The Gardens of Chiconia 31: Hubble, bubble…

Introducing Garden Tea. But we’re not talking the delicately aromatic brown beverage served in dainty bone china teacups with a scone or fairy cake on the side.

No, what we have here is an altogether more muscular and power-packed product. It’s something I brew up in my cauldron a large plastic dustbin for the benefit of my green babies. It smells scarily bad. It looks scarily awful. It heaves and seethes and is packed with bacteria. But it’s good. Most of the ingredients are not especially, um, well, photogenic, so this post is going to be image light and text heavy.

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Manure – alpaca, in this case.

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Blood & bone

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Start with a 60L (15 gallon) black plastic bin with a lid. It really, really needs a lid… Into this, tip a 15kg (30 pound) sack of manure. This should ideally be from a ruminant (sheep, cow, goat, camel, alpaca, etc), but horse or donkey is fine if that’s all you have access to. Dog, cat or human is not OK, and we’ll come to chicken later. What you’re looking for is a low nitrogen product with a large proportion of the helpful gut bacteria you find in ruminants. Lower bacteria = longer brewing time. One thing to bear in mind, though, is that if you’re using domestic animal manures you need to check when they were last wormed. Manure from a week later is fine. Next day manure will still contain chemicals which will kill the good bugs in the mixture.

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Lucerne (alfalfa) hay

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Fill the bin half full with water, poke and stir the manure till it’s loosened up and evenly distributed. Sprinkle onto the surface a heaped trowel full of blood & bone powder. Stir in. Add a large bucketful of fresh comfrey leaves and stir in. If you don’t have comfrey, use dandelion or nettles instead — or as well. All these plants are very, very deep rooted and bring up nutrients from levels below the reach of most other plants. The nutrients are then deposited in their leaves, and brewing the leaves in Garden Tea makes them available to whatever you’re going to use the Tea on. Comfrey stinks evilly when it’s rotting down, so you’ll want to position your bin so it’s out of nose-shot from the house. If you can get hold of seaweed, add a half bucket of well washed seaweed. Add another bucket of green weedy stuff without seeds. Here’s your chance to get rid of the pests: purslane, sorrel, ground elder, tradescantia, etc. They will break down completely in the brew. You can also add any spent pea or bean plants, lucerne (alfalfa) hay, grass clippings from a clover lawn, or pond weed overgrowth for a bit of extra nitrogen.

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Pelletised chicken manure

If you have access to worm tea, add a half bucket of that. If not, don’t worry, it’s not a drama. Now it’s time for the chickens to do their bit. A couple of heaped trowelfuls of pelletised chicken manure, or half a bucket of the fresh stuff. Yes, it’s a bit eeuw, but picking it up will help keep their run clean and healthy, and it’s great for the brew. There’s one final, and optional, ingredient. Urine. Fresh. Say, one morning’s-worth from two people. The first one of the day is the most useful, being more concentrated. It’s a powerful booster, but don’t add it if you’re taking antibiotics. Stir this lot up. Put on the lid and walk away for at least 2 weeks to let it do its stuff.

The tea will bubble, seethe and get quite lively. It’ll go faster if you leave it in the sun. Tip the lid off with a rake or broom if you can, otherwise lift it off and step back. There’ll be a big stinky waft of biological-warfare proportions, and then it’ll settle to merely a powerfully horrible smell. I keep a plastic jug handy for the next bit, which is dedicated exclusively to the Tea. Dip a jugful of the liquid out, skimming the floaty bits out of the way. Pour this slowly into a watering can filled 3/4 full of water. Add till the water in the can turns a golden weak tea colour.

Time to give your plants a massive treat. It works well as a foliar feed for trees and non food plants, but you may not want to tip it over your cabbage and lettuces, in which case, pour it into the soil at the base of the vegetables. Don’t use it for about a week before you plan to pick leafy vegetables, and be sure to give them an extra thorough wash before you eat them. It is, after all, full of poo.

In general, there’s no hard and fast rule about what and how much to put in your brew, but bear in mind that whatever you add needs to rot down (so no wood and avoid seeds), it needs to contain manure and bacteria, and comfrey is the easiest natural way of adding trace elements and hard to access minerals, so it might be worth your while acquiring a plant. I add a half bucket of azolla water weed when I can get hold of it, as this will speed up the process, both in the Tea and if you add it to your compost; it rots ‘hot’. Once the level has dropped a bit, add a bucket or two of water to refresh it, and if you find yourself tearing through the contents a bit fast, start a second brew… Once you’re down to the bottom sludge, put this on the garden and start the new lot.

