I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching with my most recent comfrey tea endeavor. I have had to make a decision, not for the first time, that every vegan will face at one point. I’ll get to this in a moment.
First, let me say that comfrey is a powerful plant to have growing in the plot. It provides nourishment to the garden and will grow freely in many conditions. Utilizing the nutrient rich comfrey plant to make a simple comfrey tea fertilizer gives us the opportunity to grow our own fertility. It’s an opportunity to stop being a consumer, and start creating bonds with nature that exclude the super stores. It is imperative that gardeners start creating fertility, rather than buying it in. Doing so will not only create food with a much smaller carbon footprint, but it will also ensure that crops are grown without the use of animal products, which we want to avoid not only for the ethical atrocities associated with the animal industry, but also because of the chemical residues these manures will pass on to the crops from parasites, anti-parasite medication, hormonal, and antibiotic treatments that “livestock” animals receive. Composting, growing green manures, using local mulches, and creating teas to water our crops are all ways that we can grow truly self-sustaining fruits and veggies.
The last time I put a batch of comfrey tea together, it was the beginning of July, and the comfrey was growing out of control. I haven’t done this too many times previously, and I accidently made a bit too much. I filled a two hundred litre barrel halfway with comfrey, put a stone atop the comfrey to weight it down, and filled the barrel all the way up with water. Next time, I will do a third as much. After filling the barrel, I placed a wooden pallet over the top as a covering. I’ve read that a loose covering would be sufficient in keeping debris and bugs away from the fermenting liquid, but that information proved wrong, and this is where I began my moral dilemma and soul searching.
Two weekends ago, I went to the tea barrel because I was planning to dilute it and feed it to the plants. I was shocked to find maggots swimming on the surface. You see, I hadn’t made the covering of the barrel air tight because none of the gardening resources I consulted mentioned that being necessary, and as I result, flies got in to lay their eggs. The surface of the liquid was teaming with what appeared to be thousands of maggots. I was unable to identify the particular species of larvae. I had to make a decision. I did not want the larvae a) preventing me from using the comfrey tea, or b) having a detrimental effect on the garden’s environment. I had to choose between sparing the lives of the thousands of maggots inhabiting my home brewed fertilizer, or killing them to protect my massive batch of tea, and perhaps the garden’s health and fertility.
After doing a bit of research, I made a decision to strain the comfrey tea and deposit the maggots in the meadow land near our house, where they would die on the field and be picked over by scavenging birds. In the same way that I would and will kill fleas or other parasites if I encounter them, I acted in a manner of self preservation. It’s a hard reality to confront and may seem a bit cut throat, but a gardener, and especially a vegan organic gardener that does not use chemical inputs, is going to encounter unexpected infestations, and it is the gardener’s goal to preserve the garden. If we do not save our crops, we do not feed ourselves.
I know I could have let the maggots hatch in my 200 litres of potent comfrey tea fertilizer. I was not going to starve if they destroyed my tea, or even my crops, but I don’t feel that it would have been right to let the maggots take over, either. Veganism is about nonviolence, and respecting other species and life forms. I am strongly committed to these ideas. However, a vegan, too, must preserve their right to live. Maintaining the production of our food is obviously one of the integral aspects to maintaining homeostasis in the body. If the maggots interfere with that process, then it is only natural to implement control measures. Unfortunately, I provided conditions for the maggots to grow in, and I won’t do it again. Aiming for prevention of the problem altogether is ideal, rather than having to use offensive tactics once the problem has arisen.
Similarly, and not long after the tea incident, I found a few aphid colonies settling in amongst my kale plants. I should have been intercropping to encourage a local population of hover flies. I moved a few pots of coriander and dill near to my kale plants, which in turn encouraged hover flies, which eat aphids. Next year, I won’t have a big patch of kale. I’ll have different crops surrounding each kale plant, hopefully creating an environment that keeps the pests away.
