six weeks or so on, there’s no liquid to be had yet (and the worms seem to be taking their time getting through the food waste).

I’ve also got a small compost bin on the go (only about a third of the waste from our two-person house goes into the wormery, the rest goes in the compost bin).

This is cheekily repurposed council brown bin that was in the back garden when we moved in last year.

I plan to use the compost to dress the beds and pots with nutrient rich soil on an ongoing basis – but again, there’s nothing to work with yet.

All the while the soil nutrition is depleting.

A friend of mine mentioned comfrey ‘tea’ a few weeks ago, and it set me googling.

While I don’t have access to a comfrey plant (I’ve added getting one to my long list), I quickly found that there are other options for making free feed – nettles and weeds.

I took myself (and Patch) off to the nearby Phoenix Park to stock up on fresh nettles and docks leaves (I read that yellow dock and burdock are the ones to use, but I thought I’d try plain old ‘dock’ and hope for the best).

Other weeds that are recommended are chickweed and horsetail. Neither of which I’ve heard of – but some day I shall endeavour to hunt out.

Seaweed is another option for those living near the sea. Animal manure too – diluted in water.

Nettle is highly recommended and the ‘tea’ very simple to prepare. Just place freshly cut young nettle leaves in water for a couple of weeks (ideally from plants that have not flowered yet). You can crush or bruise the leaves a bit to speed up the distilling process.

I covered mine in plastic and left it in a shady part of the garden.

I had been forewarned about the smell. Removing the plastic cover after a couple of weeks, a thick bovine aroma filled the air. It was borderline sickening.

I mixed one part nettle ‘tea’ with 10 parts water and gave the plants a dose, spreading the smell all over the garden… but I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

I’ve enough undiluted nettle tea for five or six more feeds. I’ve found mixed information about how often to feed – and I’ve lots of different plants on the go, so reckon I’ll give them a small dose weekly – and hopefully soon the worms will come up trumps.

But I reckon Patch and I might go back to the park and collect some more nettles before they flower, just in case.

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