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22 March 2012

Make you own liquid fertilisers

It's not just in the kitchen that we can all cook from scratch - we can do it outside too by making our own organic liquid fertilisers. These fertilisers are easy to make, are made using leaves and other organic matter in your own backyard, they're effective and they'll save you money. 

Above and below are the first of our new season gardens. It's been slow going this year because we've had so much rain. At the moment, the soil is too saturated to plant anything.

One of the things you should learn when you start growing vegetables is the nutritional requirements of everything you grow. Basically, leafy greens need nitrogen and fruiting plants need a small amount of nitrogen, potash and potassium. Luckily, making both types of fertilisers at home is easy.

These fertilisers are gentle, just the right thing to give to newly planted seedlings and to apply frequently, in a weak form, to your plants. They're also excellent sprayed over the leaves, not just onto the roots. If you're in a cold area, the nitrogen in the soil will not be available until the soil warms up a bit, so sprinkling liquid fertiliser over the leaves will feed your plants when they need a boost.

This is how the gardens have been looking the past few weeks. We still have these three to be weeded and planted up again. It looks sad now but it doesn't take long for them to spring back to life.

My favourite liquid fertiliser is comfrey tea and as far as I'm concerned it's the star of the homemade fertilisers. We have a clump of comfrey growing near the chook house. At the moment the leaves are huge, and it's standing at about a metre tall. People tell you that comfrey spreads and you have to be careful, but that's not quite right. It doens't spread out like bamboo does but if you plant comfrey in a hole, you'd better make sure that is where you want it to grow forever, because if you try to dig it out later, leaving only the slightest peice of root behind will make it grow again. Choose your spot carefully - either at the edge of your garden or near the compost heap and you'll have your own source of nitrogen, potash, phosphorus (NPK) and calcium for life. Comfrey sends down a long tap root and that root mines the soil for minerals and makes them available in the leaves. Using those leaves in a tea, will give you those minerals and they're the same ones you buy as NPK at the gardening shop.

This clump of comfrey has been growing in our backyard for about 14 years. It hasn't spread out at all but I know that if I wanted to move it to another location it would be almost impossible. Make sure of your spot before you plant comfrey.

To make comfrey tea, cut a clump of comfrey leaves and put them into a large bucket that has a lid. You can put a brick on top of the leaves if you like, so they don't float. Fill the bucket with rain water, put the lid on and leave the brew for two weeks. When you take the lid off, stand back, it will smell.

A lot.

Remove the infused comfrey leaves and throw them onto the compost. What is in the bucket now is comfrey tea concentrate. Make up the tea using about a cup of the concentrate to a bucket of water. You want this tea to be the same colour as a cup of weak tea. Mix it up in your watering can and sprinkle it over your seedlings. Comfrey tea is excellent on tomatoes, potatoes, beans, peppers etc - all the flowering vegetables.

You can make liquid fertiliser using many common garden leaves - if the leaves contain a good concentration of nitrogen, they are suitable. Most liquid fertilisers can be made in the same way. The steps are:
  1. Harvest your leaves, nettles, weeds, seaweed etc and place them in a bucket with a lid.
  2. Fill the bucket with water.
  3. Wait two weeks.
  4. Dilute the concentrate to look like weak tea before you use it.
You can also make compost tea and liquid manure tea. To make these teas, get a hessian bag or an old pillow case and place your materials in there. About a shovel full of compost or any aged animal or poultry manure will do. If you don't have aged manure, you can use poultry manure pellets (Dynamic Lifter) - about a cup full to a bucket.  Tie up the top of the bag so it's like a big tea bag. Place the bag into a bucket with a lid, fill the bucket with water, top on, wait two weeks. Dilute before using it. Easy!

We still buy these fertilisers - trace elements, seaweed concentrate and sulphate of potash - they're all organic. If we had access to seaweed, we'd make that ourselves too but it is illegal to remove seaweed from a beach where I live.

Like almost everything else we do in our lives, these simple fertilisers take a small amount of time and effort but the rewards are evident. It allows us to use what we have here, it is cheaper, we're not bringing in plastic packaging, and we know what is in the products we're using. It certainly makes sense to us to make these things rather than buy them.


  1. Such excellent information! Thank you, Rhonda. :)

  2. I have some comfrey tea brewing at the moment. I just put the leaves in a small pot with a hole in the bottom and the rich liquid drips out the bottom into a waiting bucket, no water. Very, very concentrated,and it doesn't smell. I learnt that from an Englishman on an allotment.

