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Bucket natural feeds
Natural feeds are liquids full of nutrients that you can give to your plants to ensure they thrive in your garden. Here we look at how you can make your own feed at home.

When gardening there is a simple of equation of what comes out must be put back in. This way we maintain the nutritional value of soil. We do this in a number of ways using composts and mulches. Liquid feeds can also help.

Many of us will be familiar with liquid feeds that we buy, particularly for tomatoes and roses. Many shop-bought liquid feeds are seaweed-based and some organic products can also be found. These feeds are good for all plants, particularly the seaweed-based ones . Alternatively we can make our own.

  • Making our own feed is kind to the environment and can leave us feeling as if we are making a difference with pro-environmental behaviour
  • The activity is straight forward but rewarding
  • The smell will let you know that you have been successful
  • Plants will flourish and extra produce will leave you even prouder
  • Using the bottle method outlined below is easier, requiring less strength
  • Providing a constant supply to plants is a good investment in time
  • Have the bucket resting on a raised platform, bricks or on top of another bucket to make lifting and pouring easier by reducing the amount of bending
  • Children can likely be involved in the whole process, but it may be that the final buckets of feed will be heavy, and they may need support to pour into watering cans
  • Children who like to get dirty may love the changing nature of the feed and just how smelly it gets
  • Older children will be able to learn how natural decomposition takes place

There are a few plants that can be used to make liquid feeds, the most common three are comfrey, nettle and dandelion. Comfrey has the highest level of nutrition and as a plant will provide endless amount of feed over many years of growth. Nettle and dandelion are not usually planting we like to propagate in our garden although they can have their place.

Each feed will provide different amounts of the nutrients most important to plant growth:

  • Nitrogen (N) stimulates leaf growth
  • Potassium (K) or Potash promotes developing flowers and fruit
  • Phosphorus (P) enhances root growth

Comfrey is rich in potassium and good for fruit, vegetables and plants that have big shows of flowers. Nettle is higher in nitrogen and good for herbs, shrubs and leaf vegetables, particularly brassicas.

With dandelion, you make the feed using the root as well as the stem and leaves to get more micronutrients such as magnesium and iron, which are also important in plant growth. But of course it is not an exact science, so the best strategy may be to create all three feeds to provide plants with a balanced diet.

There are two main ways of producing the feeds, or what some would call tea (don’t drink! although some like dandelion leaf tea). Each method is relatively straight forward although one requires some extra planning and resources.

Container natural feeds

The most common method is to use a bucket, preferably one with a lid or that can be covered tightly (they smell!):

  1. Place the plant material in either a sack, cloth or old tights
  2. Secure at the bottom of the bucket with stones or a brick
  3. Add water
  4. Leave for 2-4 weeks, stirring occasionally and noticing if it is bubbling, essentially it is fermenting (remember do not drink)
  5. After time and maybe when it has stopped bubbling, or the water has darkened in colour it is ready to use
  6. Mix 1-part feed to 10 parts water in a watering can
  7. Water around the base of plants. Avoid watering leaves as if you have too rich a mix you could chemically burn them
  1. Pack a loose drainpipe that has sealed ends with comfrey or nettle (be careful!)
  2. Use a bottle to push the leaves in and pack it tight, leaving 1 quarter of the pipe at the top end clear
  3. Make a small hole (around 1cm round) in one end of the sealed pipe
  4. Pour some water into the top end. If the water starts to leak within a minute or 2 then remove water and pack leaves even tighter.
  5. Secure the pipe so that you can place a cut plastic bottle/bucket underneath the pipe
  6. Wait for bottle to fill (this feed is stronger and likely darker in colour)
  7. Mix 1-part feed to 20 parts water and apply as above

With the drainpipe method you could pack a pipe that drains a shed roof if you have guttering, and feed the mix straight into a water bottle or bucket. This method can also be used to create small quantities using plastic bottles. Cut the bottom of the bottle off, cram in the leaves into 3 quarters of the bottle, fill half of the last quarter with water, place the bottle bottom back on the bottom side going into the bottle and secure with gaffer tape. Leave stood bottom side down and wait a week or 2 then carefully remove lid and extract liquid.

Warning - these feeds smell bad, comfrey being the worst of them. If you live in close proximity to neighbours, it may be best to use a bucket that can be sealed very tightly with its own lid (we have found old plastic cement containers the best as they are sealed air tight to protect from moisture and are easy to clean) or the drainpipe method. When you open the buckets or remove the lid, do so carefully and get ready to step back.

Despite the smell (you get used to it and almost start to appreciate it over time) the rewards are great - cheap, natural and nutritious food that’s kind to wildlife. You’ll notice the difference when applied to tired looking plants. Plants that have seemed stunted in growth or with vegetables will visibly grow quicker and more vigorously.

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Rebecca H potting up Charlie Garner 2019 3