Try Organic Liquid Fertilizers

A plant-based fertilizer formula

| April/May 1998

Ever since I started gardening, I’ve been improving and maintaining my soil to increase my yields of vigorous herb plants with large, abundant leaves and high levels of essential oils. Long before the term “recycling” became a catchword, I was returning plant nutrients to the soil in the form of homemade compost and cover crops that I tilled under. Over the years, I’ve developed an organic liquid fertilizer that not only makes herbs grow faster and stronger, but is actually made from herbs.

Something I learned from my parents and have always done is to lay fresh-cut leaves and stems that I’ve weeded or pruned around the base of my plants and wait for rain, microorganisms, and time to release their nutrients to the soil. One winter day, while sipping a restorative cup of herbal tea, the idea came to me that my plants might also prefer their tonic in liquid form, a sort of vegetarian manure tea based on a mixture of dried herbs.

I discovered that the practice of using herbs as fertilizer dates back hundreds of years: as far back as the ninth century in the case of comfrey, for example, and to the eleventh for raspberry and dandelion. That’s really not surprising. Like all other green plants, herbs surrender their nutrients to the soil when they decompose.

The fertilizer formula I came up with contains twelve herbs, listed below, which together contribute nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and the ten other mineral elements essential for plant growth along with numerous other beneficial substances. Many have traditionally been used as fertilizers. Two of these herbs, tansy and mint, have a reputation for attracting great numbers of earthworms, which themselves are prodigious fertilizer manufacturers. Most of these herbs are vigorous growers, so if you have them in your garden, you probably have plenty to spare for making fertilizer.

• Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
• Nettle (Urtica dioica)
• Mint (Mentha spp.)
• Hop (Humulus lupulus)
• Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
• Leaves and fruit of raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
• Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.)
• Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
• Purple coneflower (Echinacea ­purpurea)
• Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)
• Sage (Salvia officinalis)
• Garlic (Allium sativum)

The results

I’ve tested my herbal fertilizer for three years, giving one group of plants fertilizer, compost, and water while giving another group of similar plants just compost and water. Large- and small-scale growers also have used it, in greenhouses as well as outdoors. We’ve all been pleased with the results.

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