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.
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.
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.
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.