Using Seaweed as Fertilizer (the easy way)

seaweed-fertilizer-web

I picked up some seaweed from the beach on Sunday afternoon and put it in my garden yesterday:

I wrote on seaweed fertilizer a week ago and noted my plan to do this. I figured while I was at it I might as well make a video out of it. With cheese-ball dance music. And so I did!

Seaweed fertilizer is well-known as an amendment for the garden. I’ve bought and used seaweed fertilizer before in the form of kelp meal. There are popular concentrates, such as those made by Neptune’s Harvest, which will really get your plants going strong.

But what if you’re cheap?

What if you just pick up seaweed for free on the beach, then add it to the garden?

Over time, it rots down and feed the plants. I decided to do that in this recently planted garden bed, then leave the bed next to it without seaweed. Now we should if adding seaweed makes a difference in plant growth.

Seaweed is full of micronutrients, so adding it as mulch to a garden makes sense. I didn’t have enough to fully mulch this time so I went ahead and just made little rings around the plants. I also rinsed the seaweed three times to ensure the seedlings wouldn’t get too much salt.

Now we’ll see over time what happens – my favorite kind of gardening. We’ll get some ocean minerals in there, and I bet the vegetables are going to taste better.

By the way, if you don’t own a copy of Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer’s The Intelligent Gardener, you should get a copy. It’s quite inspiring.

Soon I’ll show you my other amendments to these beds. Stay tuned.

Using Seaweed Fertilizer in the Garden

seaweed

I’m sold on using seaweed fertilizer, whether fresh or purchased – and as people try it for themselves, they’re also learning its benefits.

As commenter Guian Millares writes:

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“Dude it worked!!! My plants have grown very well with washed seaweeds! I use or twice everyweek and it is working awesome! Ive never had such growth before!! wow! Thanks man! God bless you….never listen to those who say negative things on you…You are doing great! God bless you.”

Thank you! God has blessed me and continues to do so. And I count the abundance of free local seaweed as one of those blessings.

A year ago I posted this video on making and using seaweed fertilizer in the garden:

Which reminds me: I have some new garden beds that could really benefit from some seaweed application. I’ll have to take a couple sacks with me next time I hit the beach with the family.

If you live far from the beach or don’t feel like hauling bags of seaweed, you can get good seaweed fertilizers on Amazon. Neptune’s Harvest is a popular one and is really rich since it’s a mix of both seaweed and fish. Fish emulsion is like magic in the garden – and when you mix it with seaweed, you’re really adding the bounty of the ocean to your plants. They go crazy. In fact, my friend Jo the Master Gardener once told me that fish emulsion is the way to grow truly awesome organic strawberries in Florida. It greens them up and makes them fruit without encouraging leaf growth over fruit.

Another option that I used to use on my beds in North/Central Florida was kelp meal. It’s loaded with minerals and a little goes a long way. I don’t know if kelp is totally safe post-Fukushima, but I haven’t heard anything really scary lately.

I used kelp meal as part of the fertilizer mix I used to grow these amazing cabbages:

seaweed fertilizer helped these plants

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I followed the directions for making COF (Complete Organic Fertilizer) which Steve Solomon writes about in Gardening When it Counts. Once I had my mix, I sprinkled it all down the beds, raked it in, put down a weed barrier, punched holes, then planted cabbage seedlings. They did better than any I’ve grown before or since. Absolutely beautiful heads.

Seaweed was part of that. Consider it a multivitamin for your garden, loaded with micronutrients. The big three – NPK – are the main course – and seaweed has those, but not in huge amounts – but seaweed is really rich in the little things which add to the overall health of your plants.

How to Make and Use Seaweed Fertilizer

So, you have some seaweed and want to try it out? Here are three good options.

Option #1: Seaweed as Mulch

Take the seaweed, rinse it out, then use it as mulch. That works nicely and breaks down over time. Maritime Gardening agrees:

Option #2: Compost it!

