Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Seaweed gardening

Seaweed is the bomb!!! Yes it is. If you are lucky enough to live by the seaside and have access to seaweed you have a free source of superb food for your soil and for yourself.

A little bit about the stuff

Seaweed comes in many forms, long and thin, broad, with little gas bubbles (oh the bubblewrap effect) or as hairlike strands. 
It can generally be said that all seaweed is a good source of nitrogen as it sports a really high protein content, which also makes it a good candidate to be directly consumed by us. Seaweed also produces a multitude of different bioactive compounds. Many modern drugs are derived from compounds that were initially found in some form of seaweed. 
Generally speaking there are only few species of seaweed that are poisonous, but it has to be said that the one or other species can be detrimental to ones health. Mostly however, it is really healthy. There are many books out there that talk about cooking with seaweed and for those who think that I am talking nonsense I suggest you give it a try. I have a copy of a book called "Irish Seaweed Kitchen" by Prannie Rathigan which I find quite comprehensive.

But in this post I want to write a little more about what can be done in the garden using seaweed. 

Seaweed is high in Carbon and Nitrogen which makes it an excellent fertiliser. In comparison to other terrestrial green manure crops you won't have to worry about weeds that might get trekked in with mulch. As a mulch cover it is also not too bad, although the higher nitrogen content will make

Seaweed additionally
it decompose faster than, say straw will. But it is free and if you don't mind mulching the garden a bit more often, go ahead and use seaweed instead of stra

Seaweed additionally
w or wood chips or whatever you might use currently. 

As you know, seaweed fertiliser has made it into the garden centers all over the world by now. 
In Argentina seaweed became a problem on recreational beaches. So much was washed up that it had to be periodically removed. A scientific study investigated the possibility of composting the waste seaweed and use it to enhance the soil quality of the local farm land. 
I won't get into the details of that one but here is the reference if you are interested: 

Eyras et al.
Biological Evaluation of Seaweed Composting 
Compost Science & Utilization, (1998), Vol. 6, No 4, 74-81
The conclusion was that addition of seaweed compost improved the local soil significantly not only in respect of carbon and nitrogen but also in terms of water retention and improvement of plant health to water stress. 

Additionally, seaweed is high in minerals especially Manganese and Zinc. Both of which are members of the 16 essential nutrients. If either of those nutrients is in short supply it will have an effect on the overall yield of the soil in terms of plant growth.

So what do we do with it?

Today we gathered a nice pile of seaweed to use as non-animal manure in our vegetable garden. And when I say our vegetable garden, I mean my mother's. Since we are staying at their place for the winter I thought it would be nice to repay my parents with a little work around the house, including the garden. Starting with fertilising the vegetable patch. 

The seaweed that we gathered on the shore is fresh, and wet. 

NOTE: When harvesting any seaweed or anything else from the wild really, please take care not to overdo it. We made sure that we didn't take a lot of seaweed from one patch. A little here and a little there won't hurt. Best is to gather up the seaweed that is washed up on shore during a storm. That stuff will rot anyway and why not let it rot where we can use it

After bringing it up from the shore - which we did by hand using a large bin to stay truly carbon neutral - we spread it out in a small pile. This pile is not on the garden bed however. We are expecting rain tonight and I wanted to let the rain wash out some of the salt before spreading it out on the bed. 

So much for today. Next we will go into how to pack the bed properly and how to prepare it for the winter months.

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