Manure tea just the thing for soggy soil

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By Cheryl Steenerson

May is over and June has arrived. Let’s just be thankful for every sunrise we see.
Tornado season is upon us. One of them hit the family farm in Huntingburg, Ind., last week. Though no one was injured, there is not a building that didn’t get damaged. Insurance will cover the costs but what a rough road ahead. We’ve been lucky here, so far.
The high number of tornadoes across the midwest will only go up in June, and that’s all the more reason we need to learn to live with these serious weather events. I have a plan and I’m prepared, the two most important keys to survival. How about you?
Since most of the tornadoes come in from the west, I have selected a room at the east end of the house with plenty of walls and doors in-between, and enough space to accommodate me and my furballs. I have a flashlight, lantern, radio, water, cell phone, shoes and clothes. Important papers are safely tucked away. My neighbors are like family and we watch out for each other. That’s about all you can do to prepare for Mother Nature.
We all know this spring weather has given us plenty of challenges, mostly in the form of a year’s worth of water in the past six months. Too much water makes our plants prone to disease, but it also strips a lot of the fertility from the soil. Plant leaves turn pale green or yellow.  The nutrients have been flushed from the soil and the roots stay soaked. It’s a condition known as chlorosis. Improved drainage and increased fertilizing is the cure.
Commercial fertilizers like 10-10-10 (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) usually provides a quick bang for your buck, but you also need all the trace elements and micro nutrients that make everything work together. The commercial bags usually don’t have these. It’s like a recipe. Leave some ingredients out and the end result will be questionable.  Plants need a balanced diet, just like us.
Trace elements and micro nutrients are found in things like greensand, wood ash, bone meal, blood meal, leaf mold, peat moss, epsom salts and compost. You can buy ready made bags of compost and pour some on top of the soil around the plant. That’s probably the easiest way to add the micro nutrients you need. Then, cover the soil with straw, as a mulch.
Mulching the soil around your plants slows the soil stripping process and keeps the soil from splashing up on your plants. That splashed up soil can carry disease and we already have enough battles on our hands.
You can make your own liquid fertilizer by making tea with certain plants and other organic materials. Nettle tea is very high in nitrogen. Just get barrels or buckets and load in pounds of the leaves. If the rain doesn’t add water, you should. Let it sit for a week and then you can start using the water once a week. Pour it on the soil. Put the used leaves in your compost pile.
Manure tea is made the same way. Different manures supply different amounts of the three main nutrients. Rabbit, chicken, goat, sheep, pig, cow and horse manure have different levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  Rabbit is the best overall. Chicken is too high in nitrogen and will burn the plants if used fresh. Let it sit for a month or more to cool down.
Reader’s corner: A reader asked me why her strawberries weren’t as sweet as last year. She has Honey-Os and they’re a very sweet berry. Well, hot dry weather makes the berries sweeter, and we’ve had cool, wet weather.
Now, get your tornado plan done and gather what you need. Then, start fertilizing your garden, quickly. Remember the wisdom of our grandparents, plan for the worst and hope for the best. We may have a late harvest, but we will have a harvest.
Happy growing!

Cheryl Steenerson is a gardening columnist for The Anderson News.