Garbage in, Garden Out, Kelp as fertilizer, minerals, organic matter, mucopolysaccarides
Work the Soil
The early naturalists instituted a very poor policy toward the soils, and that was to let the plants take over and keep all large animals out.
This was disastrous for soils, as it is for the oceans. The predator-prey relationship is important to both land systems and the oceans. But this is true of browsing animals as well. They become massive recyclers of plants back into the soil, the defecate the materials which then feeds the plans but also the microorganisms in the soil.
I have just dumped yesterday’s coffee ground into my soils below rocks, which I refer to as my in-ground worm garden because it is filled with worms. Under the rocks I found grubs. But the grubs also recycle, and do so in part by making much larger holes in the soil surface bringing nutrients with them but also aerating the soils. Some of them die, fungi, bacteria, and worms then recycle their bodies, others are dug up by small animals in the yard, again aerating the soil and turning in carbon. Other grubs turn into Beatles and fly off. Some are taken by birds, when then defecate in the garden fertilizing the soil.
Do you see how this works? But without large browsers to trample all of this into the ground where worms and bugs can eat it, humans need to do the work, working the soils.
But here I am 250 words into the article and not a word about kelp.
Kelp as a soil amendment
Kelp is an incredible soil amendment.
This isn’t a new idea, people have used it for millennia. In fact, in 1913 the Secretary of Agriculture in Washington issued a memo about kelp being used as a potassium supplement, then called potash, the root of the word potassium. Dried kelp was then measured as being 19.8% potassium. Wow! That’s a great source of potassium for the soil.
Let’s introduce a long word which is the word mucus (long slippery compounds in living organisms, the word component poly which means many, and the word saccharide which is the chemical word for sugars. So the word is mucopolysaccharide. There’s a mouthful.
Your body uses them to lubricate joints and cartilage, to produce nasal mucus which helps trap bacteria and prevent it from entering the body, or at least kills it before is does, and they have functions in the bones, liver, spleen, eye, ear, heart, lungs, and nerves.
Not only this but there are many different ones. In animals, they often have amino acids in them, in planks, and algae, like kelp, they usually don’t, but are very long sugar compounds that hold water and usually have minerals associated with them, which brings us back to kelp.
If your grandma came from Scotland or especially the Channel Islands or other places where the soils are naturally poor or non-existent, but by the ocean, kelp is what is used to build up the soil. In the Channel Islands, locations without soil, that is, rock only, are built up using sand and kelp. Rain leaches the salts and the year following, you plant your crops.
Farmers report improved seed germination, healthier, more robust fruits and vegetable production with less bug damage and more flavor.
You can find various kelp products in the nursery and these are helpful especially for house plants, and if you use foliar sprays.
If you are by the ocean, pick up as much as you can with whatever vehicle you use. If you are ambitious, a pickup truckload is not too much for your yard. To illustrate the amount you could use, in the Neatherlands a study was done and published in Plant and Soil in 1987 (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht) and the amounts added per acre were none (your control group), 7.5 tons, 15 tons, 30 tons, 60 tons, or 120 tons per acre. Bean growth was adversely affected only at the highest level, when 120 tons per acre were added. I doubt you want to haul that much back from the beach, so you are likely safe from using too much.
In compost those mucopolysaccharides really encourage soil microorganisms and earth worms to flourish. Kelp is a source of slow release nitrogen and minerals, especially trace minerals that both you and your garden need. The muchopolysaccharides help build the texture of the soil and give it body.
The algin in the kelp, named because it is found mostly in algae, helps hold moisture in the soil.
Plants grown in soils with healthy kelp content see increased resistance to fungi, mold, aphids, beetles, and mites.
Kelp provides a good dose of potassium to the soil, but along with that dozens of micronutrients and other minerals so important to the health of your plants.
Leaves for Carbon
Leaf drop is an annual problem for many people. They clutter our lives and at times drive us crazy. But if we think of leaves as very small packets of slow release nutrient, then we simply need to determine how we want to use them in and around the garden.
Leaves can be added en masse to your mulch and compost, and, when collected via a mulching type of leaf blower, break down rapidly for their intended use.
But leaves can be buried directly as well, or mixed into a potting soil to slowly break down over time adding needed carbon to the soils.
