Compost Tea from Comfrey

 

Comfrey: A Super Food for Plants.

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A perennial herb that I like to have in my garden is comfrey, which has long been recognized by both organic gardeners and herbalists for its great usefulness and versatility.

For centuries, comfrey has been cultivated by herbalists, with records dating back to Roman times, when physicians would use the herb to ease sprains or broken bones. It’s longstanding reputation as a therapeutic herb gave rise to its Latin name Symphytum (from the Greek symphis, meaning growing together of bones, and phyton, a plant). Early herbalists referred to it as knit bone or boneset.

But before it makes it into the house, it’s usefulness starts in the garden, where it is revered as an effective fertilizer.

The plant is known as a dynamic accumulator, with it’s 6 foot long roots capable of mining and unlocking nutrients from deep within the subsoil. The leaves become the storehouse for a fantastic natural source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as calcium and other trace minerals.

Brewing up a Garden Tea Party

There are many ways to use comfrey, but one of my favourite ways is as a Compost Tea.

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Simply cut down a bundle of stems and leaves, stuff them into a pillow case, secure the top with string, immerse in water and leave for about ten days. How easy is that?

 

After a week or so the water will be a mirky colour and probably smell awful! Congratulations, you have made yourself a wonderful liquid fertilizer!

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If it looks disgusting and smells disgusting then you’re ready for a  tea party!!

Use it liberally on flowers and vegetables and watch your plants grow. I find it very effective in helping new transplants deal with the stress of moving from the familiar surroundings that they grew up in, out into the big, bad world.

Liquid fertilizer teas will not give a long steady source of nutrients but are quick acting, so if you notice your plants are in dire straits then use the tea for an instant boost, either to the roots or as a foliar feed. Water directly on the leaves to perk them up if they are starting to droop a bit or look yellow.

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I like to water my tomatoes regularly with the tea.

This tea is so effective that I have dedicated a large area in my garden to comfrey, along with nettles – but that’s another story. In fact, if you don’t already have comfrey growing in your garden, I recommend you add a few seeds to your list for next spring. I bought mine online from the Richters Herb & Vegetable Catalogue.

The comfrey leaves can also be used as a soil amendment. Comfrey grows so fast that it is possible to get several crops a year. In the spring, before planting potatoes, I layer the leaves in the trenches and then place the seed potato directly on the comfrey before covering with soil. As the summer progresses, I use the leaves to side dress vegetables such as brassicas, peas and pole beans, where the comfrey will not only feed the plants but act as mulch to protect the roots from the hot sun.

And at the end of the gardening season I cut the last of the plants down to the ground and layer them with fall leaves and manure on my raised beds. Tucking the beds in for the winter in this way protects the soil from the harsh winter weather and ensures that the soil is ready for planting in the spring as soon as it warms up.

Of course some years there just seems to be too much to do and not enough time to do it, in which case simply slash the plants to the ground a couple of times a year and add them directly to the compost heap. Your garden will thank you for it the following year.

 

Dreaming of Spring and Green Grass!

Chick on hen's back.

I’m not the only one waiting for warmer weather!

Well, it’s been a hard winter this year in Nova Scotia and as March rolls over into April there are still several feet of snow on the ground. DSCF9398

I love winter and I enjoy the beauty of the snow and the chance to snowshoe through the woods. It’s wonderful to have the time to sit by the fire, to read a book or to visit friends but it’s now April, and I’m done with all that. I want to put away the snow shovels and I’m ready to swap my winter boots for gardening shoes!

Winter in the garden

Snow shoes are still needed to get to the garden.

 

But the garden is still only accessible with snow shoes and the snow banks are still many feet high; all I can do is dream of green grass. So to remind me that spring will surely come, I’ve put together a list of the things that I want to be doing in the not-too-distant future.

Silver Laced wyandotte chick

I want to be able to count spring chickens…

 

Basket of garden vegetables

I want to be able to pick fresh vegetables from the garden….

Bumble bee on red clover

And I want to hear the bees again….

Berkshire pig in sweetcorn field

I want to eat fresh sweetcorn…

Butterfly on Sunflower

And I want to watch the butterflies….

Pigs grazing in woods

I want to hear the happy grunting of pigs in the woods….

And I want to see the pigs playing in the green grass!

What are you looking forward to?

 

 

 

 

Kombucha Tea

Winter in the garden

Winter beauty!

Here in Eastern Canada we sure received a bashing this winter, from one snow storm after another. With so much snow on the ground there’s not much to be done outside. Once the animals are taken care of and the wood stove attended to, I like to look for some new recipes and ideas to try out in the kitchen.

