Our health is declining as a whole at the same time our food is no longer nourishing us. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with the use of pesticides & commercial farming practices. What I love about biodynamics & permaculture, is that it teaches you how to get minerals back into our soil and therefore our bodies. Here are some tips I have learned along the way!
There are many reasons to use Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) in the garden. It contains magnesium one of what growers call the “major minor” elements. It helps speed up plant growth, increase a plants nutrient uptake, deter pests, increase flavor of fruit and veggies, plus increase the output of vegetation. Read on to discover “other” ways to use Epsom salts in your garden.
Before we look at the big three plants most gardeners use Epsom Salt on with wonderful results: Tomatoes, Peppers and Roses, let’s look at some general application practices and rates you can use with many plants.
Applying Epsom Salt
Below you’ll find basic general methods and rates to apply Epsom salt to plants and soil. NOTE: It is always advisable to have a soil test done before applying any nutrients to soil.
Soil Incorporation – Broadcast 1 cup per 100 square feet, mix well into before planting.
At Planting Time – When planting seedlings or new plants, dig a hole and place about 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt in the bottom of hole and cover with a thin layer of dirt, place the plant in the hole and finish planting.
Pre-Planting Soak – Prior to planting, soak root balls in 1/2 cup of Epsom salt diluted in one gallon of water.
Top Dressing – During the growing season, sprinkle about a 1 tablespoon directly around the base of the plant and water it in.
Applying in Liquid Form or Drenching – Drenching plants with Epsom salt improves the overall health of the plant by providing a good dose of magnesium. If your plants are needing a boost, dissolve about one to two tablespoons of Epsom salt in a a gallon of water. Pour at the base of the plant and allow the water-salt solution to soak into the ground. Repeat throughout the season as necessary.
Any gardener living near the Northeast or Northwest coast, where kelp grows, ought to consider collecting some. It’s the best seaweed for the garden. Here’s the gist of my method to Collect.
Feed bags or burlap sacks work very well for collecting. Plastic bags are a tempting alternative, both for the smell- and ooze-factors in a vehicle, but cannot stand the wet-weight of very much seaweed. However, if you’ve got very sturdy bags or a lot of reused shopping bags, those will work fine.
I try to avoid any seaweed that does not look fresh — once exposed to the elements for a few days, it begins a cycle of decay which rapidly degrades its value in the garden. It also becomes a wildly fragrant home to a whole host of beach-bound animals, from sand fleas to spiders, so it’s just best to leave this little habitat in place for those critters, and thus keep your vehicle smelling comparatively fresh.
Rules about collecting seaweed vary by state and also may differ from town to town — some require a permit. It’s definitely a good idea to check whether there are local regulations before gathering by contacting the local town government.
One of the best things about the harvesting process is the conversations with fellow beach-walkers. I’ve had more chats with strangers at the beach while collecting seaweed than during any other activity. People are always curious about what I have in mind for it, and many of these conversations have revealed the questioners to be avid gardeners themselves. A number of these folks have remembered to me parents or grandparents who used seaweed in their gardens, too, and hadn’t thought of it in many years.
Dried seaweed powders and liquid extracts are commonly sold in garden centers and seed catalogs, and for good reason. They’re often derived from kelp, one of the world’s fastest growing plants (up to a half-meter a day), and besides being full of necessary nutrients, it also contains growth hormones (auxins, gibberellins, and cytokinins) which are readily taken up by plants and put directly to use.
Besides aiding soil nutrition, seaweed also stimulates soil bacteria while increasing soil structure, aeration, and moisture retention. Additional purported effects on plants are improved seed germination, increased nutritional value, more extensive root systems, and greater resistance to pests like nematodes.
You can easily make your own powder or liquid amendment with seaweed — all it takes is drying and pulverizing on the one hand, or on the other, making a tea from seaweed fronds soaked in fresh water for a couple days. Some prefer to add seaweed directly to the garden, turning it in with a fork and letting the soil do the rest. This is best done after the weed has been thoroughly dried, though, as fresh it attracts the attention of critters with good noses like raccoons and dogs who will dig it up. And the bulkier seaweeds become quite slimy during decomposition, making encounters with it in the garden less than pleasant.
Composting seaweed, on the other hand, allows the gardener to deliver the goodness of it in a more inert form, so this is my preferred method of incorporation.The first thing I do is to soak the seaweed in a barrel for an hour to remove any of the residual salt from it, then dump the water, refill it, and add more. There are gardeners more experienced than I who will say that rinsing is unnecessary, that the salt content of seaweed and the amount of salt clinging to its suface is negligible. My intuition says that these sea salts might also be beneficial to the garden, being that their constituents are quite various and rich in minerals other than just sodium, but I usually err on the side of caution. The one verifiable benefit to soaking is that it removes the pounds of sand which clings to the weed, something which I like to avoid adding to my raised beds. Some gardens of course can benefit from the addition of some fine sand. I keep the sand aside to add to potting mixes and the like.
