Most plants appreciate a feed to stock up on essential nutrients for strong, healthy growth and we believe that natural nourishment is best. Everyone should be aware of the benefits of homemade compost, but what other natural options are available? Here are five of the best…
The much-maligned nettle is actually one of the garden’s star performers. Not only can it be eaten (nettle risotto is a favourite) and made into a tea or beer, but it can also be used to make a free plant food.
Simply pick a load of young spring leaves and stuff them into a lidded bucket, scrunching them as you go (warning: gloves are essential for this task). Cover with water, put the lid on the bucket and wait a few weeks.
After this time the liquid will start to smell rather unpleasant, but that pong also means it’s ready to be syphoned into a watering can (diluted by up to 10 parts water to one part nettle juice) and sprinkled over grateful plants.
Read more: How to grow and harvest rhubarb
The benefits of seaweed for the garden are so great that many companies bottle it and sell it as a natural fertiliser. But anyone living close to a 'weedy stretch of coast can help themselves to that goodness for free.
The best way to use seaweed is as a plant mulch: it will provide instant moisture for the plants and slowly enrich the soil with a range of nutrients. Build up the layers and not only will it suppress garden weeds, but the salt will help fend off cowardly slugs and snails.
Squash pits and bean trenches
Among the greediest and thirstiest plants in the veg patch are squash, courgettes and runner beans. As their fruits start growing they’ll be in constant demand for water and crave as much goodness as you can muster.
A great way to prepare in advance for their ferocious appetites is to dig a pit or trench and fill it with vegetable scraps.
To do this, simply dig a hole a few months in advance of where you’ll plant your veg and over the coming weeks fill it with unwanted vegetable scraps—anything from potato and carrot peelings to flower and vegetable stalks pulled from your plot. Chop the scraps up with a spade as you go along and when your hole is beginning to fill nicely top it up with a mix of soil and compost.
Aim to complete this task a month before planting and, by the time the roots have bedded in, the scraps will have started decomposing, slowly releasing water along with their nutrients to the benefit of your squash and bean harvests.
Read more: 10 Wonderful ways with pumpkin and squash
Well rotted manure, served up by your local farmer or horse stable, is one of any plant grower’s best friends. And anyone who keeps chickens will know that their non-egg output provides a special kind of goodness for the garden. But there’s another form of poo that is proving a hit with green-fingered folk: and it comes from alpacas.
As it's unlikely that you keep your own alpacas, you can buy it dried and packed (don’t worry, it’s virtually odourless). When added to your soil will slowly release a winning combination of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.
Anyone with a wood burning fire will have a source of nutrients regularly filling their ashtray, and although the nutrient levels are low it’s all free so well worth recycling.
The main drop of goodness leaching from ash is potassium, which plants love, so mixing it in with your compost will give it a nutrient boost. It can also be used as a mulch (but avoid using it on acid-loving plants, such as raspberries).
Timid slugs often think twice about traversing its dry surface and it will also slowly help with soil condition as it works its way into the ground.
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