Want a fuller garden? Cartwright gardener says reach for some seaweed

·3 min read
David Elson said the seaweed tea he creates through soaking seaweed over the summer helps his garden grow strong. Potatoes, he said, have fewer blemishes.  (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)
David Elson said the seaweed tea he creates through soaking seaweed over the summer helps his garden grow strong. Potatoes, he said, have fewer blemishes. (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)
Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

A family in the coastal Labrador community of Cartwright takes pride in their garden and shares the fruits of their labour with their neighbours.

Now they're hoping to inspire others to start something — no matter how small — and they're using seaweed to do it.

David Elson's garden is his therapeutic place. He has about a dozen small plots surrounding his home in Cartwright, about 392 kilometres east of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

"It's a great stress reliever after a long day. I work in the health-care system and I come home from a long day, and I just de-stress," Elson said.

"I just spent an hour in the garden and I'm set for the next day."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

He and his wife, Jenna Elson, have been gardening for decades and are teaching their two children to do the same.

The secret to large garden growth in a northern community?

Elson said it's seaweed.

"Seaweed [has] more minerals [and a] bigger punch than anything in the world," he said.

"It smells a little funky at first…You get a lot of creepy insects and you wonder if it's a good thing, but then they leave their entrails behind and that feeds the soil. And so in turn, the soil feeds my plants."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

There are two ways to use it, he said.

The first is to use it as a soil base, following these steps:

  • Go to the beach and collect a lot of seaweed.

  • Spread it throughout the garden box or tote and layer it to be quite a few inches thick.

  • Put a thin layer of soil on top, just enough for the seeds to germinate.

  • Plant your seeds in the soil.

  • Top off the soil with a bit more seaweed.

  • Water and let it grow.

"The seaweed will feed the plant," he said.

"It will decay and next year, that seaweed is your soil. So then you got two inches of soil and all the microorganisms and everything that goes on in that soil, next year is going to be a bigger, better plant."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

He said it's best to continue to add another layer of seaweed each spring as it helps feed the soil and plants. However, he said people shouldn't till their gardens if they're using this method.

"Do not disturb the microorganisms that are in that soil. You kill it, you break it up, you destroyed it, then you got to start over."

Another no-till benefit: with a heavy seaweed mulch, "you don't need to water it when it's hot. Very simple."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

How to make yourself some seaweed tea

The second way he uses seaweed is by creating what's called seaweed tea, he said. It's a simple process, he said:

  • Go to the beach and collect a lot of seaweed.

  • If it's fresh and not aged then wash if to remove some of the salt from the saltwater.

  • Soak the seaweed in large buckets.

  • Throughout the summer, it'll turn into a slurry soup.

  • Feed the slurry soup to the plants.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

"It looks gross because it is, right?" he said.

"This seaweed, this water is loaded with the nutrients that my plants need," Elson said. "Once it soaks, it breaks down all the nutrients, removes nutrients and you need the plants … and I'll never not do seaweed tea on anything I grow ever again. This works."

For anyone starting up a garden, Elson said it's important people remember it's not too late. They can start in July and still have crops to harvest in the fall.

Jenna Elson said she recommends starting small with a tote or box.

"Once you can see that it actually works for you, you're going to be like, 'Oh, I can do this, so I should do more,'" she said. "We're here, we're remote … and like, if we could do it and we could do it here, I think anybody can do it."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

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