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.

Sharing Success with Compost Tea Applications

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Paul Lorrain is a busy man. He runs three businesses in the Kennebunkport, ME area under his “Sunset Farm Organics” business name, each featuring organic plant care. A recently Accredited Organic Landcare Professional, Paul is enthusiastically embracing the concept and use of compost tea for both his turf operations and greenhouse applications. “I ran a traditional lawncare company for 21 years,” said Paul,  “and for the last 15 I thought we were organic because we spread granular organic fertilizer – little did I know!” According to Paul, 95% of his clients transitioned immediately. He noted that 21 of his clients have estates on the ocean and the marshes, with fragile ecosystems that are particularly important to maintain organically.
Organic Salad Mix
Paul also runs a popular organic salad mix business, selling to stores, restaurants and farmers markets. He runs the business from April to October, and is getting ready to spray the  prepared seed beds with actively aerated compost tea before the start of the growing season. He’s looking forward to another successful year with the greens, in part because of the compost tea applications.
His latest business specializes in spraying compost tea on estates with marshes, ponds, lakes, estuaries and oceanfront land.  “I’ve picked up a 100 thousand square feet of turf,” said Paul, “folks are very happy with the results, and I can say I’ve had a 100 percent success rate with the compost tea.” Paul has a manager for both the organic greens business and the landscaping business, and hopes to have a manager in place soon for the compost tea business.
As to the inherent cost differential between going organic and going conventional, Paul says he likes to tell his customers,  “you can buy Folgers, or Green Mountain coffee, it’s your choice. Is it cheaper to pick up a spreader and a bag of cheap fertilizer from Home Depot? Probably. Do you get safe, long lasting, beautiful results? I sure don’t think so. If you go the organic route in your lawncare business, you’ll get your investment back, for sure. People recognize the value of it, and will pay more. It costs more to take care of your children, pets, and your family the right way, but it’s a premium more and more people are ready to pay. There’s definately a buzz about it now.”
His competitors aren’t very happy with him, he says, and as far as he’s concerned, that means something’s working. Paul likens some of the success of his growing businesses to the popularity of the “eat local and buy organic” campaigns of late. “It’s like I’m riding a horse, I’ve been in business most of my life, and now it’s like I am having to hold the reins back. I am very cautious about bringing in too many clients and not being able to offer them exceptional customer service. We are only going to take on a few clients this year, I don’t need to conquer the world”.

Soil Foodweb Testing

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Dr. Elaine Ingham, President of Soil Foodweb Inc.

In this blog update, we have posted the first of a three part interview with Dr. Elaine Ingham, President and Director of Research of Soil Foodweb

Compostwerks: Why is it important to have both conventional and biological testing completed on soil and compost

Dr. Ingham:

Traditional testing tells us about the levels of micro and macro elements, cation exchange, organic matter percentage, base saturation and pH. These are fundamental components of plant nutrition, but it’s only one part of the equation. We know that it’s the microbial component of the soil that has a majority of the control over nutrient cycling and sequestration. Conventional testing doesn’t quantify the reserves of nutrients which are tied up in non-available forms, or in the microbes themselves. Simply put, a plant can’t uptake the necessary nutrients unless in an available form. Without the right biology in place, we’re locked into conventional (petro-chemical) methods.

Compostwerks: Which is why you founded Soil Food Web, your soil testing and research lab.

Dr. Ingham: Yes, the Soil Foodweb offers professional lab testing of different organisms found in healthy soil, compost, compost tea, and other soil amendments. Using direct microscope methods, we measure populations of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes. We offer specialized testing for mycorrhizal colonization and leaf surface foodweb evaluations. Once we know what microbes are missing or inactive, we have data in order to make further recommendations.

The leaf surface examinations monitor the success of foliar applications of compost tea. We also offer general testing for pH, electrical conductivity and E. coli.  Mycorrhizal colonization analysis quantifies the level of the symbiotic fungal association with plant roots.  We know that benefit to plants that need mycorrhizal fungi begins to occur around 12 to 14% colonization, and reaches full benefit around 40% colonization.

Compostwerks: What type of testing do the assays cover?

