Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Gardening medicine

Some of you may remember that I have been making Comfrey Tea. The other day I applied the first "brew" to my tomato plants. I want to show you the effect it had.

This is a "Cherokee Purple" tomato plant, photographed on 23 June. It looks weak, and its leaves are pale and brown at the edges. At the time, I suspected this might be a symptom of the weedkiller contamination that has affected many of my tomatoes.

A couple of days after that photo was taken, I applied the Comfrey feed. Now look at it:

The plant's latest set of leaves is a huge amount healthier - strong-looking and green, as they should be. Even the leaves that were previously yellow have greened-up. This is surely ample confirmation of the restorative powers of Comfrey Tea!

I have three more buckets-full of Comfrey Tea on the go already, and many of the cuttings I planted are showing signs of growth, but I'm thinking I might soon pay another visit to the place where I foraged the Comfrey, to get another lot of this valuable "garden medicine".

Comfrey stem-cuttings sprouting new growth

On a related theme, I also want to make a mention of a remedy for mildew which I have recently tried with some success. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that one of my big Sage plants was covered with
powdery mildew. I had read in a few places about milk being good for treating mildew and I had always considered this to be an "Old Wives Tale", but on this occasion I thought it would be worth a try. Even if it didn't work, it wouldn't cost me a lot! So I made up a sprayer-bottle's worth of liquid: milk and water 50:50, and sprayed it liberally all over the Sage plant. It DID work! I haven't got a "Before" photo, but the "After" photo certainly shows a healthy (and mildew-free) Sage plant, spilling out of the border onto the shingle..

I suspect that in this case I just got lucky. The remedy would probably not work in every instance. Home-made  / traditional remedies like this are often a bit hit-and-miss. For instance I have tried loads of different suggestions for killing aphids and whitefly, such as garlic spray, an infusion of cloves and of chilli powder (don't mention washing-up liquid!), but they haven't really been very successful.

I have seen lots of mentions on blogs this year of the disease Rust, particularly on Leeks and Garlic. Presumably the weather conditions have just suited it. I have it on my Broad Beans:

It looks very unsightly, but at this stage of the game I'm not too fussed, because most of my beans have already been harvested. If it had been this bad a month ago, I would have been worried, though in all honesty I don't think Rust on beans is a huge issue. I suppose it might stop the leaves photosynthesising sunlight, and thus reduce the plants' vigour, but it never seems to damage the beans themselves.

So, does anyone have a remedy for Rust that doesn't involve commercial chemicals?


  1. I was inspired by your blog to grow comfrey for tea last year so this is the first year I'm using comfrey tea as my sole fertiliser (I'm try to do as much as possible chemical free...except the slug pellets...that's a war I just can't win!). Although I don't make mine as strong as yours it seems to be working very well and as an added bonus is a fantastic compost accelerator when the growing season's over. Win win!

    I too am looking for a tried and tested rust remedy...nothing seems to be working this year :(

  2. I made comfrey tea last year by cutting leaves into an open bucket and leaving them to rot down. There was a tremendous pong but not as bad as I was expecting and the liquid is now in a sealed container with a tap. Do you dilute yours when using it, Mark? I have done but haven't noticed any dramatic results as you have with your tomato plant.

    1. No, I don't normally dilute the liquid. I find that if you pack the bucket fairly tightly with comfrey leaves and then fill it up with water then the strength of the resulting "tea" is just about right.

  3. I've heard of people polishing large houseplant leavers with milk but I've always imagined that the milk would 'go off' and smell.

  4. I don't have any experience with rust, but I definitely have some with using a milk spray for powdery mildew, specifically on squash and cucumbers. By the end of the season, most of them usually succumb, but I do think that the spray delays the inevitable.

  5. I'd certainly be interested in a rust remedy if there's one out there!

  6. Matt, if anyone tells me about one, you can be sure that I'll publish it here!

  7. Lovely post Mark...there are lots of interesting uses for Comfrey and one I have just read about is to put some chopped up leaves in between rows of your potatoes which adds an extra fertilising element. I will be interested to see the many interesting concepts in a gardeners life.

  8. Thank you for the tip about mildrew, I hadn't heard that in before! Sarah x


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