Ray and I have been composting for several years now. We throw all of our fruit and vegetable waste into the pile, along with tea bags, coffee grounds and washed egg shells, then turn it once a week or so. Other than the egg shells, we had to stop putting any type of animal product (old cheese, unwashed egg shells, expired milk, etc.) into our compost pile because the local wildlife and some of the neighborhood dogs were attracted to it, and they would spread the compost from here to there, making a terrible mess. Even so, we still got good compost! But, let me explain why we don’t want to rely on our compost as our only soil amendment, and decided to make natural kelp fertilizer.
Before I go any further, here’s a little vocabulary to know:
Macronutrient: an element required in large amounts for plant growth and development, consisting of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium.
Micronutrient: an element or substance required in small amounts for normal growth and development of living organisms, including iron, copper, iodine and zinc. There are actually many more micronutrients than macronutrients.
Monoculture: planting the same crop year after year, usually in large plots of land.
One of the biggest problems with monoculture is that many of the micronutrients that we (humans) require are well used up from the soil after just a few years. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, are added back to the soil by farmers, but what about selenium, copper, magnesium and cobalt? Generally, these micronutrients are not added back to the depleted soil, which means the resulting food produced on this land will not have these essential micronutrients. Soils depleted of micronutrients is one reason why many of our foods available at the supermarket are not as nutritious as foods offered just one hundred, or even fifty years ago!
In the compost pile we can easily take care of a plant’s need for macronutrients. Nitrogen, which promotes leaf growth, can be provided by chicken manure. Potassium, which aids in flower and fruit development, can easily be added to the compost in the form of wood ash, which also adds calcium. Phosphorous stimulates root growth and can be obtained from bone meal or bone char (burned bone meal).
But what about the micronutrients? Where are they going to come from? If a lot of the fruits and vegetables you purchase at the grocery store are lacking (monoculture) in micronutrients, therefore throwing your apple cores, squash peels and moldy carrot tops aren’t going to magically add these micronutrients.
Of course, you could always use a fertilizer that you purchase ($$$$$) containing a lot of the micronutrients that may be lacking in your soil. Or, you can make kelp fertilizer!
Why kelp fertilizer?
Because, unlike soil that generally sits in one place and can be lacking this nutrient or that, our oceans are constantly circulating water (that carries micronutrients) all over our earth, and therefore the plants that grow in the ocean (kelp/seaweed) have more nutrients available for them to take in!
Kelp only has a small percentage of potassium, so it’s not a primary fertilizer of macronutrients, therefore it must be added in conjunction with other fertilizers, such as the aforementioned chicken poop, wood ash and bone meal! Better yet, the nutrients in kelp are held in organic molecules, which is a form readily available to plants.
Another benefit of Kelp fertilizer is that it contains cytokinins, gibberellins and auxins, all valuable plant hormones. Studies show that cytokinins play a vital roll in cell division and enlargement and gibberellins aid in stem elongation, germination, and flowering.
So, last September Ray and I vacationed on the Pacific Coast and harvested an ice chest full of kelp. We got lots of Bull Kelp, Kombu, Porphyra (nori) and Bladderwrack. According to Superfoods for Superhealth, in California we can harvest 17 pounds of seaweed/kelp per day from most public beaches!
Once home, the seaweed was soaked in fresh water for about an hour, drained, then soaked in more fresh water. This was to help remove the salt, sand and any little critters from the seaweed. The seaweed was then placed in a large barrel with more fresh water and left to soak overnight. Through the process of osmosis, a lot of the salt in the tissues of the seaweed are extracted into the fresh water. That water was dumped and more fresh water was added – just enough to cover. Now it was time to brew up some fertilizer! A screen was placed over the barrel, and it was left in the hot sun to start fermenting.
The brew had to be stirred at least once a day. Twice is best.
Boy, did it ferment! The first few days everything seemed to be going well. When I took the lid off the brew smelled like the beach the seaweed was taken from. A little sour and musty, but nothing extreme. There were a few flies trying to get into the brew, but I was able to fend them off. That was until about the fourth or fifth day…
Let me tell you, this stuff gets stinky! By two weeks we were wondering if the smell could get any worse! Every time I went to stir the concoction, my eyes would water because it smelled so bad. If I could describe it to you, it smelled like, well, hmmmm….
… actually, there really isn’t a description for the smell. Just take my word for it, it’s stinky smelly! If you decide to make your own kelp fertilizer, don’t say I didn’t warn you! I could smell the fermenting sea juice at least 25 feet away. 50 feet if I was down-wind!
After a month, I could see that the kelp was breaking down into a stinky, almost gelatinous brew. While I was stirring, I would always think of my high school days reading Macbeth…
But then Thanksgiving was just around the corner and Christmas shopping had to be done. Between birthdays and holiday festivities, I forgot to stir the goop every day.
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