Jun 25, 2012

Seaweed Fertilizer~ A Gift from the Sea

I don't put my toes in the ocean nearly as often as I should despite the fact that we live only a ten minute drive away. I always seem to be chained to my computer. With the kids home for the summer and also chained to the house, I decided to take my daughter to the beach early yesterday morning (there would be zero parking later in the day). I love walking on the beach first thing in the morning, watching the shell gatherers and fishers. The dolphins feed in the surf and low-flying squadrons of pelicans silently patrol the waters.

I was shocked when we got down to the water's edge. The beach was covered in seaweed. Usually, Tybee beach is free of the stuff, which I always lament because it can be a great food source and makes great fertilizer. This was a rare event. We took a few small bags home with us with the intention of coming back later and filling the car. I spoke with the Tybee Marine Science Center when we got back home and they told me it was Sargassum. It had been disturbed and re-routed in Atlantic storms and appeared on the beach the day before.

We came back in the early evening with buckets and garbage bags to gather more. My daughter threatened that, if anyone she knew saw us, she'd never speak to me again. We scooped as much seaweed as we could before it started raining and dragged it all back to the car. It was a good thing the ride home was only 10 minutes because seaweed is...ah...fragrant.

This batch will all be garden fertilizer because dear daughter threatened to disown me if I made her eat something we picked off a beach. Someday, she'll eat some and won't even know it. Yes, I'm that kind of mother. I got her to eat eggplants for years by calling them aubergines. That only worked until she started taking French in school...

If Tropical Storm Debby ever leaves, I will half fill a 55 gallon barrel with the seaweed and top it up with water. The barrel has a tap on the bottom which I'll use to strain off the "seaweed tea". It will ferment in the barrel for about two months before I start using it. Over time, I'll top it up with fresh seaweed and more water. It should be enough to last the garden for a whole year. The seaweed tea is diluted with water using 5 parts water to 1 part tea before being sprayed on plant leaves or used as a soil soak.

What's so great about seaweed fertilizer? If you only look at its NPK value (0-0-1), it doesn't look so hot. But seaweed carries more than 60 minerals and micronutrients that are important to healthy soil. It remineralizes the soil and provides potassium to help plants take up other nutrients. And it is expensive in stores. Why not use the bounty of the nearby sea?

Jun 18, 2012

Refrigerator Pickles (or the Attack of the Mutant Greenies)

I remember a chilly day back in January when my garden was nothing more than a sketch in my mind. Snuggling up with a pile of seed catalogs, I highlighted and made lists and dog-eared the pages, planning the bounty to come. I remember a chilly day back in January when it seemed like planting four plants each of four varieties of cucumbers in a 4X4 foot garden bed seemed like a good idea.

To be fair, it would have worked swimmingly if I had trellised them right away. Instead, I fell victim to planting and ignoring. The cucumbers held nightly meetings together under the warm Georgia sky. They drank beer and made posters. They organized. And they attacked. Advance troops were immediately sent out to explore the rest of the battlefield (i.e. the other garden beds). They seized unsuspecting peppers and eggplants and held them captive in their deathly grip. They claimed for themselves any as-yet-unused garden space. They began birthing green fruit at a Body Snatchers-like pace. They were a sinister force to be reckoned with.

If the tomatoes were ripe, this would not have been an issue. The whole family can eat Greek salad three times a day every day. But, so far, the garden is only yielding cucumbers (plus one early okra pod that survived the cucumber invasion). It was time to execute a pickle strategy.

Only one of the four varieties was a pickle-style cucumber (Boston Pickling). However, it was the one producing the most offspring so I had a gathering collection of these miniature cukes. The volume wasn't enough yet to spend a day in the kitchen canning dill pickles, so I decided to try the much easier refrigerator pickles. They should last up to six months in the fridge but likely won't last that long in this house! Here's the recipe:

(per quart)

1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons kosher or pickling salt (don't use iodized salt!)
1 large head dill (or 2 teaspoons dried dill weed)
2 cloves fresh garlic (smashed)

Boil water, vinegars, and salt in a pot over medium-high heat until salt is dissolved. Allow to cool. Add garlic and dill to jar, then fill with cucumbers up to 1 inch from the top rim. You can use tiny whole cucumbers, slices, or spears. Whole cucumbers will take longer to absorb the brine. Pour cooled brine over cucumbers to within one half inch of top rim. Seal tightly and keep in refrigerator for at least seven days before using. Shake every few days to distribute dill and garlic.

Later in the season (if the cucumbers don't take me out), I will make my grandmother's tried and true canned dill pickle recipe to last us for the whole winter. I will make a last-minute attempt to get the cucumbers vertical but I'm preparing for their resistance to being governed. ~