Fertilizers are an essential ingredient in the gardening process, but commercial non-organic fertilizers can do more harm to the environment than good. And at the end of the day, we’re doing this to help the planet as well as our health, right?
We know that plants get their food and energy from the sun through that whole process of photosynthesis they couldn’t stop talking about in biology class. Then what do plants need fertilizers for? Fertilizers are like vitamin boosts for your fruits and vegetables. Plants get their carbs from the sun, but they get all the other stuff needed to make essential plant molecules like proteins and cells through the water. Water dissolves the nutrients in the soil, which the plants take up with their roots. Water mixed with nutrients can also be sprayed onto the leaves, and little holes in the leaves called stomata to take up the nutrients.
We all know about composting, and manure, but not all of us want to get that down and dirty in the garden. A quick and clean alternative solution is growing your own fertilizer. Some plants are known as dynamic accumulators and tap into nutrient stores in the soil that most of our fruits and vegetables can’t access. One of these great fertilizer plants is comfrey.
Comfrey is an easy-to-grow plant that contains more nutrients than manure when made into tea. Comfrey roots have a unique way of collecting phosphorus from the soil and storing it in their leaves (which have 2-3 times more potassium than cow manure). Phosphorus is a crucial nutrient for flowering and fruiting plants.
Nitrogen, calcium, iron, silica, and magnesium are a few more nutrients in which comfrey tea is rich. Now that we know why we want it, how do we make this ‘comfrey tea? It’s easy. Grab as much comfrey as you can (roots, leaves, flowers, and all) and stuff it into a bucket. Be careful when handling comfrey as their prickly leaves can cause skin rashes (this would be a good time to mention our protection sleeves, made for moments like these, right?).
Pour as much boiling water into the bucket as you need to cover all the comfrey. Cover the bucket with a lid (this is important) and leave it to ferment for a month. Stir it with a stick from time to time to make sure all the leaves get a chance to be fully submerged.
After about a month, you with have filthy gold. Strain the leaves from the tea, and you will have a super rich homemade fertilizer. Make sure to dilute the solution before spraying it onto the leaves of your plants or drenching your soil. The tea will vary in concentration depending on how much water you used initially. Add enough water to the tea to make it about 60% transparent, or a weak cup of rooibos tea without milk). A rough guide would be one part fertilizer to ten parts water.
Comfrey isn’t the only plant used to make homemade fertilizer teas. Many plants have developed unique ways to accumulate nutrients from the soil that most plants don’t have access to.
Alfalfa is a super nutritious plant with a deep root system that taps into stores of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Not only do the roots accumulate large amounts of nutrients, but they also have a relationship with bacteria that feed them nitrogen. You can make a homemade fertilizer tea out of alfalfa is made the same way as the comfrey tea described above. Just remember to add the roots to the mix because this is where a lot of the nitrogen is accumulated.
Clovers are often seen as a weed since they always find a way to grow where they aren’t wanted. But these ‘weeds’ are actually a gold mine of nutrients. Like alfalfa, clovers also have a relationship with the nitrogen-fixing bacteria (Agrobacterium) that feeds it nitrogen in exchange for carbs. The root systems of clovers spread wide and accumulate large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). A great addition to any homemade fertilizer, and the bees will love you for the flowers!
Parsley is another plant packed with nutrients (that must be why they always sprinkle it on EVERY dish). The leaves are rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium and will enrich any fertilizer tea.
Yarrow is the last on this list, but many, many more nutritious plants can be used to enrich your soil. Yarrow accumulates calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur. A powerhouse of nutrients! Yarrow leaves also have pest repelling properties, giving your tea a two-in-one action!
Experiment with the plants in your garden; you never know, you might have the perfect all-in-one plant spray growing in your backyard.