Mulching with Fresh Kelp

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

I traveled to Rhode Island a few weeks ago on what was a whirlwind 24 hour (including transport time) trip to shoot a food gardening segment for the show Cultivating Life. I’ll tell you about that some other time. They had ducks!

However, what I would like to tell you about today were the planters I saw sitting outside of Coastal Roasters in Tiverton, Rhode Island when we stopped so that I could be properly caffeinated with real coffee (I am a terrible coffee snob) before braving six hours in an airport that reminds me of the movie Logan’s Run. Because that’s the only Logan I know, and The Carousel is not the mental image I prefer to have before flying. Sure, we’re all just going to step onto this “plane”, defy gravity by flying high in the sky and land safely at our destination. RIGHT.

Except that I clearly lived to tell so back to the planters. They were mulched with FRESH kelp, from the sea. In fact, the coffee shop sat next to the water with a view of a small, pebble beach. I could see kelp while I sipped my coffee. Just sitting there. This is the kind of little detail about traveling to new places that I get abnormally excited about. One does not have to buy (as I do yearly) a bag of dried kelp or liquid kelp concentrate that has been shipped from some unknown place. No, one can just step outside and scoop up a handful for plants that are growing within a few feet. Here was the view:

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

And here is the container with a thick layer of nutrient-rich, fresh kelp laid on top of the soil as mulch:

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
Please forgive my terrible photo. This was taken with my crappy point and shoot digital and it does not read contrast well. The blown out white thing is a crab shell. Also a pretty good fertilizer! And somewhat decorative too.

It’s pretty, don’t you think? I have never seen such colourful kelp! The stuff I get in a bag is always the same uniformly-coloured grey/green.

Kelp makes a great mulch and plant fertilizer. Here’s why:

  • It’s loaded with potassium and a bunch of other trace minerals. Potassium is a container gardener’s friend since it is an overall plant stress reliever, and container plants generally tend to experience more stress than in-ground gardens.
  • It’s got plant growth hormones in it that can help your plants grow stronger.
  • Kelp breaks down into the soil very quickly, conditioning the soil, improving texture, and fertilizing all at once. Yes please.
  • It does not carry weed seeds, unlike hay (and sometimes straw when it is mislabeled. Boo).
  • It does not share diseases with land plants that could be spread to your garden.

I’d suggest rinsing off the salt and salty sand before adding it to your garden but a lot of seaside gardeners say they don’t bother and their plants are fine. I’d also recommend not taking too much from any one area since there are lots of critters that depend on the seaweed that washes onto the shore for their food and shelter.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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12 thoughts on “Mulching with Fresh Kelp

  1. Awwww. I’m disappointed. After the post title, the intro photo and the first paragraph I was totally expecting to hear this fascinating account about how you smuggled a garbage bag of seaweed in your carryon luggage back to your roof top garden.

    Just this morning someone directed me to this fascinating article on comfrey as a mulch and compost supplement. In it they compare its nutritional value to kelp saying it is as good or better. And since it has a “grow your own” possibility I’m seriously looking into it. I like the idea of growing my own fertilizer!

    Congrats about the new book, btw!

  2. I absolutely recommend comfrey as mulch! I don’t have the space to grow it, but when I get some I make it into liquid feed.

    I would NEVER attempt or even consider smuggling plants/kelp/etc in my luggage. I am a completely paranoid traveler who feels guilty when passing through customs for absolutely no reason!

  3. i love that show too! so excited that you’re gonna be on it too! do you know when the episode will air or what the other content of the episode will be so i can try and catch it? also looking foward to your new book, cant wait! im sure we will all be itching for some great gardening stuff in february.

  4. i love that show too! so excited that you’re gonna be on it too! do you know when the episode will air or what the other content of the episode will be so i can try and catch it? also looking foward to your new book, cant wait! im sure we will all be itching for some great gardening stuff in february.

  5. Great to hear about the fresh seaweed as a mulch. I live out on the west coast & have generally waited til the fall to load up the gardens with seaweed as I thought it needed the winter to decompose before sharing nutrients. Nice to hear I can spread it around anytime!

  6. I used to share a small garden in the same Tiverton neighborhood and for a couple of years we used local seaweed and eel grass that I harvested in the summer near the tool booths of the Newport Bridge – great stuff – took awhile to break down and added some great texture to the soil as well.

  7. Re: comfrey.

    I’ve gotten pretty nuts about it myself. It is, actually, really amazing stuff.

    My only caution would be to make sure that you get a Russian/Bocking cultivar. True comfrey is extremely difficult to manage, as I’ve read.

  8. I have been trying to work Logan’s run into a blog post for years!
    How are those Tim’s Black Ruffles Looking?

  9. zocess: Will air sometime next spring. It is about making a small raised bed food garden.

    Dragonwyck: It did not have a strong smell but these were not huge containers. I can’t vouch for what it would smell like spread across a larger space.

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