Put seaweed directly into the compost pile. Consider it a “green” layer. I don’t bother rinsing it when I do this, figuring the salt on it will work its way through.

Option #3: Make Liquid Seaweed Fertilizer

You’ve seen me do this before with weeds, manure, kitchen scraps, etc.:

But you can do it with seaweed as well. It’s a great additive – or it can be used all by itself.

This is a very good video where a man does the same method I do, but with comfrey and other northern leaves, along with seaweed:

Hey, that guy looks way more pro than me. I should send him a T-shirt.

Now go – find yourself some seaweed!

Should you plant on mounds in a dry area?

Planting-on-mounds

Calen asks about planting on mounds in fast-draining soil:

“I’m a native Cracker from [coastal Florida]. I’ve been homesteading on ancestral farmland with a survivalist and traditionalist mindset for three years now. All heirloom and organic, etc. I own all of your books, and they, along with your blog and videos have been the most helpful gardening advice that I’ve ever found anywhere. Last year I grew tons of Seminole pumpkins with great success using your ‘melon pits’. I passed that along to many friends who did likewise. I also plant the pumpkins in many ‘guerrilla gardens’ in the swamp and backwoods on public land, and that’s worked out great as well. I never revisit them until harvest time, and they normally do better than my tended ones. Anyways, this year I want to give the three sisters a try. My plan is to use Jimmy Red corn, Cherokee black pole beans and Seminole pumpkins. Pretty much everything I read says to plant on mounds. However, my place is high, dry, east-bank-of-Lake George sugar sand. Is mounding the way I should  go? We didn’t even have standing water during the past two hurricanes. My thought was to maybe do these in slight pits like the melons and pumpkins but wanted to see if you had any advice on the subject? Thanks for your time.”

Fantastic. It’s good to hear from a fellow Floridian.

Mounds are what you always hear about. It’s even on the back of the seed packets. Calen is right to question the practice in his soil conditions.

For people who haven’t planted in Florida sugar sand, it’s hard to explain how very hot, dry, and fast-draining the stuff is. It contains almost no humus and needier crops planted in sugar sand need almost constant watering.

ScrublandSandySoil

My old homestead in North Florida had large patches of almost sandy loam with smaller grains which would hold water for longer. There, I would double-dig and loosen the ground to plant, which would mound it up somewhat.

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Those loose raised beds did very well, so it would be easy to say “oh yes, Calen, go ahead and plant in mounds – it works in Florida!”

But sugar sand isn’t the same as the soil above. Just because something works in one area of a state doesn’t mean it will work in another. And in his area, I would try to stay as flat as possible.

When you raise the height of the soil in one area, the water will drain out of it faster as it finds its level. You really can’t afford to let that happen. If he’s not holding onto water even after a hurricane, raised beds and mounds, unless amended with extra compost before every planting, are not the way to go.

You might want to go the other way completely and grow in sunken beds, as is sometimes done in the Southwestern US.

Even in my old yard, the back yard was loamy and the front yard was sandier.

This is how I used to plant melons and pumpkins in my fast-draining front yard:

MelonPit6

Those are sprouting legumes, by the way. In the winter I would plant melon pits with cool-season legumes like lentils, chickpeas, peas and fava beans to feed the soil and pave the way for the curcurbits I planted in the spring.

I would try planting in sunken beds, Calen, and see how it works. If you really want to see if if makes a difference, plant one area flat, one area in sunken beds, and one area on mounds, then compare how they did over the season. That would be a really good way to gain a bunch of data from one growing season.

I planted corn in flat ground when I had a sandy area:

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And on mounds in clay:

Planting-on-mounds

You’re right to think outside the mound. Thanks for writing and for the kind words – press on!

You get serious extra points for guerilla gardening Seminole pumpkins. The melon pit method is one of my favorite discoveries.

