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Hubble Bubble

It’s been really nice having a winter garden with almost no pest or disease problems – just the big pests like bower birds, bush turkeys and possums that are my current battle-of-wits adversaries.  But as we turn the corner towards spring, I know that is going to change. I’m expecting to start seeing aphids soon, and powdery mildew as it warms up.

The winter beach trip last week though gave me all the essential ingredients for a new brew. If I can get the micronutrient level nice and high and balanced early enough, I will give the garden plants enough immunity and the predators enough of a head start to avoid most of the spring and summer bugs.

I took a bag with me on my beach walks last week, and so came home with half a dozen bags of seaweed.  I tipped it all out on a tarp on the driveway and hosed it off, not too thoroughly but just enough to reduce the salt level a little. Then I put it all in tubs, covered with water, and allowed it to sit and ferment.  It smelled quite foul when I first made the brew, with all the little dead crustaceans  in the seaweed, but by next morning the brew was bubbling with a slow burble every few minutes and the ferment bacteria had consumed all the nasty smelling stuff.

I have dam water that has no chlorine and quite a range of microlife – I don’t know how this might go with town water.  The object is to get as much bacterial life as possible, not kill it off.  By today, six days later, there is enough room in the tubs for me to add a good bunch of stinging nettle to each one.  I shall let this brew again for a week and then start using it, a cup at a time in a watering can full of water, to water my seedlings in the shadehouse and to give an extra nutrient treat to anything out in the garden I think needs it.

I shall top up the brew with stinging nettle every week until I have weeded out the patch of nettle at the bottom of the garden, then I’ll start on the comfrey.  I have been slightly tempted over winter to swear at that patch of nettles, especially when it expanded to make reaching the tomatoes along that fence without getting stung a bit of a long-pants- and-boots mission.  It is nice to now be feeling glad I have it!

Fresh stinging nettle will up the silica levels in the brew, which sort-of works as a foliar water retardant that slows down powdery mildew.  The nettles are also a good source of sulphur, calcium, potassium, iron and copper, all of which are needed by most plants to fend off pests and diseases.  And the seaweed contains a whole huge range of trace elements and micronutrients such as boron,  zinc, molybdenum, manganese, and cobalt, some of which are a bit rare in our old Australian soils.

By the time it warms up I plan to have a garden full of plants with strong cell walls and good self-defense systems.  And if they’re not strong enough, I’ll just have to go to the beach again.

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial August 9, 2010, 7:22 pm

    Linda, this is fascinating, thank you! We did a little research on it, and read that the beaches around Sydney are too polluted for collecting seaweed for this purpose – do you know if that’s true? It would be lovely to be able to make our own seaweed extract! Thanks..

  • Linda August 15, 2010, 4:36 pm

    Hi Celia, I don’t know. Polluted with what? It is true that plants can be bioaccumulators, but the ocean is very big and it is hard to imagine seaweed in the open ocean (as opposed to a lake) managing to accumulate enough to be a worry. It could also be physically trapping sewerage or other sludge if it were in it’s path, but you would think the waves would solve that before it got washed up. My initial reaction is that if seaweed from the open ocean is polluted, we are in deep trouble!

  • Tulipwood August 30, 2010, 1:00 pm

    Linda I’m not able to readily get to the beach to get some seaweed. Would using a commercial seaweed concentrate work as well? If so, any clues as to how much to use to what volume?

  • Linda August 30, 2010, 1:17 pm

    Seaweed is a great source for some micronutrients that are in short supply otherwise, especially in older soils, so yes, I think if I wasn’t making my own I’d use a commercial concentrate. They will have dilution rates on the bottle, and it is important not to go over that. Just as vitamins for humans can be toxic in too great a quantity, trace elements can be toxic for plants . Too much of a good thing! I would use commercial seaweed concentrate very sparingly, using compost and other bulk organic matter for the major nutrients and just using the seaweed brew for trace elements. In fact, a good way to use it is to wet down your compost. Then the compost critters digest it.

  • Tulipwood August 30, 2010, 6:28 pm

    Thanks Linda – I have some compost I’m a little worried about at the moment, so may do that to it if it doesn’t heat up very soon.
    However for this question I was wanting to make the seaweed, nettle, comfrey tea that you are describing. From what you’ve written I’m guessing it would work in it, being careful to dilute according to direction. Would that be right?

  • Linda August 31, 2010, 6:56 am

    Yep, I would think so. It’s the micronutrients that do the trick. Let me know how you go!

  • Lesley January 21, 2017, 6:46 pm

    Hi Linda,
    I am very new to permaculture …. only read your book so far and trying to understand the whole concept. I have started planting out my beds. We are farmers at Killarney west of you about three hours ( black pug soil as well )… and my husband feeds out seaweed meal to the cows. Can I make up a brew with this dried seaweed ? … and how much would I use to what amount of water and how long to brew ect ??
    Cheers Lesley

  • Linda January 22, 2017, 4:37 pm

    Hi Leslie! I’d be guessing here. I’ve never made brew with seaweed meal, but I would guess it’s just like the seaweed I collect, thoroughly dried and crushed. I’d probably trial it with a 20 litre bucket full of nettles or comfrey covered in water, with a litre container of seaweed meal added. See if it starts to ferment after a couple of days, let it brew for a week or so, then try it on some seedlings that I wasn’t too precious about. But I can’t see why that wouldn’t work.

  • Lesley March 19, 2017, 11:24 am

    Hi Linda … Sorry it has taken me so long to comment back. I put the brew together. Over the following days it became frothy on top when I stirred it.I used it on some struggling seedlings, they seemed to perk up a little. then I used it on all the swedes in the gardens and they seem to be thriving. I still had more brew over and did not use it for a few weeks and it grew a blue/green mould over the top. Is this a problem ? Can the brew stand indefinitely before you use it, or should it only be used fresh ? Thanks Linda.

  • Linda March 19, 2017, 11:30 am

    Hi Leslie, that makes sense. Swedes are the crucifer family, like caulis and brussels sprouts, and they would be high micronutrient feeders, specially boron I would imagine. I use the brew indefinitely, just top it up from time to time. My barrel never gets emptied!

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