Stir up a batch of FPE – Fermented Plant Extract – and your weeds magically become fertilizer and pesticide – and it’s organic!
Yes, we all have weeds. We also have microbes. Just because I cannot see a microbe does not mean it doesn’t exist or that it’s not willing to work for us. Learning something new is exciting, so if you already know about this one, please do not burst my bubbles (Hmmm, bubbles/fermentation? There’s a joke in there somewhere). Let me have my Eureka moment and just be happy for me.
You can make your own organic liquid fertilizer and/or pesticide at home in your spare time – and this stuff is way better than plain old compost tea. Here is a simple recipe, but first you may need to know about one product called EM or EM-1…
EM (Effective Microorganisms) and EM-1 contain yeast, photosynthetic bacteria, and lactic acid bacteria, which will help to break down the plant material (weeds) and make the (water soluble) nutrients available via fermentation. It’s a bit costly, but you only need to buy it once. The lactobacilli in the product are beneficial microorganisms often used in composting. They arrest the foul smell associated with anaerobic decomposition and feed on the ammonia released in the decomposition so there is not much smell in this process. Hey, why stink if you don’t have to?
Okay, gather the ingredients: weeds – lots of weeds, a large plastic bucket with a lid, an extra bucket for mixing the liquid, molasses, EM, water…yep, that’s everything, except you also may want to grab a stout stick for stirring.
Most of us have a 5-gallon plastic pail or two, so let’s use those. You will also need a tight-fitting lid.
Stuff an assortment of weeds into the pail. In a separate pail, mix water (rainwater is ideal or use water which is chlorine/chloramine free), molasses – (unsulphured blackstrap, please, and organic if possible), and the EM-1. That’s the basic idea. Some people like to measure things:
3.75 gallons of chopped up weeds; and 3.75 gallons of water, 1/2 cup each of molasses and EM-1.
Yep, approximate but close enough.
Chop up the fresh weeds as small as possible, maybe 2-inch pieces or so, and stuff them into the 5-gallon pail. When you pour the EM/molasses/water mixture over the weeds, stir it up and smoosh it down to remove the trapped air. There should be little or no air space at the top. Place the lid on the bucket and wait. Wait…no, you don’t have to just stand there; you can go do other things. Come back in 2-3 days. Lift the lid and stir to release the gasses. Wait some more, stir, wait… You get the idea. In about 7 – 14 days, more or less, you will have a finished product. This fermentation process occurs more quickly during warm weather than during cold.
Oops, there is one more thing you need – a pH test kit. When the pH of the mixture is between 3.2 and 3.7, then your FPE is ready.
Strain to separate the solids from the liquid. Nothing will be discarded: The solids can either go into the compost bin or be added (sparingly) directly to your garden beds; the liquid should be poured into plastic bottles (please label and date the bottles) to be used as a spray, which will both fertilize and act as a pesticide. This stuff is potent, so check to find the correct dilution for your particular application.
Just in case you are skim reading this, let me repeat – THIS STUFF IS POTENT – DILUTE IT. Whew, sorry for using my loud voice, but it’s important. You only need about 1 teaspoon or less per gallon of water. Depending on the intended use, the ratio can be 1:500 or 1:1000.
The EM, EM-1 and the FPE don’t last forever. They were made to be used. So please use them up before they lose potency or go bad. Store them in a cool, dark place, but not in the fridge. Remember to make a new batch before you run out.
Now it’s time to do your own research. Some plants have the ability to pull nutrients from deep in the ground. Fermenting those plants will make the nutrients available to all of your plants. You may learn that certain weeds will deter different insect pests, so try to include citronella, nettle, and pepper plants in the mix of weeds. It’s a good idea to chop up several types of weeds as you never know which insect pest will be visiting your garden. Keep researching and experimenting to find the weed/nutrient/pest combo that works for you.
About now someone will say not to use tobacco leaves to create a foliar spray for tomatoes and vice versa, but I am counting you to do your additional research and use your common sense.
Okay, who doesn’t love their weeds just a little more today than they did yesterday?
About the bottle of EM that you purchase: In the same way that a person doesn’t need to buy new yogurt or new kombucha every week if they make their own, you only need to purchase the EM one time if you remember to start a new batch working before the bottle is empty. Take about 30 ounces of chlorine/chloramine-free water, 1.5 ounces of molasses, and 1.5 ounces of the EM, mix them in a plastic container, add a lid (Okay, Mr/Mrs/Ms Fancy Pants, if you happen to have an air-lock, then good for you!), and allow the mixture to ferment at room temperature for maybe 4-5 days, during which time you will stir and check the pH. You may need to let it sit a few extra days. You are looking for a pH below 3.8, with 3.5 being the optimum pH. There are other magic ingredients you can add if you want to get crazy-fancy, such as liquid kelp and rock dust, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.
It is not totally necessary to purchase the EM to create a liquid fertilizer. You could do without, but the process is very, very stinky and neither your family nor your neighbors will appreciate the aroma. Omit the EM, use the plant material/weeds, molasses, and good quality water, place in a plastic container, leave air space at the top, cover, and set in a dark place undisturbed. You could do this, but I wouldn’t advise it unless you live far enough away from other people. http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Fe…)
Some additional info links for researchers:
Edit added by Plant Sister:
“For the ingredients, if we want this to be a liquid for growing plants and encouraging them to produce many leaves, we can use the weeds with the greenest color. If we want to make the liquid to stimulate the plant to produce fruit or flowers, we can use ingredients that include the ripened fruit we would otherwise throw in the trash. Some use ripened papayas, bananas, and pumpkins in the fermentation process in a ratio of 1:(1:1:1):10 = (1 kg. of sugar cane per 3 kgs. of the ripened fruit per 10 kgs. of water). I think it is very easy to make the fermented liquid to use on plants. Please do not forget to dilute with water in a ratio of 1:500.”
This post was a written with my Plant Sister (she is so smart!), who introduced me to the subject in a conversation that started as a discussion of fermented orange peel but that’s a post for another day.
And a great big “thank you” to my neighbor Carlos, who was kind enough to lend me a hand – literally – for the photo.
Note: Once purchased, a bottle of EM-1 should be kept in a cool, dark place (but not in the refrigerator) and has a shelf life of up to 12 months – check the bottle for an expiration date. Once opened, the product should be used within 3 months.
Originally published January 2014