If you’re reading this and don’t know what Calen is talking about, here’s how to make a melon pit:

In sand, dig deeper and go for an indentation instead of a mound.

Finally, Calen: I’d love to see pictures of what you end up settling on. Happy gardening.

Mulching with Shredded Paper

shredded-paper-mulch

El Borak at Men of the West has posted a good article on using shredded paper as mulch:

 

Most gardeners who use raised beds quickly fall in love with mulches.  A thick layer of mulch on top of the soil preserves moisture, suppresses weed growth, and can even add nutrients to the soil all year long.  A good mulch can reduce your garden “maintenance” time by half.

But what’s the best material to use for mulch? You can buy a plastic or cloth sheet mulch that suppresses everything but your plants.  In recent years, wood chips have gained popularity. Chopped straw is effective but can be expensive. Shredded leaves are an old standby that never goes out of style.  But I would like to recommend a mulch you’ve probably never heard of: shredded paper.

Most of us have too much junk mail, receive too many magazines… in short, we have a ton of paper around the house that we throw away or burn (or if you read David the Good, compost!). Rather than looking for ways to get rid of it, you can put it to good use while it rots naturally, adding carbon to the soil.  It holds its form wonderfully. Worms love it. And perhaps best of all, my dog won’t dig in it so my young plants stay safe from that bone half-burying menace.

The steps to using it are few, the questions that arise are many, so let’s deal with the simple first…” (Click here to read the rest)

 

I used to bring home bags of shredded paper back when I worked in an office. It composts wonderfully if you mix it with coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, chicken manure or even urine. Or you can use it right as mulch. When I did that, I usually covered it with some regular wood chip mulch so it didn’t look too trashy.

Hey, it’s all carbon. Makes sense to use it.

Compost Tea: An Easy Way to Stretch Your Compost

Anaerobic-compost-tea

This week, over at The Grow Network:

Don’t Kill Yourself Making Compost!

Long ago, I used to spend a lot of time making big piles of greens and browns—carefully mixed, watered, turned, and sifted…. And yet I never had enough compost to go around.

I’m sure you know the feeling!

I still make piles, since I like to have fine compost for sprinkling on new garden beds and making my own potting mixes; however, I no longer rely on finished compost for the majority of my fertilizing.

Instead, I’ve got a much easier system: compost tea.

This is my favorite way to make free fertilizer. I use moringa leaves, manure, urine, compost, weeds, and other nitrogen-rich materials. I put them in a big barrel, top it off with water, and then let it rot on down into liquid fertilizer for my gardens. I’ll also add a cup or two of Epsom salts if I have them available for the extra magnesium and sulfur.

After a couple of weeks of sitting in the sun and rotting, you’ve got a compost tea with some serious fertilizing power. Take a look:

How to Use Compost Tea

I’ve fed big plots of corn and other crops effectively with very little trouble and very little material after discovering how well this anaerobic composting method works. It’s similar to Bokashi composting, but without having to buy Bokashi starter…

(Click here to read the rest)

More on the Dangers of Straw Bale Gardening

joel karsten straw bale gardening

On my controversial article on straw bale gardening, I recently received this comment from Terri of Ladybug Farms:

“I totally concur! I became the first certified organic hay supplier in Georgia in 2015. A lot of people said “why bother”. I wasn’t sure myself but I knew I had really clean hay, I wanted to encourage small herd ruminants to get certified, I wanted to support Georgia Organics 100 Organic Farms campaign and it just felt like the right thing to do. It took me a year or so of schlepping around these heavy hay bales as I searched for customers. I kept hearing stories of peoples gardens getting wiped out – poor seed germination, stunted plants, etc. The common thread was they got horse manure from a neighbor down the way. Hmmmm. Slowly I started to put it together as stories such as these began to surface. I only produce 200 square bales a year on my 7 acres and could sell 5 times the amount of hay if I had it. I hope others will pursue organic certification as there is a large demand. Thanks for posting this article!”

