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A week at the beach does wonders.  There is just no substitute for some time immersed  in wilderness – the ocean or the mountains or the bush – to get sane again.  It is a major failing in our economic system, that it undervalues this experience.  It treats everything that is “priceless”  – long walks on clean sand, our climate, our air, our wildlife, sunsets and sunrises, stars, our relationships with each other and other species –  as valueless.  It’s a collective delusion as dangerous as any loopy cult.

I swam every day, went for long long walks, thought up dozens of new recipes to try out, came off my pushbike and found a very nice ambo to bandage my knee, and read six books in seven days.  I ate fish every day (the benefit of a partner who loves standing on a rock staring out to sea with a fishing rod in hand), and had a lunch of local whiting better than even my own at a cafe called Rustic Table in Woolgoolga.  And I collected a big barrel-load of seaweed for this season’s seaweed brew.  It won’t be ready for the leafy planting days this coming weekend, but it will be just about right to use on the fruiting plants a week later.

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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.

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