Plants Need Tea, Too!

Teas provide a wealth of nutrients and trace minerals for growing plants.

| June/July 2004

When we make tea for drinking, we are extracting the flavonoids, essential oils, vitamins and minerals from the plant material. We brew the tea, strain out the solids and sediment, and drink the tea. Our bodies take up the nutrients we need, and the excess is flushed out in our elimination processes.

A similar process takes place in the garden with the use of natural fertilizers. Liquid fertilizers are multi-taskers, feeding and watering plants at the same time. Using plant- and animal-based ingredients to fertilize the land is a common practice among organic gardeners and farmers.

Brewing your own fertilizer tea can be messy and stinky. Live bacteria and algae will multiply rapidly, which is good for the soil but intense for the senses. Think of these teas as earth medicine — even if they smell a bit brawny.

First Teas — Something Fishy

When each of us began gardening organically more than 30 years ago, the first fertilizer we used was liquid fish emulsion. It came in a brown plastic bottle full of a thick, dark brown concentrate, which smelled as fishy as its name. The directions were to mix it with water and water the plants with the diluted solution. These were our first experiences using a type of tea to feed our plants. Later, we tried a liquid kelp fertilizer that was also a concentrate with similar instructions, although besides watering the plants with it, the label suggested using it as a foliar spray. Fish emulsion and liquid kelp are excellent fertilizers we still use today, but over the years we’ve added other natural and botanical substances to our arsenal of nutritive garden teas. 

Manure Tea Experiences

Living on a biodynamic farm in Italy, Susan learned about the art of manure tea. There was a large old bathtub outside by the garden for this purpose. The farm had chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and the manure from these animals was put into piles and aged for six months to one year. A large bucketful of the aged manure was dumped into the bottom of the tub, and the tub was filled with water. This was allowed to sit for at least three or four hours and stirred every now and then with cherry-tree branches that had been tied together loosely to form a broom-like whisk. We filled the watering can or buckets from the tub and carried this smelly water to each of the plants in the garden. The tea was prepared whenever there were new transplants, and also was used throughout the growing season. It was amazing to see how well the plants responded to this manure tea.

While gardening at the Ozark Folk Center, Tina made her first manure tea. She would go to visit Bob the mule and gather his manure. After letting the manure age, she’d put a gallon or so of it in a 5-gallon bucket, add water and stir with a hickory stick. Bob’s manure tea fed the herbs and old-time flowers planted around the park.

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