At my third year in my house and therefore growing a wonderful kitchen garden, my tomatoes are looking really sad, which I'm currently attributing to a lack of nitrogen in the soil. I've been composting and sheet mulching from the beginning, but apparently not enough. In the interest of not having to continually purchase some type of fertilizer (who would want to do that!?) I'm thinking it would be good to encourage/plant some perennial nitrogen fixers for ground cover. My first though is clover, but in the interest of getting it right the first time, I wanted to ask some of the experts here for suggestions on plant varieties?
The next layer of solution I'm considering is using compost tea. I tried this in the past, but it really just became quite smelly and unpleasant. I'm sure I'm not doing it right, but what is the right way???
White clover varieties can work well. Know there are many tips and tricks, depending on what you grow in them, that will greatly aid success... Clover can also be grow elsewhere, then used as a chop 'n' drop. Know that certain varieties store more nitrogen in their foliage than others...
Comfrey is an excellent candidate for chop 'n' drop for supplying nitrogen, potassium and trace minerals (once established, and assuming it is well amended; as it can't uptake what is not there). Also an excellent source for making AACT... Sting nettle is also excellent for both.
Are you aerating your compost tea? If it is going anaerobic, it's going to smell bad. Go to your local aquarium supply store and buy a cheapie little air pump for a 10 gallon tank and a diffuser stone. Drop that into your compost tea brew bucket and your odor problems will be gone. I do this with a few ounces of chicken manure in a 5 gallon bucket of water, and in a couple of hours the shit smell is replaced by a sweet cut-grass smell (I have pastured chickens).
If you have a blender, there are all sorts of things you can add to your brewing bucket: mushrooms (for the fungal spores), biochar, nasty food forgotten in the fridge, dead bugs, pond scum, etc.
Goumi is a edible fruiting shrub.
Fava beans planted in the fall and allowed to die in the early spring/winter.
dwarf white clover,
regular bush beans planted every 2 weeks, due to the fact that once they flower they stop producing flowers.
The problem is most likely not due to just low Nitrogen but also pest.
You have to follow crop rotation.
heavy Nitro user -tomatoes, etc
low nitro user -root crops
nitro givers -beans/legumes
Dont plant things from the same family the next year example tomatoes>potatoes.
You have ten families of veggies.
legume, cabbage, carrot/dill, spinach/beet, mint/thyme, grass/corn, lettuce, rose/regular fruits, I cant remember the other 2
Some great ideas already here. Because you may be new to comfrey - be aware that you should select where you put it carefully, as it will be there forever (kind of like rhubarb), and the unless you get a sterile Russian/Bocking type, don't let it go to seed.
There's a great little known book called: How to Grow World Record Tomatoes: A Guinness Champion Reveals His All-Organic Secrets by Charles H. Wilber. It's quite amazing. If I remember right, he grows a winter cover crop of rye and fava beans, uses heavy strawmulch (in his region, he's able to get kudzu hay - kudzu being a nitrogen-fixer - not that I recommend starting kudzu if it's not already in your region). He also plants annual peas or beans near his tomatoes. If you can get that book out of the library, it's well worth reading. Some of the ideas that he's come up with are pretty similar to permaculture (don't cultivate the soil, plant a nitrogen-fixer nearby, mulch, drip irrigation). He gets monstrous growth by watching the plants carefully (measuring rate of growth), and adding light non-synthetic fertilizers when the plant looks like it may go into stress. It's very detailed, and one of these days after all my trees and perennials are in, maybe I'll have time to watch my tomatoes as closely as he does/did (he was in his 80s when the book came out).
Just in case this is you: check if any trees nearby are black walnuts, butternuts, heartnuts, even hickories. If so - you'll have much better luck with tomatoes/potatoes/peppers, and numerous other plants in a garden bed quite far from the tree. You can look this up, there is lots of info out there about the effects jugalone in walnuts has on neighbouring plants.
I've had success with perennial white-clover, as well as perennial lupine and perennial crown vetch; I haven't yet tried fenugreek, as a perennial nitrogen fixer but that might also be a nice ground-cover/companion plant for heavy nitrogen feeders. Siberian peashrub, as well as Russian olive, Autumn Olive and seabuckthorn, might also be worth looking at, if you thin you'd like nitrogen-fixing shrubs/small-trees that could provide some shade and maybe even eventually trellising support for vining plants like tomatoes. Also, if this does not exceed your personal "yuck" factor, if plants are in need of a quick shot of nitrogen, human-urine (of an omnivore), diluted 20:1 with water could provide the nitrogen your plants may be needing.