Teas and Spices for your Garden
Summer is upon us! Time to get outside and enjoy what little sunshine we get in the Pacific northwest. Perfect weather for “perusing the estate,” as my mother would say. We don’t think about it often, but plants need proper nutrition in order to thrive, especially nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Most of these are naturally occurring in the soil thanks to friendly bacteria and yeast, but the nutritional content of the soil may become depleted over time. You’ll find those three magic elements in most commercial fertilizers, but they can be expensive and the run-off from your flower beds can cause problems for your local ecosystem. Instead, here’s a few teas and spices to keep your plant babies well fed and safe from pests.
Comfrey is a gardener’s best friend. This plant is known far and wide for its nutritional value. Not only does it contain the big three (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) but it also contains calcium and potash. This herb is particularly popular in permaculture gardens, as it can be grown during the off season and then composted for later. There are two easy ways to use comfrey in your garden or potted plants. The first, is to mix the dried leaves into your potting soil. As the leaves decay, they will release their life-giving nutrients into the soil as a natural fertilizer. Another way to use the dried leaves is to make a tea with which to water your plants. Most recipes call for a 4:1 of water to comfrey (or one quart water to every one ounce of dried comfrey leaves). Steep the tea for at least four hours. If possible, leave your comfrey steeping for a couple days or weeks; the decaying leaves release more nutrients (but be warned, it’s going to stink.) Dilute the mixture in a gallon of water and then water your plants as needed.
Don’t stop there. Your plant babies want a cuppa too. Both tea and coffee contain nitrogen compounds and help attract good bacteria. Old tea leaves make for a great addition to compost. I like to save my used tea bags and put them in the bottom of my flower pots to retain moisture and prevent the soil from falling through the drainage holes. Acid loving plants such as roses, azaleas, rhododendrons and blueberries will appreciate the occasional cup o’joe (black please, no sugar or cream.) Used coffee grounds can be mixed into your potting soil or sprinkled on top of or around your plants. Never do more than an inch deep of coffee grounds, as it can harden to a solid layer and prevent water from soaking through. In general, it’s recommended that no more than 20% of your compost is coffee grounds. A little coffee goes a long way.
Nutrition isn’t the only thing your garden needs. Pests can wreak havoc on an otherwise healthy garden. Luckily there are a few natural remedies you can try before resorting to synthetic pesticides. Strong smells such as cayenne and garlic keep Peter Rabbit out of your cabbage patch, while also repelling insects and slugs. To make an all-purpose repellant, add one teaspoon of cayenne, onion powder and garlic powder to a quart of water. Add a teaspoon of mild soap (I like castile) and spray lightly on and around your plants. This mixture can be stored for a week in the refrigerator. Once again, coffee grounds can be used here. The coarse texture will keep slugs and snails at bay, while caffeine works as a natural insecticide.
And lastly, after a long day of gardening labor it’s time to have a cup of tea. For those warm summer evenings, I recommend a cool glass of Lemon Meadow. Bright lemon with some relaxing lavender and mandarin will set you at ease. Sit back and sip, as you gaze at your well-maintained estate.
Note: we do not recommend composting teas with strong flavoring oils, such as our signature cinnamon-orange tea. (Though diluted, it would probably work well as an insect-repellant)
Created with images by corina ardeleanu - "Red poppies under morning sun" • Clem Onojeghuo - "untitled image"