I just came in from the back yard, mowed the yard and, now it is late November, so time for leaf fall if you live in the Southwest. I put the grass clippings into my worm buckets, alternating mulch and worms from the other buckets, then leaves, then grass, and so forth. But I had an extra bag of leaves from the blower/vacuum.
In one corner I had a hole made by our rabbit which I have used as a worm garden for a few months. I had cooked some pumpkin and the skins went in there last month, and soup before that, many apples and vegetables intermittently, and when I dig into the soils I find these residues, but more than this I find worms, tons of worms. OK, a little hyperbole, at least a pound of worms. In one garden spade full it was 1/3 soil, 1/3 vegetable that was no longer recognizable and 1/3 worms. That’s a lot of worms.
I took a bucket and dug the hole to fill the bucket, the added the leaves, pushed them down then inverted the bucket of soil, worms, and everything else on top. Yes, it makes a pile, but that will break down over time. As water penetrates this pile of nutrients, fungi, and bacteria will migrate into the leaves if they are not already there, and start to break them down also.
Now, even though the leaves went through a light mulching blade to get into my bag, I still expect that when I dig down again, I will find some leaves compacted together, perhaps some stems that need more time to break down. If I do then I will simply ding in more soils and bury whatever I have on top of them. But here, the carbon, a precious and costly group of organic molecules remains in the soils and helps your garden grow better.
Benefits of Carbon
Carbon is kind of self-regulating degradation in this situation, that is, as it breaks down into various phenyl compounds, preserving the carbon for later use but also the fungi, the main players in this drama run out of oxygen and so the pH of the area increased as CO2 in liquid form, carboxylic acid, COOH builds up slowing the process. Along comes some water and washes through this area taking away the acids raising the pH and bringing in oxygen and the process resumes.
What are phenyl groups? Remember in chemistry, or more specific in organic chemistry there is so much carbon it is usually just represents as a connection between lines, and there are four connections running from it? Next, make a hexahedron, a six sided “circle” with six straight lines, on every other line make a second line inside the ring. That is phenyl and it is nearly ubiquitous in organic chemistry. They cost plants a lot of energy to make and so, they are preserved as sources of energy by fungi and broken down by oxidation. It is much more complicated that this sounds as complexes of these and other carbon structures can be thousands of molecules in size.
Before you think these are in any way bad, the primary anticancer nutrients in green and black tea are primarily polyphenols, ECGC and the other potential 40,000 compounds (no, I am not kidding).
Preserving carbon is really pretty important for your soil and plants that live in it and the reason is, there isn’t much in the air. Plants for optimal growth need five to ten times the carbon that is currently in our atmosphere for optimal growth. This is why greenhouse operations often add carbon dioxide, as do some of us who keep lots of plants in our aquariums.
Mulch Your Weeds
Remember, weeds are simply plants out of place. This doesn’t mean the plant is useless. It can be used in the garden to build the soil adding its nutrients back to the soil, or, of edible, added to your dinner salad.
Think about it, the weed has all the nutrients it needs, including water, or it wouldn’t be growing. Pulling the weed and then simply turning it back into the soils returns all of this and the water back into the soils for bugs to recycle.
Your soils will thank you, your bugs will give you a standing ovation.
Mulch the lawn clippings
Lawn clippings have a great variety of uses. One of those is as mulch, a soil covering which helps retain water, add nutrient back to the soil, prevent weeds, and keep the soil cool.
Mulching grass is as easy as spreading the clippings around the plant in an appropriate location.
But when green grass clippings are a “hot” addition to the compost pile because they still contain their nitrogen, which stimulates bacteria growth, rises the temperature of the compost, which, in turn kills weed seeds. More than this, it also adds that nitrogen into the compost.
Compost literally contains millions of different nutrient compounds useful to your soils and plants. Few things improve soils more than a good fresh compost turned into the soil.
Skunks digging the garden?
Skunks help the soils also, they dig for grubs, again, turning the top soils, and helping the ecology, but, if you are like me, I would rather do it myself, thank you very much.
Sprinkle a little ammonia around before retiring for the night, especially where they have dug and by where they enter the yard, it will stop them if not immediately, then within a few days. They will learn that you yard has an unpleasant smell they don’t like. That’s right, turn the tables on the skunk! The dirty rotten little polecat.