Thursday, May 24, 2007

Weed Tea

The weeds are growing on the allotment faster than I can deal with them. But every cloud has a silver lining, and I've used some of this fabulous green manure to make a huge drum of weed tea. No, it's not an accompaniment to cannabis cookies, it's home-made plant food. Much cheaper than buying tomato food from the shops, and another example of the law of return - never take anything away from the land unless you can put something of equal value back.

Weed tea is easy to make. Fill a container (we used a huge plastic drum that was left on the allotment when we took it over) with weeds - leaves, roots and all. I used a bunch of big dock roots and couch grass roots, as well as a trug full of leafy weeds such as cleavers, good king henry, bindweed and dandelions. Then I added as much comfrey as I could gather. Comfrey is fantastic stuff, and I always make sure I leave a clump somewhere on purpose (that's what I tell people anyway. The truth is it's a bugger to eradicate even if you wanted to). It has a deep root system and draws up nutrients from deep in the soil. As a result it is rich in the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) nutrients that plants need. It is a great addition to your compost heap, you can lay the leaves around seedlings as a mulch and feed combined, or you can use it to make cheap top-quality plant food like this. I'll also bring some chicken manure from home to add to the tea next time I go to the allotment. You could add nettles, manure (sheep, cow or horse - not cat, dog or human). You can put in grass clippings, seaweed, even perennial weeds like horsetails, bindweed, even japanese knotweed! Anything you've got a lot of, heave it all in, and cover it with water.

Now you need to cover it tightly because once it begins to ferment it will smell like the devil belched. Leave it a few weeks, then put on gloves and a gas mask (I pull my jersey over my nose and mouth) and ladle some into a watering can. Dilute it with clean water until it's about the colour of tea, and feed it to your plants. Tomatoes love it, so do courgettes and pumpkins, cucumbers, all those hungry crops that take a lot out of the soil. I'm told it's also good for flowers, and I'm prepared to believe it. The stuff is liquid gold and every gardener should have some on the go at all times. What's your excuse? Haven't you got enough weeds?

When you've used it all up, tip the foul black gunge that's left over on the compost heap and start another batch. See, even weeds have their uses!

16 comments:

Sara said...

A very useful article. I will be trying this as I have lots of weeds in one of my vegetable gardens. Thanks for sharing.
Sara from farmingfriends

Hedgewizard said...

Excellent post, Mel - I'm off to drown three bagfuls of weeds!

Bill of Ballaugh said...

Simple, effective! How come this is never mentioned in any of th gardening books or in gardening columns in magazines and newspapers ?

jh said...

I have nettles brewing for a few weeks now. I didn't realise that any weeds would do the job so thanks for that. Can you tell me how regularly I should use it ? Can you over do it ?
Thank you

Wulf said...

Great stuff!

I'm a firm believer in the maxim that weeds are just plants in the wrong pace... even if the right place is sometimes soaking in water for a few weeks and creating the glorious "tea" you were writing about.

Melanie Rimmer said...

Can you overfeed plants? What a good question. I don't really know the answer to that one. I guess you can, just as you can overfeed anything. Too high a soil concentration of nutrients could probably cause electrolytic imbalances and play havoc with the plant's healthy growth (like when your fingers wrinkle in the bath, or when you preserve vegetables in brine and they go all shrivelled).

You certainly want to avoid feeding too strong a solution of this food to plants, which is why I specify "dilute it to the colour of tea". But since everything in it is water-soluble I'd imagine any excess will wash away. On an agricultural scale, run-off of fertilisers (and pesticides, herbicides etc.) is a serious problem causing pollution in waterways and other knock-on effects.

My instinct is that since this is a home-made food from natural ingredients it's less likely to be hazardous than overfeeding Miracle-Gro from the garden centre. But I don't entirely trust that instinct since home-made and natural concoctions can be just as dangerous as synthetic ones, perhaps more since they are unregulated. For example I've seen instructions to make pesticide by boiling rhubarb leaves or tobacco (cigarette butts) in water, but it seems to me that this would be just as toxic to beneficial creatures as to pests, and probably pretty toxic to humans as well. I don't use such methods for the same reason I don't use artificial pesticides.

All in all I trust my own common sense as a gardener. If my plants seemed unhealthy I'd ask myself whether perhaps I'd been overfeeding them, and I'd lay off the feeding for a while to see if that perked them up. I tend to feed every other time I water, except when I lose track, or if it's been raining a lot so I haven't been watering. Then you can see me standing outside in the rain, watering my tomatoes (actually feeding them) and looking like a total loon.

Steph in Roker said...

And I thought I was the only one who watered plants in the rain. Maybe we should start a support group. Can't think of a witty title just at the mo....

Anonymous said...

great post! do you think this could be a suitable nutrient solution for hydroponic systems? i have an EzGro on my deck with lettuce and spinach, and currently i'm using the chemical nutrient solution that came with it (probably derived from natrual gas). next season i'd like to try an organic solution.

Tracy said...

Great post Mel, really interesting.

Melanie Rimmer said...

I'm a terrible know-it-all (but at least I know it) and there aren't many topics where I'll admit near-total ignorance. But hydroponics is one of them. Not a clue, mate. Sorry.

Don't ask me anything about snooker, either.

John & Debs Barnett said...

I have been soaking weeds in an old bin for a couple of years and never new it had a name...weed tea. I like it. Great blog.

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