Guest Post From The Mighty Sara Venn. Compost Tea.

A big thank you to Sara Venn for writing this post for Higgledy…Sara is the head of compost tea making in Northern Europe and her words of wisdom must be heeded by all. I am using Sara’s methods on my beds in the walled garden at the Port Eliot Estate….it really does work wonders. You can find Sara on Twitter and she is a very approachable lass.  NB I added some images…so if they don’t quite fit, then it’s my fault not Sara’s. 😉

Compost Tea.

The excitement of seed sowing and germination continues but most people will, by now at the beginning of June planted out their first sowings of the wonderful Higgledy Garden range and will be patiently waiting for them to put their roots firmly into the soil and start to grow upwards, ready to begin flowering in a few weeks time.

Be they Orlaya or Calendula, Centaurea or Papaver, they will all benefit from a good bit of feed at this time of year and when the lovely Ben asked me to write this piece for his blog, we thought between us that a bit about how to feed your plants and your soil for free, might be a grand way to help you help your plants grow big and strong and bloom floriferously throughout the summer and into the autumn.

Orlaya grandiflora looking very dashing.
Orlaya grandiflora looking very dashing.

So to begin a really great idea is to feed your soil with compost tea, a magical brew that fills your soil up with beneficial bacteria and fungi, ensuring there’s no room for the bad guys and making the soil an ideal home for your precious flowers. Whether you are a gardener growing in your own garden or allotment, or a flower farmer relying on your flowers for the season ahead, the health of your soil is the most important part of everything you do, so start doing this in early April and repeat monthly and your soil will thank you by ensuring your plants are healthy and perfect! It’s very simple and the only thing you really need is a large bucket or plastic drum or old bath. Into said vessel add a shovel of horse manure or cow manure that is fairly fresh, half a shovel of homemade compost and a scattering of comfrey leaves and fill the vessel with water. After 24 hours you will find the whole brew is bubbling slightly and at that point it is ready to be watered onto the soil at a rate of one part tea to 9 parts water. Once the brew has stopped bubbling, throw it away as it has become anaerobic and so won’t be much use.

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Compost tea feeds the soil, but of course your precious plants need feeding too and for that there is also a free, if somewhat stingy answer! Well not too stingy as long as you’re wearing gloves, as the main ingredient for this recipe is nettles. This tea is used in the spring and early summer to boost the plants and help them put on lots of leaves and greenery so that we can go ahead and keep pinching them out to make fuller, healthier plants that will flower more and uses those fresh, young, green nettle shoots that we see in late spring and that are full of nitrogen which young plants need to thrive and grow before they start to flower later in the season.

Again all you need for this is a bucket or plastic drum, enough nettles to fill your vessel and enough water to cover the nettles. Leave them for 3 to 5 days to brew and then water onto your newly planted out seedlings, 1 part tea to 10 of water, on a weekly basis and watch them start to grow away like crazy things. Soon they will be full and you’ll be pinching them out and refeeding and the season will be pootling along and then suddenly it will be midsummer.

 

On midsummer’s day, the old nurseryfolk will tell you, you must stop feeding nitrogen to your plants and move onto feed rich in phosphorus and potassium. They are completely right as now what is needed is a feed that will help with flowering and fruiting and thickening of cells for plants that are to be overwintered. It is also around this point that the nettles begin to get woody and flower, making them no good for teas and so we move onto another old favourite, that again is free!

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Comfrey has been grown in gardens for centuries as both a medicinal herb and to help feed our plants and it is rich in the nutrients needed for good flowering and fruiting. A small patch of comfrey in the garden will soon spread and this is a way of keeping it under control whilst utilising it in the best way possible. One warning though……Make sure you remove all the flowers before making the tea as the seeds don’t die in the process and you will end up with a garden full of comfrey if due diligence is not taken. You have been warned. And yes, that is the voice of sad experience many years ago.

To make the tea, again fill a vessel with comfrey leaves and then cover them with water. You will need a vessel with a lid for this, and some patience as the tea takes 10 days to 3 weeks to be ready, so for ongoing feeding you will need a couple of vessels successionally filled so that you don’t run out. Now the reality of comfrey tea is that you know it is ready when, and only when, it smells as bad as anything you have ever smelt, of something rotting, or even as some have described it, of death……..

But bear with the pungency and water it onto your plants at the same rate as nettle tea, 1 part death smell to 10 water, and watch your plants flower as they never have before. Use on everything that flowers and fruits and you will see flowers a plenty and your crops will be abundant. It is particularly good for chillies and tomatoes as well as an abundance of glorious cut flowers from your Higgledy Garden seeds!!

Sara Venn.