Green Manures, Liquid Feeds, Organic Mulches and No-Dig Beds

May 31, 2010

Green Manures

The above photo is a green manure plant called Phacelia, it is one example of a variety of plants used in organic growing to achieve a number of aims in the vegetable and flower garden. Other examples of decorative green manure plants are Red, White or Crimson Clovers, Sweet Lupin, and Vetch, which can be ordered from Fruit Hill Farm, Bantry, County Cork.

1. Green manure plants can be dug into the ground when they are young, in order to decompose and release nutrients into the soil to increase soil fertility. Clovers, lupins and vetches are particularly useful to increase soil fertility, as they absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and release this important soil nutrient into the soil to be taken up by the roots of other plants (i.e. brassicas – cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.).

2. The flowers of green manure plants attract bees to the garden.

3. The dense growth of green manure plants can support plants around them (for example broad beans), or provide ground cover to suppress weeds. Green manures germinate and grow quickly, they can help to smother young weed seedlings.

4. Growing green manure plants within bare areas of the garden also helps to retain moisture and prevents the loss of nutrients being taken away from the top layer of the soil by wind, and rain.

5. Green manure seeds are sown like grass seeds, spread upon the top of the soil. They can be sown in the autumn, summer and spring within entirely empty planting beds, or in-between existing vegetables, herbs and flowers.

6. The roots of green manure plants improve soil structure and stop soil compaction, and their green growth can attract beneficial insects. Some flying pests can be confused if the outlines of their food plant are disguised by green manures interplanted between plants.


Liquid Feeds

Liquid Feeds or Compost Teas, are made from nettles, seaweed, comfrey, borage and manure ingredients mixed with water and then diluted in a watering can with more water and applied directly upon plants. Plants that are not thriving, yellow, infested with insects, not fruiting, newly transplanted, plants in containers, etc., can use this extra dose of nutrients which their roots take up from the soil. Ideally a large bucket or bin, with a lid, can be used to make liquid feeds. In the bucket or bin, place a good layer of nettles, borage, seaweed, or manure at the bottom of your chosen container and then fill with water. Let it decompose for a week or two, and then dip your watering can into the container with the liquid feed, topping up the can with water, before watering your plants.

Seaweed Liquid Feed contains growth hormones and can be used to germinate seedlings and to encourage roots on newly transplanted vegetables, herbs and flowers. The smell of seaweed liquid feed can be a deterrent to pests, i.e. aphids. To treat a pest infested plant, spray it directly on to infected plant areas.

Nettle Liquid Feed is high in nitrogen and can help plants depleted of nutrients from the soil becoming yellow, with poor growth. Use for nitrogen hungry crops, i.e. cabbages, spinach, broccoli, swiss chard, etc.

Manure Liquid Feed is also high in nitrogen and could be used as a supplement for soft fruit bushes, fruit trees, courgettes, and pumpkins which require high soil fertility.

Borage Liquid Feed is high in nitrogen and potassium and can also be used for ailing plants and vegetables.

Comfrey Liquid Feed (The above is a picture of comfrey in bloom). Comfrey has a long tap root, which essentially mines nutrients from the soil and these nutrients are released through the leaves when soaked in water. A good feed for fruiting plants (i.e. tomatoes), and soft fruit as it has a high potassium content.


Organic Mulches

Layers of organic mulches are essentially layers of compost applied as top dressings to vegetable and flower beds. Examples of organic mulches are seaweed (pictured above), leaf compost (pictured above), straw, grass clippings, old hay, pine needles, and the contents of your compost bin. Layer these mulches thickly around established plants and particularly newly planted hedges, trees, soft fruits, pumpkins, courgettes, forest gardens with descending layers of fruiting trees, edible shrubs, herbs and vegetables.

Organic mulches increase soil fertility, attract worms, retain moisture around plants, create new soil, and reduce weeds.

No-Dig Beds

This is a good project for the Autumn, Winter and early Spring seasons, when you are considering new beds within grassed areas of your garden. To make a No-Dig Bed first make sure that the grass is cut quite low, then apply overlapping sections of newspapers (not individual sheets of newspaper) into a shape that will eventually become the shape of your planting bed, and dampen the newspapers. Then apply layers of organic mulches. i.e. straw and manure, leaf compost, grass clippings, seaweed, pine needles, and the contents of your compost bin, on top of the sections of the newspaper. The newspaper and mulches block the sun from the grass, decomposing the grass underneath, attracting worms to the area, and eventually the mulches create a fertile soil medium in which you can directly plant – trees, soft fruit bushes, potatoes, globe artichokes, herb plants, pumpkins, or potted perennial flowers.

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