I do need to combat the problem so I’ve also applied a diluted neem oil spray to the leaves, which is an organic and completely non-toxic insect killer. The bugs use their backs to breathe. The neem oil coats and suffocates them. This all sounds like a shocking and unjust activity to carry out, and perhaps it is, but if we are to keep crops, we must accept that we will need to protect our crops from certain insects.
I do not think taking any life is a small or insignificant occurrence. This applies even to so called “garden pests” when I am killing them, as I try to claim domestic crops for my own human use, and they try to use the plants for their own uses and natures. It was a hard, confusing, and certainly thought provoking decision. I’ve read that insects aren’t sentient, that they do not have nervous systems. I can not determine an insect’s sentience myself, but I believe that universally we should always try to use nonviolence as the first means of dealing with any situation or conflict. In the future, I will be sure to cover my brewing vessel with an air tight lid, so as not to allow for this situation to happen again. I’ve read lidding is fine, but to expect a much darker, stronger final product that will need to be more diluted before application. Deterring or disabling the pests from settling into the garden with preventative measures are hopefully ways to avoid what felt like a total slaughter.
Here is the simple method for brewing your own NON-INFESTED comfrey tea:
1) Gather comfrey leaves in a lidded container- you will not need more than 50 litres, even this may be too much!
2) Put a brick stone atop the leaves, fill the container with water, and seal the container.
3) After 3 to 8 weeks, the tea is ready for use. It will smell horrible- like rotting cow manure. You can certainly tell it is potent with plant nutrients. Dilute the liquid- you can use a 1:1 ratio or even a 1:10. Just make sure you dilute by at least half. A weaker tea applied more frequently is better than a super strong one-time application.
**Don’t apply to brassicas or lettuce. If these groups are overfed, they will bolt.
We’re still on potato and kale this weekend. The cropping is heavy, and with only two busy little sometimes-farmers living here, we will need to eat these crops until we explode. I shouldn’t complain- there could be worse things than having piles of vegan-organic food around! We’ve still got two beds full of potatoes, having gone through our first two. I estimate that each plant produced about five medium sized potatoes. We fit about 12 plants in each of our beds, and I reckon one whole bed has produced about 4 kilos of potatoes. It’s possible that we over watered our potatoes, and thus reduced our yield. I read in a gardening book that potatoes only need water once every two weeks in drier times, and we were watering nearly every day! I guess it’s just another one I will have to experiment with next year.
Anyway, no longer are we eating chowder, but instead 2 separate dinners of sauteed kale and olive oil-baked potatoes.
We also got to sample our green beans for the first time ever, last night! They’re just coming into season, so we don’t have a bean glut yet. Right now, there’s only a precious few to steam.
As for the kale, tonight I cooked it with the remains of some store-bought green curry paste in my fridge. It consisted of garlic, green chilli, onion, lemon grass, salt, galangal, kaffir lime peel, fennel seed, coriander, and pepper. I added it with some water several minutes after starting the kale stalks and onion. I also added thinly sliced carrots and soaked apricots (soaked in boiling water for 5+ minutes). Last night I had a basic onion and kale saute with mustard seeds, and I added tahini dressing at the end.
Both nights, the potatoes were sliced, brought to a boil for a few minutes, quickly added to a sizzling pan coated in olive oil, and transferred to the hot oven, where they baked for 15 minutes.
Composting is important. First of all, it makes use of all the vegetable waste matter that too many of us sadly throw in the bin or down the garbage disposal. Secondly, it will give your garden nearly everything it needs to grow and blossom. Most importantly, it makes for a more self sufficient vegan gardener!! Since one of the aims of the vegan organic gardener is to reduce the amount of external inputs to a minimum, composting one’s own vegetable and garden matter is an essential.
To start a heap, get a container and a cover at least the size of a garbage can. Get something that has holes/slats, or drill some holes yourself if need be. The compost will need to breath. We nailed together wooden pallets and they work great. Our containers don’t have anything on the bottom, which is also recommended for breathing.
