Sun Tea for the Garden : A How to on Comfrey Tea Fertilizer

The first year we planted a garden here on the farm my husband had worked and worked to clear me a patch of land out of the old garden from the previous owners that had become over run. Tilling up the ground several times, he had it sitting waiting for me when I first moved in with him. Most of the plants we planted that season were pre-starts from local greenhouses and garden centers, but for my first ever vegetable garden, I sure was happy with the results!

Along the East side of the garden grew a large leafy plant with little purple bell flowers, which seemed to take over the entire side of the garden, and which I decided in the Fall needed to go. Had I known about this plant at all, I would not have been so quick to dig it up and dispose of it. Thankfully, the garden knew better than me and the following Spring, back came this plant like it had never been touched.

Symphytum; a flowering plant actually from the borage family, most commonly known as Comfrey. This is what I found out was growing along the edges of garden, and as I read more into this amazing plant, it all made sense why it was planted there and I was thankful it grew back! When we moved the garden last Summer I made sure to dig out several of the comfrey plants to move with it. There now sits one plant in each of the four corners of my vegetable garden, sporadic plants still left in the old garden which has been turned chicken run and a whole jungle of comfrey growing in and around our compost pile.

Comfrey has many amazing properties. It can be used in poultices or salves for healing ailments, aiding in pain therapy and inflammation reduction. The roots and leaves of the plant contain a property called allantoin which has shown to stimulate cell proliferation, promoting bone and wound healing. It’s medicinal use can be traced back as far as 400 BC, used by the Greeks and Romans, giving it the Latin name for “grow together”.

But, to me, where comfrey really shines is in the garden!

First off, the pretty little purple flowers are a big attractant for pollinators. While flowering, the comfrey is always busy with the biggest bumble bees and bustling honey bees. It also helps to provide shade and shelter for other pollinating insects under its large foliage, the plant growing to be as high as five feet tall.

Your soil will LOVE comfrey. This plant is considered to be a dynamic accumulator, meaning it’s deep taproots draw in both macro and micro nutrients from the soil, storing them within the plant, particularly in their large leaves. High in Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium, these three macro nutrients are the powerhouse for the perfect fertilizer ratio. It also contains levels of Calcium and Magnesium which your flowering vegetable plants will thank you for later! By keeping comfrey plants around the perimeter of our vegetable garden we ensure that each Fall when we till under the soil, the plants will be added in and given time to break down over winter. We also benefit from the plants growing around the compost pile, which die each year and break down into the matter decomposing. After several years of break down the compost is added to the garden soil as well.

Next year, one of our goals is to use a comfrey mulch for weed control in the garden. Mulching up the leaves and spreading them between the rows will act to keep weeds down by blocking out light and will benefit the soil as the leaves break down and are tilled into the ground each fall.

For the past three years one of the ways we use our comfrey for the garden is by making a tea fertilizer. We mix the tea half and half in a watering can with water and use it for watering the garden. This year it will be extra beneficial for all the tomatoes we have growing in our greenhouse. The tea is great for fruiting vegetables like tomatoes,cucumbers, peppers and potatoes and is most efficient when the plant has just started to flower and is setting fruit.

How to Make Your Own Sun Tea Fertilizer

  • Harvest the comfrey plant you will use. The leaves are what you want, so you can leave the plant in the ground and take just the outer leaves so the plant can continue to grow OR you can simply strip the leaves from the stem and compost the rest of the plant. If you’re feeling lazy, the whole plant can be soaked.
  • Fill a five gallon pail with your matter and top with water. We have a rain water system setup for the greenhouse, so we used rain water for this part. You may want to cover your bucket to prevent insects from getting in, prevent any dilution from rain water if storing outside and to reduce the smell. WARNING: this mixture gets stinky!
  • Let the soaking begin! We place the pails beside the greenhouse where they are still able to collect sunlight ( we use black pails to help with this). Your desired strength will influence your soaking time. For the strongest tea, the mixture should steep anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks. If you’re looking to have something quicker, placing in direct heat will help and takes only a couple of days to begin fermentation.
  • The final product will be a brownish green in colour, and of course have the decomposed leaves as a mush. Strain out the mush and add it to your compost pile.
  • The colour of the liquid will tell you the strength of your tea. The darker the colour, the stronger the potency. If you are using a well steeped batch that is a dark brown colour, you will want to dilute the mixture 1:1 with fresh water.

There you have it! Your very own natural fertilizer made in your backyard. Next time those vegetables are looking a little sad, simply give them a little drink of this garden sun tea and see it work for yourself!

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