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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Organic fertilizer

If you're the kind of person who's prone to saying, Eew, too much information! then look away now. No, I mean it. This may look innocuous to start with, but by the time you get to the end of the post, you won't be enjoying it. Still here? Well don't say I didn't warn you.

To grow crops, I need to feed the soil, and I have various sources of food for it. I've mentioned before that I was given a load of horse manure earlier this year, which is great. Another source of fertilizer is wood ash from the wood burning stove. This is quite strongly alkaline, so I use it in place of lime, with bonus nutrients, particularly potassium. I gather seaweed and feed it to my asparagus, though I'm not sure it's doing much good, and of course, I also have garden compost.

Compost heap, half dug out

There's a lot written about how to make compost properly, but as far as I can tell, most of it seems to be how to make compost quickly. I'm not fussy about mine, apart from trying to avoid thick layers of one type of thing, like crass clippings or autumn leaves (those mostly go in a separate heap). I put pretty much everything on there. What hasn't rotted down in a year or so goes on the next heap. Last year's heap yielded somewhat upwards of 100 gallons of compost, one ants' next and three pounds of new potatoes.

In addition to this I make several liquid feeds, primarily for tomatoes, which I grow in pots bags. Comfrey is well known as a tomato feed due to its high potassium content, and I have a large plant in what's currently the potato patch. It doesn't self seed prolifically, possibly because I cut it before it has a chance, but every year there are a few seedlings, which I transplant to the edge of the driveway, so at some point I'll have a decent sized patch. Many people cut the leaves as soon as they're up, but the bees love the flowers so I leave it until after it's flowered. I don't quite leave it until it's finished flowering because it does this:

Comfrey sprawling all over the potatoes. It went all over the path, too, until I bent the stems back.

A friend gave me a useful tip about comfrey tea: It's not necessary to put it in water and leave it to make a foul-smelling brew. If you just pack the leaves into a container with a weight on them, they'll produce a more concentrated tea that doesn't smell nearly as bad.

I took an old water canteen that we bought for camping...

Five gallons is unnecessarily large for camping, and very heavy when full.
That tap is useful.

... and cut a lid into the top of it.

Not easy to get anything other than water into this without a lid

I pack the leaves into this - if there's space I include nettles as well as comfrey - and weight it down with a stone. I say leaves - I can't actually be bothered to strip them off the stalks, so I have a lot of very bulky stalks as well. If I didn't have the stalks, I could fit more nettles in.

After a while, I can draw off a dark liquid that needs diluting about 1:20 before feeding to plants.

I had horsetail so I made a tea from it, then forgot what it was supposed to be for. I think it might be a spray for blight.

The unlabelled bottles on the left are urine. Yes, that's right... mine. It doesn't smell very nice, but if I can put up with that small unpleasantness, I have an excellent, well balanced fertilizer. The limiting factor on how much can be used is the salt content, but as I have a fairly low-salt diet, I'm not too worried about that. It's completely free, and I'd otherwise use drinking water to flush it away. It's a no-brainer, really.

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