Next, start piling up your vegetable waste, tea bags, small amounts of wood ash or saw dust, dry leaf matter, shredded cardboard and paper. Most gardeners will talk about “green material,” ie vegetables and grass, and “brown material,” which would be dry leaves, cardboard, hay, chipped twigs, stalks, and pine needles.
After three to seven months, once the pile has accumulated a large amount of material, it needs to be turned. Put the freshest matter on the bottom of a new pile. We turned our heap this past weekend and added layers of cut grass and evergreen material. We’ve found that having separate containers for a new heap and an old heap is necessary for this step. After another four to six months of sitting, the compost should be dark, crumbly, and non-smelly. If this is the case, then it can be used for anything- seed germination, potting/repotting, or existing beds.
We are growing a patch of 13 monstrous kale plants. We’ve been harvesting about two weeks now and these puppies are massive. They are so happy to be alive! We could eat kale every night with dinner and still have an abundance of the stuff and it will keep coming til the end of winter. Hallelujah!
The variety we have is called Ragged Jack. It is very stalky. Jack is also very leafy, but the stalks are undeniable…the gardener/cook must have these stalks in mind when working with old Ragged Jack or s/he will be overwhelmed.
Here’s what I have devised: I get the cast iron medium hot with olive oil, separate all of Jack’s leafy bits from his stalk, and slice the stalk up sliver thin. Then I slice up a red onion equally thin, and saute for a solid 15 minutes with salt, pepper, and paprika. I let this stuff really sweat it out. THEN I add the chopped up, rinsed off kale leaves, pop a cover on for 3 or four minutes, and there we have it: a tender side of kale!
Feel free to add pre-soaked raisins in with the stalks and onion. You’ll also want some sort of dressing- try tahini or the cashew pesto paste I blogged about here.
Filed under: ethos/philosophy, gardening | Tags: gardening, growing green, ian tolhurst, produce, vegan, veganic
My husband and I do not produce all of our own food, not yet anyway. We are currently growing kale, potatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, beans, lettuce, and some herbs and flowers. There’s an apple tree, a bunch of blackberry bushes, a rhubarb plant, and some strawberry plants in our plot, too.
We do our grocery shopping at a number of main chain stores here in England. The majority of our food comes from Tesco or Sainsbury’s. We might purchase food from a local, organic farm. Sometimes we will buy a bulk order of dried goods (like nuts, grains, and dried fruits) from an independent “vegetarian” wholesaler. But none of these outlets are actually good enough. Most food production currently utilizes the products or by-products of the animal industry.
The organic vegetable, seemingly the most innocent of foods, is often grown with chicken pellets (ie dried and processed chicken manure) or cow and horse poop. Your typical organic vegetable range at any local farm or big chain supermarket will most likely be grown with a by-product of the slave trade. This does not have to be the case, but until vegan organic methods are well known and widely used, veganism- abstaining totally from animal exploitation- will be a mere thought and never a reality.
Tragically, we have no need for growing vegetables with the poop of imprisoned animals. We can grow crops without manure. Humans have done this for thousands of years. Yes, vegan organic growing methods exist, and they are perfectly viable and sustainable.
I am intent on moving toward ethical sustainability. I know that if we take the time to learn about the fundamental tasks that constitute vegan organic gardening (such as crop rotation, composting, growing and incorporating green manure, and the preparing of plant based garden teas), we will begin to learn a great deal about true independence.
In that vein, I recommend that all vegan individuals acquaint themselves with vegan gardening. It is the very basis of the argument that we sure as hell can exist without exploiting animals. One book that opens up the informational floodgates is called Growing Green, and is written by Ian Tolhurst and Jenny Hall. These people are some of the first to put pen to the paper about purposefully growing with out animal inputs, and they are both large commercial producers using totally vegan production methods.
There’s going to be a lot more on this topic; from the myth that your local organic farmer is the cream of the ethical crop, to the ins and outs of making sure you can supply yourself with ethically produced, nutritious foods– we have a lot to talk about and learn together.