Dr. Ingham: Our testing assesses Total Bacteria: (total biomass of all bacteria, active and dormant), Total Fungi: (total biomass of all fungi, active and dormant), Active Bacteria: (biomass of just the metabolically active bacteria), Active Fungi: (biomass of just the metabolically active fungi), Protozoa: (numbers of individual Flagellates, Amoebae, and Ciliates), Nematodes: (numbers of individuals and identification to genus and function), Mycorrhizal Colonization: (percentage of roots colonized by mycorrhizal fungi), Leaf Surface covered by organisms. We also offer general testing for Electrical Conductivity: (high conductivity indicates high salt levels) and pH: Acidity or Alkalinity: (pH is influenced both by the mineral content and the biology in the soil), and Escherichia coli bacteria: (number of Colony Forming Units detected).

Compostwerks: Why are each of these tests important?

Dr. Ingham: Measuring bacterial activity and numbers is important because bacteria promote plant health in many ways. Bacteria, along with fungi, decompose dead plant material into more bacteria, foods for other organisms, and carbon dioxide. Aerobic bacteria build the first step in soil structure, which is the production of “bricks”, the basic building blocks to make air passageways, and hallways to allow water and oxygen to infiltrate into soil. Bacteria take up soil nutrients that plants cannot take up, the first step of converting these nutrients into plant available forms. When too many, or all the bacteria are dormant, their ecosystem services will not provide the full potential benefit to the plants. When too many are active, they may compete with plants for soil nutrients. The right range of activity varies by season in soils. In mature compost, 10% or lower activity is desired so nutrient up-take by bacteria is not so great as to compete with plants.

Measuring fungal activity is important because fungi, along with bacteria, decompose dead plant material into new fungi, foods for other organisms, and carbon dioxide.  Fungi build the second level of soil structure, by binding the micro-aggregates built by bacteria into macro-aggregates, allowing better infiltration of water and oxygen into the soil.   Fungal filaments transport nutrients to where they are most needed. The optimal range of fungal biomass varies according to crop, climate and season. Measuring fungal numbers in a sample is important because fungi recover from disturbance more slowly than bacteria. Excessive tilling of soil, excessive turning of compost, or use of many synthetic chemicals can devastate beneficial fungi. Active fungal biomass in the right range is a good sign of overall soil health. If activity is low and the local environment is free of physical and chemical disturbance, the dormant part of the fungal population may only need feeding.

We measure protozoa because these organisms, along with bacterial-feeding nematodes, eat bacteria and release nutrients, from nitrogen to zinc, in plant available forms, making them essential to healthy plant growth. Flagellates and amoebae nearly always require aerobic conditions to grow, while ciliates prefer anaerobic conditions.  A high ciliate population indicates disease-prone conditions which need to be addressed such as soil compaction and excessive irrigation.

Nematodes are a very large group of very small worms, found everywhere on Earth. Some soil-dwelling species cause crop damage, some prey on other nematodes, and most graze on bacteria and fungi, boosting natural soil fertility. Diverse nematode activity is a sign of healthy soil, and beneficial to any plant because they cycle nitrogen and other nutrients into plant available form.

Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with 90% of all plants on Earth. These fungi increase the nutrient uptake capacity of the plant and protect it against pathogens. They are also sensitive to many toxins in chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilizers, making them a valuable indicator of overall soil health. This test determines what percentage of the plant roots are colonized, and can also detect signs of disease and other damage

The Leaf Surface Foodweb test determines the effective coverage of organisms on the leaf surface, very useful for before and after comparisons of foliar applications of Compost Tea. Adequate coverage of leaf surfaces with beneficial bacteria and fungi helps to reduce disease and pests.

Many growers and consumers are rightfully concerned with disease organisms. We evaluate the number of Colony Forming Units (CFU’s) of E. Coli per gram of compost or milliliter of compost tea, to let you know if these indicators of disease-prone conditions are within or above accepted limits for agricultural fertilizers. These common intestinal bacteria have some disease-causing strains, and indicate other harmful bacteria may be present.

Compostwerks: Thank you so much for your time Elaine.

Examples of Soil Foodweb bio assays can be found on our website by clicking here.

Look for part two of our interview with Dr. Ingham the second week of November.