But, that’s not all. Over at my reprinting of the article at The Grow Network, I received this comment yesterday:

“I am a market farmer who lost 1200 potted tomato and pepper seedlings one year due to using worm castings (in my soil mix) that had clopyralid contamination (as I found out later from the local Extension Horticulturist). The person who made the worm castings had used a new source of barley straw for the worms. The clopyralid went through the digestive tract of the worms and was still intact. Apparently, clopyralid (and similar herbicides) can be active for years. I now test my worm castings before using by planting tomato seeds with it. If they grow normally after 3-4 weeks I know there is no contamination. I have since talked with many people who have had terrible herbicide problems from using straw as mulch for their home gardens. The local farmers often do not read the label fully or understand the problems, and sometimes aren’t even aware that their straw has been sprayed with clopyralid.”

People don’t get it. This stuff is wicked. And Joel Karsten attacks those who mention the potential for problems.

Look – I’ve even filmed the issue:

And I’m not alone. Karen Land has shared her story here.

Watch your back.

Turning Compost and Getting it Hot Again

turning-compost

I need to make some new compost piles like this one:

We’ve been saving kitchen scraps in sealed bucket on the porch until the land is cleared for our gardens. It’s taking longer than you might expect, but we’re on Central America time here. Getting guys out to do stuff takes time.

Soon, soon. Yeah, soon.

I posted this video a year ago and it sure did get hot after turning that pile. We got a good load of humus as well, plus it was filled with enriched biochar. Simple.

Piles and piles of compost…

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I said goodbye to the galvanized compost bin yesterday. I got a lot of use out of it and it was a very easy way to deal with the kitchen scraps without animal issues.

Here it is in action:

Moving it to the lot we’re going to work was too much trouble, unfortunately, as was moving the hundreds of pounds of mostly finished compost inside it.

The biggest problem with this compost bin was it was very hard to turn. I just skipped turning it until it was pretty much finished, but forking it out of the bin was no joke. The sides are high and the compost was saturated with water from the endless rains. It was more like forking swamp muck than forking compost.

When I emptied it yesterday we spread it around some bananas, plus filled a hole in the yard. That area will be the most fertile spot in the yard for years to come, as I also buried a lot of bones my wife had been saving for stock she never got around to making.

Ah well, at least it didn’t all end up in a landfill.

Continuous Composting

easy continuous composting

Continuous composting is easy when you quit worrying about ratios and rules:

Stack it up as you have it, then let it rot.

That’s how I deal with the kitchen scraps and fine yard waste.

You’ve seen the big metal compost bin I use as a continuous compost digester. I don’t have to turn compost unless I want to, instead, I just throw it in as we have it and wait. Nature does the rest. And look at that beautiful finished compost! It’s amazing.

It’s not quite “instant compost,” but if you just keep throwing things in a compost bin, they will break down and give you great compost without work. Continuous composting means not waiting around until you get a big stack of greens and a big stack of browns at the same time. Just throw them in the compost pile as you have them. When the bin gets good and full, I dump it out onto the ground or a tarp and let it finish off. And that’s it. In the video, you’ll also see how I’m composting coconut husks – they hold plenty of water as they rot, hence my using them in the bottom of pots.

Composting is a simple process of letting nature do what nature does. We get plenty of rain so I don’t even bother covering the pile. Lots of food scraps come through our kitchen and I toss them all in, including moldy sandwiches and rotten meat. There are bones in this compost and I think that’s great. I still can’t get over the fact that people buy bone and blood meal but are afraid to throw leftover ribs into the compost. Come on, people! It just makes sense.

The tall metal bin we have keeps most animals out, so that hasn’t been a problem. And if a few want to snack in the night, well, they can go for it. Who am I to begrudge a beggar some bones? They’ll turn it into manure somewhere anyhow.

Continuous composting is the best system for an average home. So compost everything!

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