Soil Enhancement - An alternative view.
As more and more people recognise the benefits of gardening, more fertilizers and other growth enhancers are sprouting on
garden shop shelves. Many are overpriced, and some are what could only be described as rip-offs. The really interesting thing
is that some of the best fertilizers are easily available to most of us absolutely free! Here are just a few ideas - With all the expensive fertilizers on sale at the moment and everybody has a different idea of what should be added to improve the quality of our plants
and taste of our vegetables, it got me thinking back to when I was a child my father would go into the countryside and collect
free sheep poo from the fields, this was collected in Hessian sacks which were then steeped in water for a few weeks,
the resulting 'tea' was diluted and fed to the tomatoes, probably the best tomatoes I've tasted although I have to admit this
isn't something I've tried myself, but this year I have testing some Llama poo which was reported to have an incredible effect
on plant quality and growth, I can't say that I saw any improvement.
The other material which is on sale in garden centres is seaweed meal or concentrate which is reputed to be an all-round
soil improver. Whenever I walk the dog on the beaches here on the North East Coast I always take the opportunity to gather
a sack of washed-up seaweed, which I believe is OK to do because it's not attached to rocks and it's for non-commercial use.
Any more than a sack and It's a challenge walking half a mile back to the car. I use this in two ways, either just tipped onto
the compost and allowed to break down or steeped in water for a few weeks, use the resulting liquid diluted to give a good
plant feed. I used to wash the seaweed first to remove any salt but it isn't ever that salty despite just coming from the beach
and it seemed to me just to be a waste of good water, it's also rumoured that if you add a little sulphur free molasses into the
liquid, as with compost tea it will give it a boost. I've used 'raw' seaweed before, around courgettes, giant marrows and
asparagus, and I think it improved them, but I may be just kidding myself.
I have a patch of comfrey on my allotment which I use in various ways, comfrey leaves are a fantastic natural source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. I use it as a concentrate I prepare using comfrey and sometimes nettles to make a liquid feed.
You can also add some borage to the comfrey tea as this makes a better all-round fertilizer than comfrey alone. This can
be made from the comfrey plant by “steeping” chopped comfrey leaves in water for several weeks (placing a brick or similar
heavy item on the leaves to keep them submerged) until they form a dark, thick very smelly liquid. The liquid should be diluted
12:1 – 15:1 prior to application. Mature comfrey plants can be cut several times each season, it's also an excellent compost
activator. Adding leaves of comfrey to a compost heap gives the compost added nitrogen, resulting in increased microbial decomposition of the compost. Be careful though too much comfrey can result in an imbalance in the carbon:nitrogen of the
compost, and can actually slow the decomposition rate. It can also be used a s a mulch because being high in Nitrogen it
doesn't drag Nitrogen from the ground as it decomposes.
Whilst collecting material for composting from the kitchen I always ask that eggshells are also included this adds calcium
carbonate to the compost heap, which is basically similar to lime being a component part I also gather sea shells to add them
to the garden as well although crushing them alone as I do won't actually release any calcium carbonate they would have to be
burned to access that.
I also use banana-skins (which are rich in potassium) these can be buried directly into the ground to feed various plants.
As a child I often heard that the secret of good 'Pot leeks' was a feed of 'filtered beer' and it was years before I realised that they were
in fact referring to human urine produced after a few pints. Human urine is one of the fastest-acting, most excellent sources of
nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and other trace elements for plants, delivered in a form that’s perfect for assimilation. Not only
that, we all have a constant, year-round supply of it - and it's free! In 1975, Dr A. H. Free published his book Urinalysis in Clinical Laboratory Practice, presenting a few of the critical nutrients found in urine, including urea nitrogen, urea, creatinin nitrogen, creatinin, uric acid nitrogen, ammonia nitrogen, amino nitrogen, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, inorganic sulphate and inorganic phosphate.During a pee, a healthy adult will release 11g nitrogen/urea, 1g phosphorus/super-phosphate and 2.5g potassium.
Fresh human urine is supposedly sterile and so free from bacteria. In fact it is so sterile that it is reported can be drunk when
fresh – ask Bear Grylls; it’s only when it is older than 24 hours that the urea turns into ammonia, which is what causes the
'wee' smell. At this stage it will be too strong for use on plants, but poured neat on to the compost heap it makes a fabulous
compost accelerator/activator, with the extra benefit of adding more nutrients. There's also an environment improvement if we
started using urine on the garden rather than using fresh water to flush it away, thousands and thousands of gallons of fresh
water would be saved.