Five years ago I went to a week-long Irish language course in Connemara. One of the words we learned really stuck with me. Well, actually the idea of the word stuck with me. The word is ‘stócáil’ and it translates as ‘to ready or prepare’. It can refer to several things as one could imagine from the word ‘prepare’, one of them being an old Irish practice of building land.
A conventional practice generations ago here on rocky Inis Mor, it’s a process of layering seaweed, sand, and compost to ‘make land’ eventually to be gardened on. I was and still am fascinated by the great lengths gone to by these ancestors to keep up their island existence and provide sustenance for their family. It created many a fertile plot of soil here and the practice of topdressing with seaweed to prepare for planting undoubtedly stemmed from this tradition.
Topdressing is simple enough, we lay the fresh seaweed on the land where we’ve, a) previously had a crop in order to feed the depleted soil and/or b) onto land where we intend to garden in the next season. Before planting the next crop, we work the dried seaweed into the soil–it has served the dual purpose of fertilizing the soil and, if laid thick enough, it also kills off grass and weeds making sowing the new crop that much easier.
The seaweed can also be worked into the soil when it’s fresh (not waiting until it dries out). So it’s your choice if you want to do the digging-in in the autumn or the spring. We let the chickens into our garden through the winter and they enjoy the bugs that house themselves in the layers of topdressed seaweed so that is the way we go with it-no digging in until it dries out. The earthworms will also help out with incorporating it through the soil.
On established plants, more seaweed can be added as a mulch. When it dries it’s crisp and slugs don’t like sharp edges or dry surfaces so that is a definite bonus along with the slow release of nutrients as it breaks down over the course of the growing season. We’ve never applied it so thick around established plants that it’s completely suppressed the inevitable weeds, but you certainly could try, but avoid having the seaweed directly in contact with the growing plants.
Regarding potatoes, seaweed is laid where the ridge will be made. The chitted spuds are placed atop the seaweed and then sod is lifted from either side of the ridge, flipped upside down and laid upon the potato seedlings. Hence, each path between the ridges is created after the sod is lifted atop the ridge. More seaweed can be applied on top of each ridge–some years we do, some we don’t.
Here is a link to the post I did about Johnny and I collecting seaweed. There are pictures of it being applied fresh to some of the beds.
Another way we use seaweed in the garden is by making a compost tea/liquid fertilizer with it. Stuff a container as full as you can with fresh seaweed. Next pour in enough water to submerge the seaweed. Put a top on it–you can put on an airtight lid which will create an anaerobic process, or a non airtight lid of screen or fine mesh to create an aerobic process. Aerobic (with air) is generally more pleasant and less stinky than the anaerobic one, but anaerobic decomposes quicker because of heat being contained. We put on an airtight cover for two reasons, rainfall and wind, both which we receive plenty of. We don’t want it diluted by rain or for an unsecure cover to be blown away– it’s happened, so now we put a large stone or bungee cord on the cover for extra security from the wind.
Mix once or twice a week to check its progress. It’s done when the seaweed has broken down and mixed well with the water, becoming a medium thick dark liquid, and there’s no longer a strong ammonia smell to it– don’t misunderstand, it will still smell. It stinks. Wear old clothes and be prepared to change out of them immediately after finishing the job.
Dilute it before using; we have read everything from 3:1 parts water to seaweed tea up to 20:1. We used 3:1 and scorched our potato leaves. 10:1 has worked well for us and that is what we always do. It can be used sooner if desired and it will obviously be a weaker solution so just don’t dilute as much– I can’t give you exact ratios, but better to over dilute than have it be too strong for tender or ailing plants.
Apply to plants as a booster once every two weeks during the growing season. It can also be applied as a foliar spray which nourishes plants and discourages pests. February and March is a good time to apply it to beds that haven’t been or aren’t going to be fertilized with well-rotted manure, leaf mulch, or fresh seaweed already–our choice is beds that have growth still active like herbs and other perennials. Leaf mulch and manure are harder to source here so we use them for carrots and heavy feeders, respectively. When liquid seaweed is applied to weak or ailing plants, we have seen dramatic improvements in a matter of days. We also feed plants at our own discretion throughout the year such as tomatoes, corn, pumpkins– hungry plants that appreciate a bit of extra food as they begin to yield more. Not everyone can get access to seaweed or lives where it is legal to harvest. Alternative organic liquid teas would be nettle, comfrey, and manure, which use the same process to make, but research just to be sure of the ratio and all the details. These liquid teas ALL stink as well, but don’t let that deter you for they are well worth using.
**It’s not legal to collect seaweed everywhere so check with your local council. If allowed, there’s a proper way to harvest it. Loose seaweed is the only one to collect; don’t pull it off anywhere it is attached, likely rocks. We collect seaweed for use in the garden after a storm as the newly washed up and rained on seaweed has less salt in it and the storm is what brings it ashore. Only use weed that smells clean and fresh. It’s recommended to wash the seaweed with fresh water or leave in the rain for a day to get more of the salt out because worms don’t like salt, same principle as putting salt on slugs. Honestly, we have rinsed it before, but most often don’t bother. The worms are still plentiful.
However you choose to prepare your garden beds for its winter rest and replenishment, your soil will repay you in abundant yield for the tender loving care you give it now and throughout the entire growing season.
Happy gardening to you! Melissa Xx