The Organic Plant Food Secret

Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Turns out you can feed plants without using fertilizers based on chemicals and petroleum. Funny thing is, the local feed store makes it all possible.

It’s called alfalfa tea.

I’ve always dreamed of being the perfect, organic gardener, leaving no trace on the planet. Until now, I’ve been in the dark about how to do it. I’m a tad ashamed to admit I’ve been using the tried and true Miracle Gro, but by joining the Payson Community Garden group, I’ve committed to organics.

Until a recent program at the Community Garden, I thought organic gardeners relied on secret formulas and mysterious mixtures that produced otherworldly plants that won first-place ribbons at the county fair.

But the Community Garden has brought the secret to life through Gary Karlowski, who held the class to share the secret of his plant-loving tea.

“Glen down at Plant Fair always asks me how the roses from my garden look so fresh, even three days after being cut,” said Karlowski. “I tell him it’s my tea.”

Karlowski said the tea contains triacontanol acid — something the plants LOVE.

As he talked, I quickly put my pen to paper to write down every little secret, but that was not necessary. Karlowski passed out a neat handout that walked us through a five-week fertilizing process — with copies left on file with the Community Garden folks.

“For your 6-foot-by-25-foot plot, purchase one of those plastic 18-gallon buckets people use for storage. They have handles,” said Karlowski. His bucket looks like an ice bucket for parties, with two white rope handles on the side.

To make the tea, Karlowski suggested using a pillow case (or use a 5-gallon paint strainer bag — easier for the ladies to pull out and more sturdy), a #10 coffee can or equivalent measuring device, a sack of alfalfa pellets (50- and 80-pound bags are available at Payson Feed & Pet Supply) or cubes or a bale of alfalfa.

Then Karlowski talked about making the tea.

“Place one-and-a-half cans of alfalfa pellets or cubes in the pillow case, tie it off and let it soak for at least 24 hours,” said Karlowski. He said if using a bale of hay, put a 1.5-inch-wide chunk of hay in the bag to soak for up to 48 hours. You’ll need to use up the tea quickly or it will ferment and the neighbors will not be happy.

“My neighbor once let it go for seven days and I could smell it across the street,” he said.

We’re much too close to each other in the garden to let it get really stinky.

Karlowski also said to fertilize the day after watering for the best results.

I made a mental note to mark down the days the Community Garden will do the automatic watering. I’ll have to make sure I have tea available to use right after.

I’m all for that.

His five-week fertilizing schedule has the gardener using straight tea the first week, adding fish emulsion the second week, Epsom salt, seaweed extract and chelated iron liquid the third week, and back to the tea and fish emulsion the fourth week. The fifth week, Karlowski said to start the whole process from the beginning.

Well. Now I know the secret.

It’s time to find out if I can win that blue ribbon.

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