Sunday, 16 March 2014

Comfrey tea

Comfrey tea is now brewing, not the drinkable variety, but the gardening variety. My comfrey plant needed pruning before the multitude of small grasshoppers munch through  it, and within a couple of weeks the garden and pot plants will reap the benefits of a nitrogen rich fertiliser, made from comfrey tea. Hopefully, my garden will transform into a productive vegetable patch for the kitchen. 

 Using comfrey tea is much more cost effective and beneficial than buying commercial fertilisers. Last time I did this the rapid plant growth was obvious within a week. Comfrey is easy to grow, and is easily obtainable these days from plant nurseries or friends gardens. However, in the tropics if growing it in a hot garden, it tends to die back in summer. The plant I thought I had lost, which was in the most exposed and hottest part of the vegetable garden is now shooting again with the cooler weather so that is good news. Just growing the plant is beneficial to the garden as it produces a long root which creates nitrogen in the soil. Fruit trees like having  it as a companion. My next project is to let this plant go to seed, and harvest and dry the seeds. It is a very old fashioned herb, originally used externally for medicinal reasons back in Great Granny's day, as poultices for sprains, arthritis, and a whole host of ailments.

It has been a welcome surprise to note that the comfrey flowers also attract the bees and butterflies to the garden. Some say that as a fertiliser it is better than cow manure, nicer to manage certainly, however it is quite an earthy experience collecting cow manure for the garden, don't you think? Just remember to dilute it as well. 

Beware though that when you harvest the leaves from established plants, wear gloves, long sleeves, long pants and shoes as the comfrey leaves will irritate the skin.

"Recipe for Comfrey Tea"

Fill a bucket about half full of torn up comfrey leaves. It may help to place a brick on top of the leaves. Fill the container with water and place a lid on top. The leaves will rot quickly, and the lid will keep the flies out. The water turns into a dark, smelly slush, and should be stirred a couple of times during the next fortnight. The longer you leave the mixture to brew, the darker the slurry will become.

Take the tea from the container and dilute it by at least 50 per cent. I suggest you fill an 8 litre watering can quarter full with the tea, and fill the rest with water. This will give you an effective tea solution. 

The tea can  be used as a side-dressing or foliage spray. The ideal situation is to be able to fertilise the plants every 10-14 days, particularly with fruit trees, from flowering to the setting of the fruit. As a foliage spray, it should also slow the development of mildew spores.

I have read that a high nitrogen fertiliser like this one, isn't a good idea for very leafy crops such as lettuce and spinach, as the nitrogen may cause them to go to seed prematurely, particularly  in the northern summer. I think that depends on the number of plants you are growing and your yield expectations.

Happy brewing!



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