Category Archives: Natural Fertilizers

Comfrey Tea

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have just finished making a couple of batches of comfrey tea which I will use as a liquid fertilizer on all my pots, vegetables and anything that looks like it needs a pick-me-up. Comfrey is by far my favourite plant to have in a garden, although I should just add that in my garden, my comfrey plant is relegated to an area at the very back behind the leaf composter, as you can see in the following picture:

seryk picture 1

Comfrey is a plant that should be in every garden. In my garden I use it strictly for either mulch or as a fertilizer, which is why the location of the plant is not as important. However comfrey has many more uses; it is an amazing multi-functional plant meaning that it can take on many different roles in a garden. It attracts both bees and other beneficial insects with its pink and purple flowers. Traditionally comfrey (once called knitbone) was used for wound healing, with poultices made of mashed leaves being used to heal cuts and scrapes. The long, large tap root can be used to break up hardpan and heavy clay soils. In addition the tap root is very efficient at ‘mining’ the soil for minerals and nutrients, which is then stores in its leaves–this is known as a dynamic accumulator plant. The leaves can be cut and simply laid on the ground as a mulch wherever they are needed or even added to the composter, or they can be used in a tea form.

By cutting down the plant to about 12 inches, this will trigger the plant to regrow. I typically cut mine back 2-3 times per year. In my last garden, I used comfrey in the orchard where I would plant 3-4 plants around each fruit tree. The comfrey attracted pollinators and other insects to the orchard and I cut the comfrey down using the leaves as a mulch around the trees.

The following picture shows my comfrey plant just after I cut it back:

seryck picture 2

Making compost tea is easy, however I should add that it does smell really bad, so you just need to be aware of this when choosing a place to let it sit for the 2 weeks or so it requires. All you need to do is cut the plant down and add the leaves and stems to a bucket of water. I put mesh over the top of the bucket to keep away the mosquitoes, and leave it in an area of the garden where it will not be disturbed for approximately 10 days to 2 weeks. After that time, strain all the decomposing material off straight to the composter and you have your undiluted liquid. I use this at about 1 part manure tea to 10 parts water, and mix straight into to a watering can.

The following photo shows the comfrey tea after I have strained out all the leaves:

seryck picture 3

There are many videos you can find online showing different ways to make the tea. Here is one that is easy to follow:

I have been using comfrey tea as a fertilizer for roughly 10 years, if not more, and have never had any plants that have had an adverse reaction to it. It is not a miracle grow; it will not double the size of your plants, but it is free, you know exactly what is in it, you have the knowledge that you’ve made it yourself, it is all natural and organic, and for plants in pots, raised beds, or greenhouses you are feeding those plants with nutrients that would normally be present in the soil found in your garden.

Book Review – The Natural Formula Book for Home & Yard

by Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

Yesterday I was lamenting the fact with a friend, who has just celebrated her 90th birthday, that something had been eating the leaves on my fruit trees. She went away and quickly returned with a book that in her own words talked about using an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach which consisted of making home pesticides using ground up insect pests.

Having piqued my interest with visions of myself running around in my pajamas early in the morning trying to catch said insects, I felt that I had to read the book, The Natural Formula Book for Home & Yard, edited by Dan Wallace and published in 1982.

book cover

The section in the book that I most focused on was the section entitled ‘Outdoor Formulas’. Topics described include the importance of nourishing and rebuilding the soil using organic methods such as composting and mulching, crop rotation, interplanting, companion planting and succession planting, along with fertilizing and managing garden pests. The book does a good job explaining what each of these terms means and gives a detailed explanation on types of composting, how to achieve the correct balance between carbon and nitrogen, and what materials to add.

Natural Fertilizers

Natural fertilizers are discussed in detail and the reasoning behind using natural or organic fertilizers (as opposed to chemical alternatives) is laid out reasonably and convincingly. Formulas are included for making your own general purpose organic fertilizers, as well as specific fertilizers for trees. What I like about this book is that detailed descriptions are included that explain the reasoning behind each ingredient and how to apply the fertilizer. An example of the all-purpose tree fertilizer formula is as follows:

  • 3 parts soy or blood meal
  • 2 parts finely ground raw phosphate
  • 3 parts wood ash, granite, rock or green sane
  • 1 part dolomitic limestone

trees_royaltyfree

Managing Garden Pests

Managing garden pests is outlined in the book as follows

‘There is more than one way to approach garden problems and so-called pests, Insects, soil diseases (like fungi), prolific weed control, and trespassing wildlife can be viewed as enemies that need to be obliterated as soon as they are discovered – or they can be considered natural occurrences that call for careful management’.

IPM is described as a way to structure your garden or farm so that different animal and plant species can coexist and complement one another thereby creating a stable growing environment where no individual species takes over; balance is created.

Steps to achieve this balance include achieving good soil health, choosing the correct plant varieties, and growing crops at specific times when pests are less active. If however balance is lost, there are a number of formulas included for making your own organic sprays. These formulas are given with the suggestion that you should first try spraying with cold water from the hose for at least one week before resorting to other sprays. Again, the formulas are given with detailed explanations on how and when to spray along with the reasoning behind the individual ingredients. Sprays include liquid soap sprays, plant and insect sprays, dormant oil spray and botanical sprays.

At the time of writing this review, I have not tried any of the recipes or formulas in the book, I am therefore not recommending that we all start catching and grinding up our garden pests. However it is an interesting read and does offer us alternative options.

Used copies can be purchased through Amazon.ca or your local used book store (links to Peterborough area stores below)

Mark Jokinen Books

Lakefield Station Book Store

Knotanew Bookstore

NOTE: The book explores more than just gardening/outdoor solutions – it also has detailed directions for making polishes, stain removers, detergents, shampoos, herbal remedies, baking mixes, cereals, and other household products from easily available ingredients.

For more information on IPM, please check out the following links:

National (US) Pesticide Information Center on IPM

OMAFRA IPM

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