Feed with weeds

Boost your beds, borders and boughs with some nourishing comfrey or nettle tea, says Kitty Scully

Comfrey has a pretty blue or pink flower, but can run rampant in the garden. It has a variety of cosmetic, medicinal and pharmaceutical uses.

NO more than our good selves, plants need a little pick me up every now and again. Why buy liquid fertilising feeds when you can grow and make your own organic fertilisers for free! There are a plethora of ways to nourish, condition and improve your soil. Incorporating compost, seaweed dust and well rotted manure releases nutrients slowly, allowing the plant to avail of the nutrients as they need them. However, liquid feeds are taken up immediately by the plant, thus giving an instant boost to your veggies during the growing season.

ORGANIC PLANT FOOD FOR FREE: NETTLE & COMFREY FEEDS

Liquid feeds are super easy to make and the most common ones are nettles, comfrey and seaweed. Nettles grow wild and are the perfect tonic for nitrogen-loving leafy greens. Comfrey also grows wild and can be cultivated with minimum effort and is ideal for potassium loving fruit bearers.

Nettle Tea/Feed Step 1: Collect 1kg of nettle leaves (use gloves when picking them).

Step 2: Put the nettle leaves in a hessian sack or any bag made from a porous material — an old potato sack is perfect for the job. If you put leaves straight into the water you will end up with a highly unpleasant slime which will eventually end up clinging to your plants.

Step 3: Put the sack in a bin or bucket and add 20 litres of water. It will be absolutely stinking after a few weeks so it’s vital to use a tight fitting lid. Otherwise the neighbours will be talking.

Step 4: Wait about a month (or more if you can).

This tea is strong and needs to be diluted before using. The rule of thumb is to use 10 parts water to 1 part nettle liquid. Draw off small amounts in to the watering can and then fill it up with water so that your mix is the colour of weak tea. All plants that are in need of a boost will appreciate a sup, but it’s particularly effective on those leafy greens such as cabbage, kale, chard, etc.

Comfrey Tea: It sounds like something that you would drink yourself when you are in need of comforting, but in fact it’s a cold, putrid smelly liquid that stinks to high heaven but your veggie plants will absolutely love it. Comfrey is a hardy deep rooting wonder herb that was traditionally grown for its virtue in wound healing. These days organic gardeners grow it specifically so that they can harvest its leaves to use as a fertiliser, mulch or to add to compost heaps. The good news is, bees love it also. No organic veggie garden should be without a patch.

It’s a sinch to grow and be warned it’s more of a question of how to stop it growing than how to grow it. It tends to be invasive so put it somewhere contained and in an unused part of the garden. It will do well in most soils, even under trees. Bocking 14 is the variety that is recommended to grow for liquid feed purposes.

You can harvest the leaves from the comfrey plant three to four times a year and use them to make a dynamite fertiliser which is rich in potash and therefore excellent for fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, courgettes, squashes etc. The exact same process applies as with nettle tea but quantities are slightly different — 500g of leaves to approx 15 litres of water.

Be warned that both these feeds are concentrated and must be diluted and they are highly smelly, so I wouldn’t recommend using them on indoor plants, especially before a special dinner party! If you live on the coast, the same process can be applied to seaweed, simply replace the nettles with seaweed. You can also make manure, compost and dock tea by following the same steps. It is not recommended to use feeds on young seedlings as you do not want to push plants too fast, but once they get established they will benefit from a liquid feed every 10 — 14 days.

KNOW YOUR ENEMY: CARROT ROOT FLY

The Carrot Root Fly is the bane of most carrot growers existence and it is worth taking steps to prevent this arch-carrot nemesis from striking at the get-go. She lays her eggs in the soil near carrots and about a week later the larvae emerge and begin feeding.

First symptoms are a reddening of the carrot leaves and if you lift the root you may see the creamy-coloured larvae which are about 1cm in length, or the tunnels they have created. There are usually two generations of flies who lay their first eggs in May/June and a second generation laying in August/September. Carrots growing in the ground at these times are vulnerable to attack, with often more damage being caused by the second generation.

A Few Tips for Preventing this Prime Pest

1. Covering the crop with a fleece or bionet to prevent the flies from laying eggs is one of the best solutions. Make sure to bury the edges of the fleece to prevent the flies from getting in.

2. When in flight the carrot root fly stays low to the ground, so surrounding the carrot bed with a net reaching at least 60cm(2ft) high or growing them in raised beds which are more than 2ft can deter them.

3. It is thought that this fly is attracted by smell, which is particularly strong if you are thinning carrots. Sow sparsely to avoid having to thin and ensure to remove thinnings and other waste from the area.

4. Planting rows of onions or garlic between each row of carrots is said to minimise smell and you could try mixing in some annual flower seeds such as Cosmos, Larkspur and Nigella to give a show of flowers through your carrots and confuse the Carrot Root Fly.

4. Sow a resistant variety — ‘Fly Away’ and ‘Resistafly’ are good.

Forage and find…

Ground Elder can be a real pest in any garden and this pernicious weed grows with vigour throughout the British Isles. Centuries after the Romans introduced it, many gardeners battle with this unwanted gift, but take solace in the fact that it was not introduced to solely annoy gardeners all those thousands of years ago, but because the Romans actually enjoyed eating it.

Ground elder is best when eaten young before it flowers. Raw leaves make a great addition to a salad bowl and it is tasty when cooked in stews, casseroles, omelettes, soups and steamed like spinach and tossed in butter or olive oil.

Ground elder is rich in vitamin C, iron, calcium, magnesium and carotene. It is said to be an anti-inflammatory and have mildly sedative properties. Traditionally it has been used as a treatment for gout, sciatica and rheumatism. It can be taken internally as an infusion and also applied externally for stings and burns. So instead of letting this unruly weed invade your plot and strangle your plants, control it by eating it and availing of all the good things that it has to offer.


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