  3. Great post Rhonda. I make a similar fertilizer brew out of sheep and chicken manure and any weeds that I want to kill. I also use worm wee as a plant tonic. You can read about it at my post titled "Home-made Liquid Fertilizer".

    Gav x

  4. Great advice on the homemade fertilizers.

    Indira Naidoo (The Edible Balcony) together with her neighbour, have produced some Worm Juice from worm castings. They've bottled it up and are selling it as a fundraiser. Here's the link...

    Cheers - Joolz

  5. So useful... I can't wait to try this.

    Love this, Rhonda. Thank you!

  6. I have a question. What are Trace element? I have not seem this in the U. S. at least around where I live. Is it anything like rock dust to put minerals back into the soil? I do add this to our soil. I am so thankful for your liquid fertilizer recipes. Thank you do much. I use Fish emulsion as a foliar fertilizer so far. I also uses a bit of it in the ground mid way through the growing season. There is always much to learn! Isn't it fun!!! I feel like a kid playing in the dirt!! :) Sarah

  7. Sarah, yes, same thing - it's minerals. It is fun!

  8. Hi Rhonda, do you mean you can use any kind of weeds, or are there particular things which are good? I'm in the middle of clearing a weed infested garden at the moment, and if I can use them rather than disposing of them, then it would be good. We have a lot of oxalis, which I know is high in nitrogen, rough grasses, and several broad leaved things of the dandelion type!

    I don't want to add any of this to my compost bin, for obvious reasons!

  9. Thanks so much for sharing Rhonda, it makes me in the mood for gardening! It's not quite yet the time here in our little corner of the world. Spring is just waking up from the long winter :-)
    Have a great day!

  10. I just wanted to add a wee word of warning about manure. Unfortunately if the animal has been de-wormed, these medications can sometimes be long lasting and kill the worms in your soil - even the organic medications can be a big problem.
    Fortunately comfrey can substitute. You can use Rhonda's great tea idea or you can let the leaves wilt and use them as a mulch on the plants. It has what we need from manure - and nothing we don't!
    @ Helen go ahead and use any of those weeds, they are all really good for the compost heap.

  11. Thank you for this very informative and helpful post! I plan to make these fertilizers this season (which is only just beginning here in the north). Another notch in our self reliance "post" :)

  12. Great ideas Rhonda! I have heard that rabbit manure can be used without being aged and it is the only type that can. We apply light applications of rabbit manure from right underneath the rabbit pen to our garden and it works great and never burns the plants. Also urine is supposed to be great. Use a 1/20 ratio, 1 part urine to 20 parts water.

  13. We've got a large patch of comfrey planted by the previous owners - it sits in the path of the run-off from the septic tank. That way it does two jobs; absorbing and cleaning the liquid run-off, and then as fertiliser.
    Comfrey leaves can be added to the trench when planting potatoes to act as fertiliser - occasionally one will root, but can be removed and replanted elsewhere if tackled at an early stage.

    I've heard elsewhere that the smell happens when the comfrey liquid is mixed with water. Comfrey leaves can be packed into a pipe and pressed down with a few stones, and a tap put in to pour off the liquid fertiliser as it starts to decompose, rather than mixing it with water to begin with - I've seen it on TV, although I haven't tried it myself.

  14. My first time here and I am really enjoying your blog! I am gonna follow and continue to read on! I invite you over to "The Redeemed Gardener"!

  15. Great Articles Rhonda - really enjoyed reading all you blogs and getting ideas. Time to put into practice Thanks again

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  19. I read about comfrey tea somewhere else not too long ago. Since I do have comfrey (and mine has reseeded a good bit---there are some varieties which don't reseed) I decided to chop off the leaves from the little new plants and started a brew going. it's probably ready to use by now and since I am putting in perennials just now I'm going to give them a drink to see what happens. Good thing you mentioned diluting it with water so it is not so strong as I had forgotten that bit which might have burned the foliage of these new little plants that I am putting in.

  20. I'm so glad you talked about comfrey tea today. I only found out about it about a month ago and since I do have comfrey I chopped some up and have been marinating it since then. Had forgotten to check the date on it until today. A month old. So I strained it out and diluted it and poured it on several newly planted plants and divisions and will see how they do.

    My comfrey does self seed and so I try to dig the newbies up quickly before they get too much of a root going. But there are some varieties that do not self seed which must be what you have.


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