I’m always looking for foods that not only taste good but are also good for the body. Right now, there seems to be a new craze for fermented foods. Well, it’s not really new – fermenting is an ancient way of preserving food that is enjoying a revival. Scientists have done their thing and have found strong evidence that fermented foods and drinks are very beneficial to include regularly in our diets and so ‘foodies’ everywhere are giving it a try.

Kombucha has been on my ‘to do’ list for quite some time and this winter I found myself a SCOBY.

Kombucha?   SCOBY?

Let me explain:

Kombucha is a refreshing beverage made by fermenting sweet black tea for a week or two. Called the “Immortal Health Elixir” by the Ancient Chinese, Kombucha has been around for more than 2,000 years and has a rich anecdotal history of health benefits; it is reputed to aid the body in detoxification, help with digestive issues, and contains immune boosting properties.

But first you have to have a SCOBY; an acronym for Symbiotic Culture (or Colony) of Bacteria and Yeast. You can order one online but the easiest way is to find a friend that is already making Kombucha and ask them for one (each batch of Kombucha produces a new SCOBY). I am lucky to have a friend in Bear River who makes fermented drinks, so a quick drive into the village and I was ready to get started.

A Kombucha SCOBY

A Kombucha SCOBY

Once you have your SCOBY, which looks a bit like a creature from ‘The Deep’, you need to make your tea.

Use any black or green tea, but nothing with volatile oils such as Earl Grey and not herbal teas. I made a gallon of tea, using 2 tablespoons of loose Assam tea leaves, to which I added 1 cup of sugar. Let it cool, strain out the tea leaves and add the SCOBY. You also need to add 2 cups of saved Kombucha from the previous batch so don’t forget to ask your friend for that as well. The jar needs to be glass or ceramic and never let the SCOBY come into contact with metal or you will kill it. Cover lightly with something that will let the air in but not the dust – I used a paper coffee filter. Put the jar on the shelf and forget about it for a week. Pretty easy!

Kombucha tea fermentation

Green tea on the left, Black tea on the right.

After a week you may want to taste the Kombucha to see if it has fermented out all the sugar and reached a taste that you enjoy. I found 10 days to be about right. The resulting drink is slightly fizzy and the taste resembles apple juice with a slightly vinegary taste but not in an unpleasant way. The longer it’s left the more vinegary it will become.

Take out the SCOBY and reserve 2 cups of liquid to start your next batch. Strain and bottle the remaining liquid. At this stage you can add other flavours, I added ginger and lemon which was delicious. Unpastuerized apple juice is another good addition. Kombucha will continue to get fizzy, so use bottles that can withstand the pressure!

Flavours for Kombucha tea

The bottle on the left is plain Kombucha, the bottle on the right is flavoured with lemon and ginger.

Kombucha is not intended to be an alcholic drink but I’m guessing that if you added more sugar and fermented it a second time, it would indeed become mildly alcholic.

Perhaps that’s the next experiment? I’ll let you know how it turns out.

If you want to try it yourself, here’s the recipe, taken from Kombucha Kamp.

Kombucha Tea Recipe – 1-Gallon

Scale up or down depending on the size of your vessel

Supplies

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4-6 bags tea –  for loose leaf, 1 bag of tea = 1 tsp
  • Kombucha Starter Culture – SCOBY
  • 1 cup starter liquid
  • purified/bottled water
  • tea kettle
  • brewing vessel
  • cloth cover
  • rubber band

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Steps

  1. Boil 4 cups of water.
  2. Add hot water & tea bags to pot or brewing vessel.
  3. Steep 5-7 minutes, then remove tea bags.
  4. Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
  5. Fill vessel most of the way with purified water, leaving just 1-2 inches from the top for breathing room with purified cold water.
  6. Add SCOBY and starter liquid.
  7. Cover with cloth cover and secure with the rubber band.
  8. Say a prayer, send good vibes, commune with your culture (optional but recommended).
  9. Set in a warm location out of direct sunlight (unless vessel is opaque).
  10. Do not disturb for 7 days.
    • After 7 days, or when you are ready to taste your Kombucha, gently insert a straw beneath the SCOBY and take a sip. If too tart, then reduce your brewing cycle next time.  If too sweet, allow to brew for a few more days.  Continue to taste every day or so until you reach your optimum flavor preference. Your own Kombucha Tea Recipe may vary.
    • Decant & flavor (optional).
    • Drink as desired!

For more information on Kombucha, check out the following two books.