Once the seaweed is rinsed, I create a compost pile with equal parts seaweed and straw, in layers as high as needed: four inches of straw, two inches of seaweed, four more inches of straw, two more inches of seaweed, and so forth, and capping the whole pile with straw.
Seaweed is not exceedingly high in neither nitrogen nor carbon, so it doesn’t matter too much what it’s mixed with in the compost, but it’s important that whatever is mixed in with the seaweed will bring an airy-ness to the pile. On its own the seaweed bogs down quickly into an ooze impermeable to gas exchange, leading to a long, smelly, anaerobic digestion.
To finish I always cover the pile with chicken wire and stake that down securely to keep critters and their noses out. If they get into the pile, they don’t seem to eat anything, but their clawing disturbs a nicely constructed compost heap rapidly.
It doesn’t take very long for the new compost to ripen, depending on the usual atmospheric factors, and is perfect for direct addition to the garden and as a constituent in seed-starting and potting mixes.
So if you’re planning a trip to the shore, remember to pack something in which to carry some seaweed home. If you’re fortunate enough to happen on a wealth of fresh kelp, rockweed, or the like, then bag a bunch and join the increasing ranks of seaweed-savvy gardeners.
The herbs used in the biodynamic compost preps all have their purpose:
Yarrow flower bears the relationship to sulfur and potassium. This permits plants to attract trace elements in extermely diluted quantities for best nutrition.
Chamomile flower bears a relationship to calcium and sulfur. Stabilizes nitrogen within the compost and increases soil life, to stimulate growth.
Stinging nettle bears a relationship to sulfur, calcium, potassium and Iron. It stimulates soil health, provides plants with individual nutrition that are needed and brings the soil to life!
Valerian bears a relationship to phosporous. It stimulatess compost so that the phosphorous component will be properly used by the soil.
Dandelion flowers bears a relationship with silica acid or silicon and potassium. It stimulates relation between Silicon and Potassium so that silican can attract the cosmic forces.
Oak Bark bears a relationship with calcium.It provides healing forces to combat plant disease.
Do You Have Earthworms?
Other important ingredients for a successful garden are carbon and earthworms, which are intrinsic allies.
“They’re top tiller of the soil, you know,” Dr. Dunning says. “By the time it gets out of the rear end of the worm, those minerals are ionic. The reason worm castings work is they’re ionic minerals. In the carbon sink, it is great. The biochar is fantastic… You need carbon because cellulose is sugar. Plants are cellulosic materials. You need the carbon to make the sugars. You need the carbon sink and all those materials to lock the minerals, because these are anions and cations.
They’re positive and negatively charged ions. When they go in the soil, they’re going to grab onto something of its opposite force and dwell there… Microorganisms are producing the electrolytes, which then chelate out these ionic elements to make it available for the roots in the soil. It’s a beautiful, beautiful system going on in the soil, [and] the worms are the key here. If you’ve got good worms, generally speaking you’ve got good soil.”
Compost Tea and BioChar
Compost tea is another phenomenal way to increase the soil’s worth. But compost tea without the right soil structure will not work all that well, because there’s not enough to support the life. If the microbes don’t have a “home” where they can thrive and multiply, they will soon die. Biochar, as it turns out, is an ideal home base for microorganisms, which helps explain some of its benefits to plant growth.
Biochar is created by slowly burning biomass like wood chips, corn stalks, coconut shells, or any similar organic material, in a low-oxygen environment, such as a kiln. When burned this way, about 70 percent of the carbon in the organic material is not released into the atmosphere as CO2; rather it traps the carbon and forms a type of charcoal that has a reef-like structure, which serves as a magnificent microbial home. This is completely different than wood ash, in which nearly all the carbon is released as CO2 and only minerals are left.
The introduction of Biochar into soil is not like applying fertilizer; rather it’s the beginning of a process—most of the benefit is achieved through the activity of the microbes and fungi that take up residence in the treated soil. They colonize its massive surface area and integrate into the char and the surrounding soil, dramatically increasing the soil’s ability to nurture plant growth. As explained in a recent Ecologist1 article, research shows Biochar can more than double a plant’s yield! Besides providing excellent living quarters for soil microorganisms, Biochar also has a number of other benefits, including:
Serving as a magnificent home for soil microbes, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, that are ultimately responsible for extracting the nutrients from the soil and feeding them to the plant
Improving overall soil quality and fertility. Biochar serves as a magnet for nutrients and time releases them back to the plants when they need it
Raising the soil’s water retention ability and helps regulate the moisture in the soil much like a humidistat
Returning much of the depleted carbon to the soil (carbon sequestration), where it can remain for hundreds or even thousands of years
Potentially helping to “filter” toxic chemicals in the soil, much like carbon-based water filtration systems can filter toxins out of your water.
These techniques that I described above can transform your soil and the nourishing value of the food you eat! Go ahead and give it a try!