While at the beach several weeks ago, I watched as workers from one of the resorts raked the seaweed along the shoreline back into the sea. The sea, naturally, washed it right back up onto the beach. I knew that seaweed could be beneficial to the garden, so I asked one of the workers to bag me up some and I brought it home for my kitchen garden. I even suggested to him that he could probably make a business harvesting the seaweed and selling it to organic gardeners. He seemed to like that idea and said that many people from his village in the south knew about the benefits of using seaweed in their gardens.
And, indeed, for thousands of years, seaweed has been used by coastal farmers in their gardens because it has a full range of properties to enhance the soil and benefit the plants. Seaweed supplies bulk material to condition the soil and it contains approximately 60 trace elements, as well as growth hormones and plant nutrients. It is anti-fungal and helps prevent many plant diseases. Imbalances in the soil, such as nitrogen deficiency,can be fixed by adding seaweed because it can balance the soil’s environment so that nitrogen-fixing bacteria are encouraged.
The sand and salt in the seaweed contain elements that actually benefit plants, so unless your soil already has a high sodium content there is no need to wash it before placing it around your plants. Seaweed should be applied directly on top of the soil rather than mixing it into the soil. Wet or dry, like a mulch, it can be strewn around plants, placed in rings around trees, or a small amount can be put into a hole where plants are being set into the ground. It can also be mixed into the compost pile.
Because seaweed is not a cellulose-based plant like land plants,it will break down quickly releasing its wonderful soil amending properties and helping to breakdown other compost materials within the pile.
Some people prefer to make a “tea” with seaweed by placing it in a barrel or bucket with water (away from the house due to a strong odor), covering it loosely, and letting it steep for several weeks to months before applying it. A foliar spray deters pests, fungus and viruses as well as provides nutrients. The tea can also be used to counter the effects of “shock” when transplanting and is used on cuttings to help them establish themselves more quickly. The tea should be light brown in color, similar to regular tea, so water may have to be added if it is too strong.
Seaweed contains essential complex carbohydrates, iron,selenium, and iodine, as well as mannitol and alginic acid, both of which acidify the soil and help plants absorb nutrients. There areal so natural plant growth hormones in seaweed that encourage chlorophyll production, germination of seeds, and healthy root systems. Seaweed hormones also increase the strength of plant cell-walls, creating stronger more pest-resistant plants with increased nutritional value.
As the ancients knew and many organic gardeners of today know,seaweed is truly a gift from the sea as it helps provide stronger, faster-growing plants that germinate quickly, building stronger roots, and producing sweeter fruits and healthier vegetables with higher yields that are more resistant to pests and disease.