After an accidental discovery in an unwanted barrel in the corner of his garden, Justin Newcombe explains how you, too, can brew liquid gold.
We stumbled upon the idea of the weed barrel entirely by accident during one frenzied tidy-up episode in the garden (probably just prior to a family get-together at our house). That old plastic drum that had been lying derelict and unloved in the corner of the garden, the one that had unintentionally become a secret dumping ground for those of us who were too lazy to dispose of our garden "tidy-ups" in a more responsible manner, had somehow, miraculously, spawned liquid gold (and quite a few mosquitoes as well).
But even more fortuitous was that shortly after this discovery, we found out that a weed barrel is, in fact, a very legitimate gardening activity, one that is actually endorsed by serious home gardeners the world over.
The great thing about weeds is that anyone can grow them. Their other attractive feature, which is almost universally overlooked, is that because of their tenacious tendencies, they are experts at accumulating large quantities of nutrients, even if the soil itself is generally quite depleted. Weeds such as dandelion and dock have almost infallible tap roots, enabling them to harvest all sorts of nutritious goodies - namely phosphorus, potassium and magnesium - which translate very nicely into healthy, edible crops. Other potential allies (that you may already have on your hit list) include chickweed, clover, fennel, nasturtium, and nettles.
Implementing your weed barrel is a no-fuss, simple affair. The only real consideration is to make sure you use a container or bucket with a well-fitting lid because obviously any stagnant water will attract those much-loved mosquitoes. If you have small children around, any place where water pools is a safety issue, so be sure to position your barrel thoughtfully and with lid firmly in situ. You also need to ensure you use a clean receptacle that hasn't been contaminated with any nasty substances in a past life. Once you start filling your barrel with weeds you will need to add enough water so that they are just covered. Rainwater is preferable to tap water (the plants like it more), so if you're expecting one of those delightful winter downpours we've come to know and love, leave the lid off and let the barrel fill up a little. Feel free to add other ingredients to your soup over the winter months such as seaweed, animal manure, banana skins and any excess herbs like borage, chamomile, parsley and yarrow.
An enormous benefit of a weed barrel is the dreaded seeds you don't want in your compost heap will be thoroughly decommissioned by their submergence in these murky depths. Some brave souls have been known to include fish carcasses and their own liquid gold. Basically, the smellier the better.
Check on its progress a few times over the winter period, giving it the odd stir or top up as needed. Come spring time you will be in possession of all the liquid fertiliser you will ever need for the busy gardening period. Dilute and use as required.