Dishing the Dirt

04 Apr 2020

The right botanical brew will get your garden off to a healthy start


Ah, spring! Winter days in front of the fireplace, selecting seeds and bulbs from favorite catalogues, and catching up on the latest garden tips are all eclipsed by seed starting in a sunny window. The excitement of hearing the first warbler announce those magic notes translates into, “it’s fork and trowel time!”

On the plateau, we are blessed with winter rain and ice that help break down organic matter.  There are essential trace elements in snow – cadmium, copper, lead and zinc – that help in the garden but also keep our majestic forests in check.  After a particularly snowy winter, the rhododendrons in the spring appear to be exceptionally healthy, with dark green leaves and vigorous new growth.

So, here’s “the dirt” on making your garden a naturally nutrient-rich Eden with thriving plants and big fat worms to help this magical circle of life.

A compost bin is a wonderful thing!  Easy to start and maintain using green refuse from your garden, I am going to share some ideas from my own garden that will speed up the process. For those avid composters, these thoughts can serve as extra “vitamins” for your plants.

Making “botanical brews” from weeds and herbs is a swift and efficient way to supply much-needed nutrients to garden and container plants faster than amended composted soil. It will give plants that boost of energy at just the right time.

Here is my recipe . . . pack tightly a bucket about half full of roughly chopped leaves, stems and flowers, no seed pods! Fill the bucket with sun-warmed rainwater and steep in the sunshine for several days.  Strain the infusion into a watering can.  I love my Haws can from England with the brass rose; it sprinkles just the right amount onto the leaves as a foliar feed or into the soil for a quick fix of energy to the roots.

The strength of this recipe increases as the brew steeps. Alas, the smell of the fermenting botanicals strengthens as well. I keep several buckets in process all spring, summer and fall. Some I let sit for a day or so, used for containers on my patio and in the beds near my house.  The stronger brew I use for plants away from the house and my sensitive nose! 

Over the years, through trial and error, I have found some brew-worthy botanicals better than others.  Until summer, when Nitrogen is needed for vegetative growth, I make brews using comfrey, mallow and the dreaded stinging nettle. The addition of a weak solution of fish emulsion with this blend is perfect for maintaining strong roots.  

In early spring, I add goosefoot to the comfrey, mallow and stinging needle for an added pop of root-loving phosphorus.

To reduce summer stress to your favorite blooming beauties, add horsetail, dandelion, and any of the alliums to the mix.  This addition will make for stronger stems.  It’s my favorite for dahlias in late summer.

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