It doesn't smell like roses but it will make anything grow, writes Meg Liptrot
The most extraordinary liquid fertiliser concoction I've ever seen was one brewed by John and Norrie Pearce at Shelly Beach Farm, a 173ha organic and biodynamic property in the Kaipara.
The farm's pasture was lush and green, a testament to their approach, and a beautiful doe-eyed Jersey cow was chewing her cud contentedly in the paddock as we traipsed our way to the liquid fertiliser set-up.
Several large stainless-steel milk vats had been appropriated for this giant brew, which contained by-catch from fishermen, including very large stingrays breaking down in the soup. The final product is diluted, and has biodynamic preparations stirred in to enliven the mix, then it is broadcast by tractor over the pasture. Different biodynamic preparations are added, depending on the season and purpose.
The biodynamic "preparation 500", which is often broadcast on pasture is designed to increase biological activity in the soil using potentised manure. This cow manure is packed into hollow cow horns which are then buried and left to mature over winter. The resulting decomposed manure is almost odourless, and has special qualities. Small quantities of this preparation are then swirled in alternate directions in a vortex of water (see image at top right), and sometimes mixed with organic fertilisers.
Over Christmas, I met a couple in the Hawke's Bay who have been improving their small block of land which had been compacted by previous owner's stock. They were excited with a new tank attachment which is well suited for biological farming. This unit mechanically broadcasts relatively large material through a spray nozzle as it is towed along behind a tractor. In this case, they used vermicast (worm castings), herbal ley seed, lime and biodynamic preparations added to water. The resulting pasture has become healthy and diverse, and the topsoil is increasing in depth and quality.
In the home garden, making liquid fertiliser usually requires a little elbow grease. Keeping a brew of fertiliser stirred ensures that the material breaking down in the mix is oxygenated, helping to reduce anaerobic ammonia fumes, which can get pretty stinky. There are a few classic liquid brews which are easy to make at home.
One of these is a seaweed concentrate. All you need is a barrel, preferably one which hasn't had anything toxic stored in it. Fill the barrel with rainwater then add a couple of buckets of seaweed. Leave a large stick near the barrel and stir the brew every time you walk past. The seaweed will rot over several months and all the micronutrients and alginates which soil loves will be in the mix.
The easiest liquid fertiliser by far is vermi-liquid, or "worm-wee" as kids love to call it.
This is the liquid which drains from a worm-bin and is an excellent way to make black gold from kitchen scraps.
It is full of nutrients which feed the soil, helping produce lush healthy gardens and a bounteous harvest.
Comfrey tea: High in potassium, good for flowering, fruit-set and root development. It's easy to grow your own comfrey. A dry mix can be made by packing a bucket with comfrey leaves and letting them rot. The resulting black paste is a super-concentrate to be diluted with water. Alternatively, add leaves to a barrel of water and wait for them to break down, then use the resulting "tea".
Fish fertiliser: High in nitrogen and good for foliage and plant growth. Find a spot downwind of your neighbours, and keep covered. A great use for fish carcasses.
Seaweed: A soil conditioner and foliar feed which can be sprayed directly on to plants. Improves soil structure, has good micronutrients, and helps prevent pests and disease.
Vermiliquid/worm wee: A good all rounder and a good foliar feed, depending on what you feed your worms. Dilute with water to a tea colour.
Dilute your brew and don't apply in full sun.
Summer salad greens
How to grow them
Spring plantings of lettuce will be going to seed about now. While the soil is still warm, sow or plant more, and a weekly application of well-diluted liquid fertiliser to the foliage will keep them growing well. Pull out anything that's gone to seed and put in your compost. You could leave a couple of plants in to go to seed, and let them self sow or collect the seed. Modern lettuce cultivars have had any bitterness bred out of them, but the addition of bitter greens to a salad is great for your health. Young dandelion leaves, or chicory or rocket leaves, can be used for this purpose.
In the kitchen
Combine mixed salad greens, sliced spring onions and cherry tomatoes with a balsamic/avocado oil dressing. Decorate with edible blue borage or nasturtium flowers for a healthy summer salad.