I used to pass it on to friends undiluted in 3L (6 pint) plastic milk containers, but that’ll have to wait till I get my first brew finished.


30 thoughts on “The Gardens of Chiconia 31: Hubble, bubble…

  1. Wow, that is a recipe to read during lunch, ha ha !!!
    Your plants must be very happy!

  2. Sounds awesome. But i’ll leave it all to you and my other eco-friends 🙂

  3. Your tea is a tad more complicated than I used to make (when I had a garden), but essentially similar ingredients. I can confirm that it works really well. Pot plants adore it and reward you with abundant flowers. Veggies lap it up and transform it into lovely meals.

  4. Kirsten says:

    Hmm, I would give it a go but I don’t think I will be able to get my hands on all the ingredients . . . !

    • katechiconi says:

      Give it a go anyway! You need manure and comfrey, and ideally the urine. All the rest just adds layers of plant nutrition, but the first three are the important ones. Your garden will thank you!

  5. tialys says:

    This looks not unlike the Smoothie I just made for lunch. My daughter had to close her eyes to drink it 🙂

  6. Carole says:

    Why did I read this just as I was about to sip my nice cup of rooibos tea? It’s quite put me off it 😛

    Sounds like your plants get fed very nicely though 🙂

  7. katechiconi says:

    The plants will be in heaven. Sorry about the rooibos, though…

  8. Clare says:

    This is so great! It’s springtime in Chicago, and we’re in the process of turning our trashy mud pit of a backyard into a beautiful garden. Our future green babies will need all the help they can get. Do you have any issues with critters getting into your tea (in our case rats)? Or is it foul enough even the hungriest critter would stay away?

  9. Magpie Sue says:

    Thank you for sharing your recipe! I would love to get my DH to make a bucket of this for our intended garden (I’d prefer to do it myself however). I’m sure he’d be game but I’m not as confident he’d find the time and energy to actually DO it. We sure have the dandelion crop to throw into the mix…

    • katechiconi says:

      The nice thing is that you only have to do anything once. All the ingredients go in, you stir, and walk away from it. The ingredients themselves can be collected slowly over time and will keep till you’re ready to go. Lots of dandelions is good! It means they’re bringing up nutrients the other plants can use!

  10. claire93 says:

    your plants are going to be so lush with this astonishing brew!

  11. EllaDee says:

    I’m bookmaking this brew for future use, so I can delight and amaze with my garden offerings… I always wondered how people managed wonderful displays of potted flowers – garden tea might be their secret. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

    • katechiconi says:

      Pleasure! I’ve supplied loads of concentrate to people with only houseplants, so I can confirm they enjoy it too, and of course, if you’re gardening on a balcony or in a courtyard, it’s good as a regular feed to replace what the plants can’t get for themselves from the soil.

  12. anne54 says:

    Cauldron may have been exactly the right word to use. This mixture would delight any white witch, and produce magic in the garden! I pop comfrey leaves into the compost. They say to be careful when planting it, as it can spread easily from little pieces of root. I have never found that to be a problem and my plant has grown happily in the same place for about 30 years.

    • katechiconi says:

      I’ve found that if you leave comfrey alone, it will behave, but if you try and chop it down, it goes into survival mode and spreads like mad in an effort to save itself.

  13. Jen Gardener says:

    I love that it bubbles. Lucky plants of Chiconia!

  14. I have a feeling that my little dog would love to roll in this ‘big stinky waft of biological-warfare proportions’.

    • katechiconi says:

      Yup, that sounds like dog-preferred activity! Keeping the lid on would help, and of course, when you use it it’s greatly diluted and perhaps a little less attractive?

  15. Nanette says:

    I’m definitely going to make some when I move, neighbours are a bit too close where I am now……and I have access to all those yummy ingredients. Just off topic slightly…..people I knew in India used to drink their first wee of the day….said it was good for their health and returned all that concentrated goodness back to the body…..I still gag thinking of it. Weather is behaving so far….

    • katechiconi says:

      Oh, that’s just nasty! They were forgetting that it’s also the body’s way of getting rid of things it doesn’t want – they were just putting them straight back in! Got my fingers crossed you don’t get too much of a downpour, but the forecasts are not too encouraging on that front…

  16. You’ve got this down to a science. I’m far lazier. I bring up a wheelbarrow of well-rotted cow manure and add a few shovelfuls to a bucket of pond water. Let sit, use, repeat.

    Your bubbling brew of wise (and wee) ingredients sounds far more effective!

    • katechiconi says:

      I think perhaps it’s more what advertisers would call “a complete food” because of the extra trimmings. I have some seaweed soaking to remove the salt as we speak!

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