Tom Roth knows seaweed. After 28 years as a commercial fisherman, Tom decided to “keep it simple” and build a skiff. He wanted to find a way to stay closer to home, and enjoy the beauty of the Maine seacoast. “I went to the local lobster co-ops and asked if they needed seaweed for shipping their lobsters – within a year, I was selling them 200 bags every week. I loved it, and it was very peaceful.” With the fishing industry collapsing in Maine at the time, Tom put his fishing permits up for sale and used the capital from that to research and invest in the growing seaweed market.
Soon, Tom was harvesting 50 tons a week and working with the Maine Seaweed Council. Five summers ago, Tom decided to start his own business, “ VitaminSea Seaweed”. MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) certified, Tom’s operation harvests the seaweed in a sustainable manner. “We only take 17% of what is legally allowed to take (50% of the total crop). We don’t pull on the roots of the plants at all, we use a cutter head that chops the top portion of the plant only. That allows the plants to grow back healthier and bushier.”
All of Tom’s products are from live ocean plants from the cold pristine waters off the rocky coastline, not from seaweed that was washed up on shore. All the products are naturally sun dried to keep all their nutrients at the highest level. Tom and his crew even harvest, process, and package their own products!
Tom harvests “ Ascophyllum nodosum” , one of the most studied seaweeds in the world. It grows from Canada to Norway, and from Maine to Massachusetts .The iodine in this species can be two times as much as in other species.
His feed grade seaweed is dried indoors in greenhouses, using the heat from the sun only, never any harsh blowers or heat treatments. The lawn and garden grade is dried outdoors in the sun, and is milled to a finer grade so it breaks down more easily when applied to the soil.
Why use seaweed at all on your plants, turf or trees? Tom says there are innumerable trace minerals found in the seaweed, and that in fact, every natural element known to man exists in seawater. Seaweed concentrates these elements in its tissues and provides plants with more than 60 minerals, vitamins, macro/micro nutrients and amino acids. Seaweed (or kelp) is one of the most valuable soil conditioners in the world.
Seaweed stimulates beneficial soil microbial activity, particularly in the pockets of the soil around the feeder roots resulting in a substantial larger root mass, where the beneficial fungi and bacteria known as “mycorrhizae” make their home. This area of the soil is known as the “rhizosphere”. The rhizosphere activity improves the plants ability to form healthier, stronger roots. Having many actions, it also enhances the plants own natural ability to ward off disease and pests. A good example has been observed that aphids, and other types of sap feeding insects, generally avoid plants treated with seaweed. At the same time it works within the soil to make nutrients available to the plant. The rhizosphere forms a nutrient food bank for the plant, that it can draw on in times of stress.
Another action seaweed has on the roots in the rhizosphere is due again to the increased mass and depth of the roots. The plant is able to draw more moisture from the soil, increasing the drought tolerance level. The root mass also allows the plant to more effectively absorb and use fertilizers that are applied to the plant and soil. The overall stronger root structure help plants physically resist certain types of root diseases.
Seaweed enhances photosynthesis by increasing a plant’s chlorophyll levels. Chlorophyll is what gives plants their green color. By upping the level of chlorophyll, the plant is able to efficiently harness the sun’s energy. Along with this, seaweed contains a complex range of biological stimulants, nutrients and carbohydrates. To date more than 6 different types of nutrients in seaweed have been confirmed. However, seaweed in itself is not a plant food, rather it is classified as a “bio-stimulant”.
Seaweed contains natural plant growth regulators (PGR) which control the growth and structural developments of plants. The major plant growth regulators are auxins, cytokinins, indoles and hormones. These PGRs in seaweeed are in very small quantities generally measured in parts per million. It only takes a very small amount of these to do the job.
Indole compounds help the development of plant roots and buds. Cytokinins are hormones that promote growth by rapidly speeding up the process of cell division, making seaweed of value in treating tissue cultures. When applied as a foliar spray, the leaves rejuvenate and stimulate photosynthesis. Thus, they stay green longer. The cytokinin in seaweed are a major factor when applied to apple and peach trees in promoting the growth of fruiting spurs and reduce premature dropping of fruit. Auxins, also hormones, occur in the roots and stems during cell division. They move to areas of cell elongation where they allow the walls to stretch. Auxins actually give fruits and vegetables a naturally longer shelf life. This is known as delaying senescence: the deterioration of cells and tissues that result in rotting.
Improved cold tolerance: Tom has had results with seaweed treated tomato plants that were able to take temperatures as low as 29 degrees and survive quite well. Many more cold tolerant annual flowering plants such as petunia, alyssum, and verbena were able to withstand many hard freezes and stay green and flowering. Plants that have broken dormancy too early due to unseasonable fluctuating temperatures are able to make it with the help of just one foliar application, as have seedlings that were put out and left uncovered.
How can this be? The effect of the growth regulators in seaweed fill plant tissues. In turn this helps plants to tolerate the pressure from frost that would normally cause significant tissue damage. Polyamino compounds in seaweed also play a role in cold resistance, as does abscissic acid. Seaweed as a plant supplement treatment has consistently proved to be the best treatment for preventing the threat of frost damage.
Seaweed and insects: Once again the plant growth regulators in seaweed come into play concerning insect control. Tom has observed reductions in populations of aphids and flea beetles on seaweed treated plants to the point that these bugs were hardly noticed. Infestations of spider mites have been reduced by 40-50%. the presence of hormones, has an effect in disrupting the insects reproductive capabilities.
So, in conclusion, seaweed is like giving your plants and soils an organic vitamin pill! Feeding plants without concern of the long term health of the soil, is like building a house on sand. Thus, organic gardening practices are by far the best way to improve this critical part of your plants living space. As people become more sensitive to environmental issues, the need for organic gardening methods plays a critical role in our health and the health of the planet. The use of seaweed…a natural, sustainable gift from the ocean…aids us with our efforts in the garden.
Compostwerks is proud to carry this sustainably-harvested, sun dried, family farmed product. The seaweed meal is available in 1, 7, 12 and 25 pound buckets. Kelp Meal Should be applied in early spring and fall, when soil can be worked. Mix thoroughly with soil, seed and transplant beds and composting material.
• Flowers, vegetables and shrubs: 1 lbs. per 100 sqft.
• Houseplants: 1 Tbsp. mixed into soil per 6″ pot
• Bulbs: 1 Tbsp. mixed into soil per bulb.
• Trees: 1/2 lb per inch of tree in drip line
• Lawns/Turfs: 10 lbs. per 1000 sqft.
• Compost: 1/2 cup per cubic foot.