Sustainably Harvested Sun Dried Kelp Meal

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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.

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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.

kelp meal

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.

Click here for purchasing information.

• 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.

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Compost Technology Thriving at Fox Valley Technical College

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The Fox Valley Technical College location near...

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Fox Valley Technical College, in Appleton, WI is looking forward to reaping both biological and financial rewards from applying compost tea throughout their campus.  Although it’s a small college, it’s got big plans. And lead horticultural instructor Jim Beard is the man behind those dreams.

A registered landscape architect and an Emeritus ASLA member, as well as an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional, Jim’s enthusiasm for environmental education is infectious, even over the phone. “I tell my students I’m really a 23 year old trapped in a 69 year old body.”

Jim hopes to combine saving money with cutting edge technology, all based on emerging green technology. But the main reason Jim has implemented this program is for the students. “We’ve got to start to pay attention to the planet”, said Jim. Compost tea is one way to do just that, and the students are eager to learn.

Compostwerks is honored to accept a compost tea workshop engagement at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, WI and further those students’ education in compost technology. Our Compost Tea workshop will be held on February 22, from 8:30 to 3:30 right at Fox Valley College.  The cost for the workshop is $150, and the snow date is February 23rd.  Student cost is $40. The Workshop includes instruction on:

Logistics in producing compost tea, Making high quality compost, Handling/application of compost tea, Detailed discussion on biology, and Soil Foodweb methodology
The application of Actively Aerated Compost Tea is becoming a widely accepted practice in managing soil nutrition and increasing plant vigor. Demand for this service had increased steadily with the advent of increased public awareness about the harmful affects of petro-based fertilizers and pesticides. Stand out in your marketplace and increase your knowledge or learn what it takes to integrate compost tea as a service platform in your operation.

Click on the link here for more information.

The students are responsible for maintaining the campus grounds. The college uses a 250 gallon GeoTea compost tea brewer. Last year, Jim and his students sprayed approximately 1,200 gallons of aerated compost tea at  As a baseline, students collected soil samples from five different locations. Jim thinks they will see some remarkable results this year.

“The students are just loving this”, Jim says. “They use a 100 gallon sprayer with a 12 foot boom for the soccer fields, and a 100 foot hose with a spray gun on the Kubota. We hope to have ‘sustainable spray’ signage up on the Kubota soon, but most everyone on campus knows what we are doing. We also have a new biodiesel lab, and aim to have the Kubota up and running on biodiesel very soon.”

Here’s a great video of Jim at work at Fox Valley:

Sometimes, Jim says he feels as though he is ‘pulling the past screaming into the future’, but for the most part, the program has been very well recieved by the college community, from the administration to the students. Cost wise, it’s a bit more expensive on the front end. Jim said it probably cost the school six thousand or so to get up and running with the equipment. But, according to Jim,  it used to cost the school more than $3,500 annually to use the chemicals, and they expect, once the biology is active in the soil again, to be able to significantly reduce their groundskeeping costs. And how about those excited students maintaining the college grounds in an organic, sustainable and planet-friendly way? Well, Jim thinks that’s priceless.

Kudos to you Jim and your innovative proagm at Fox Valley. Looking forward to seeing you soon!

Paul Sachs of North Country Organics

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Organic Matter Key to Healthy Soils
 

 

       

 

 

Paul Sachs

Paul Sachs, owner of North Country Organics

 Recently, we interviewed Paul Sachs of North Country Organics in Bradford Vermont. His company has made high quality natural fertilizers and soil amendments since 1983. He has authored several excellent books. His philosophy is that agriculture and horticulture can be productive, successful, and more profitable without compromising the earth’s delicate eco-system with harmful  chemicals.

As demand has grown for organics, Paul found he simply could not stock enough seasonal products. As an example, last year it took him 5 months to fill the warehouse and only 5 weeks to empty it. He now has three warehouses and is nearing completion on the construction of a fourth warehouse in order to meet the needs of his clients. 

I caught up with Paul recently in Bradford and asked him a few questions while he was loading up the Compostwerks truck.

 Paul, what do you think the soil in this country is lacking?

“The soil”, Paul said, “is substantially lacking in organic matter, particularly in areas that have been developed into commercial or residential sites. Sod has commonly been put down over construction fill, and, not surprisingly, the soil in and around theses areas has little biology to keep it healthy.”

What about adding biology to the soil, will that help?

“Yes, we certainly need to introduce the biology that’s missing, but before we even do that, we need to make sure the organic matter is in place. Even in cases where there is organic matter, much of it is compacted, or treated (often aggressively) with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Good organic matter has a healthy diversity of biology, so it can do what nature intended it to do.”

It is Paul’s conviction that soil biology is such a new and developing field that it is not entirely controllable at this point. “There are too many different variables, and too many different organisms we know little about at this point to micromanage them effectively and with any certainty,” he said. “It’s impossible to duplicate the ecosystem.” Paul feels adding robust organic matter to the soil will increase diversity and add much needed resources. Adding biology should be a second step, not a first.

What are your thoughts on soil testing, do you recommend biological or traditional testing?

Unequivocally Paul says, “Both”. “But a soil test is just a general idea, it really is just a general guideline as to what’s missing and what’s already present in sufficient quantity.  Paul’s advice for testing, other than to have both biological and traditional testing done is to pay attention to the extremes. Both the very low and the very high results are red flags and need to be addressed.

 

 “If you have the wrong plants in the wrong place at the wrong time”, Paul said, “It favors pests and weeds. I see it frequently – someone planting bluegrass will complain that it has brown spots – well, does Bluegrass grow as a native species in New England? No, it doesn’t so it will always be susceptible to various pests and weeds. What does grow successfully here? Clovers, plantains, and native grasses”.

What about dealing with weed and pest pressures?

 

 

What does he think about the new techniques like bio char and EM?

Basically, his advice in this regard is simple. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always the innovator however, Paul states that emerging technologies need to be investigated. “There’s always something being explored”, he said. For instance, Paul’s quite intrigued with a new soil amendment on the market called “Regalia”, actually an extract from the knotweed plant. “What’s so interesting to me about this product is that it’s not used as an herbicide or a pesticide. Supposedly it actually strengthens a plant’s immune system – it doesn’t kill or suppress anything, it just makes the plant it’s applied to stronger”.

Solar Panels on NCO

The solar panels are mounted on the roof of the main warehouse

As a footnote, it should be mentioned that Paul generates his own electricity with an on grid photovoltaic solar power system. In true yankee fashion, Paul is able to sell any surplus energy back to the utility through a process called net metering. Bravo!

North County Organics website can be viewed at www.northcountryorganics.com