Updated: Apr 20, 2018
Did you know that ocean water is a perfect fertilizer?
Most people think seawater kills plants. Right out of the ocean it does, just like any other fertilizer that is not diluted properly; but delivered in the proper concentration seawater is actually an amazing fertilizer.
Think about it, seawater is a repository for the entirety of the runoff on Earth. The Mississippi River alone contributes approximately 593,003 cubic feet of water per second into the Gulf of Mexico. It is also contributing toxins from the massive amounts of agrochemicals used in the Midwest farming belts creating a death zone of almost 9,000 miles, the largest dead zone ever seen on Earth, yet the ocean maintains its natural balance.
This is quite an incredible phenomenon and counts as evidence towards the deliberate balance that life moves towards even in the face of the massive influence of human interference. The chemistry of seawater represents one of the most complicated substances on Earth. The concentration of minerals can vary slightly by geography, seasonally, and by geographic location, but there is nevertheless a range of balance that is ideal for supporting life. Although there are fundamental differences in elemental spectrum, even ancient sea mineral sources like Himalayan salts strike a resemblance to modern analysis.
The best argument for the use of sea minerals in agriculture is common sense. Must we determine a direct use of an element to call it worthy for use in growing crops?
We have macro- and micronutrients that we understand to be essential, but relatively little is known about the role of trace elements. Even if plants do not require the element directly for metabolic growth, what about the microbes charged with supporting the ecosystem and conditioning the soil that supports the crop growth?
As to the inner workings of most natural living systems, the further we look the more questions we have. The question we should be asking is, why would Mother Nature make an element not needed in the garden?
In 1861 a German chemist named Justis von Liebig (1803–1873) ashed some plants and upon analysis found the major elements present, or macronutrients, to be nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. This was the birth of the concept of N-P-K, seen on the front of fertilizers everywhere.
Liebig went on to define what have become known as the “essential plant elements,” or those considered required by a plant for it not to be inhibited in its growth. This was a major step forward in agronomy and in the understanding of plant physiology, but it created and fostered a dangerous anthropocentric mindset that is catching up to us in modern times in a major way.
Through his investigations into plant requirements von Liebig postulated what is now known as the Law of the Minimum, which states plant growth is controlled not by the total of resources available, but by the scarcest resource or limiting factor.
The following aphorism sums it up: “The availability of the most abundant nutrient in the soil is as available as the availability of the least abundant nutrient in the soil.” In other words, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Beyond the mere presence of individual elements, there is a sweet spot in the balance of these elements that is very important to bear in mind when practicing agronomy and conducting soil testing. Important ratio’s like the Ca:Mg, K:Mg, and the P:S are critical to keep in mind for ideal growing conditions.
One result of Liebig’s work is the technology of hydroponics. Hydroponic fertilizers contain no more than 17 elements and, while they are successful in allowing plants to grow to maturity, they typically do not contain fertility beyond what the plant requires. In other words, hydroponics can be considered better than conventional agriculture, but it falls short of total fertility, as well as missing the value delivered by the soil food web.
They consist of three non-mineral elements that plants primarily acquire from the atmosphere:
hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), carbon (C); and thirteen mineral elements primarily obtained from their roots: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S), boron (B), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), molybdenum (Mb), chlorine (Cl)
This list could also include elements vital to the animals that eat plants, such as cobalt (Co) and silica (Si); but the main idea here is that popular science has done us a disservice by trying to limit the number of elements required for proper fertility and nutrition. All of them matter to the ecosystem.
So hydroponic fertilizers deliver up to 17 elements, but most conventional fertilizers found at the Big Box store have as little as 5–6 elements rarely more than 10. They take advantage of soil. In this regard, artificial fertilizers are essentially fast food for plants.
One of the major benefits of organic fertilizers is that they tend to deliver a broader diversity of elements without the grower having to even think about it, but even then they can lack total fertility of the 90+ elements found in seawater.
Some plants use more elements than others, for example, grass as a species fixes more elements than any other, which is why ruminants like cows or bison can live off of grass alone. But soil microbes use a broader range than plants as co-factors to manufacture enzymes. Without all elements present in soil or when brewing compost tea it is like hiring microbes to build a house and giving them only half of the tools.
It turns out even von Liebig had his regrets towards the simplicity of his ideas, saying in 1855 after reaching old age:
“Unfortunately the true beauty of agriculture with its intellectual and animating principles is almost unrecognized. The art of agriculture will be lost when ignorant, unscientific and short sighted teachers persuade the farmer to put all his hopes in universal remedies, which don’t exist in nature. Following their advice, bedazzled by an ephemeral success, the farmer will forget the soil and lose sight of his inherent values and their influence.” Source: Fauna in soil ecosystems, by Gero Benckiser (p6).
It turns out that our agronomic system is still based on information put forward in the 1800’s. We can move plant and human health forward by using sea minerals and watch your garden or farm thrive.
Take a look at this chart describing the elemental presence of different fertilizer sources. Earth Tonic is formulated using seawater and the biodynamic preparations (BD502–507):
There is evidence to support the efficacy of sea minerals in agriculture. Throughout his career Dr. Maynard Murray (1910–1983) investigated this premise in crop trials. As a result of discussions with other scientists, he learned that cancer or cancerous tumors were very rarely found in ocean lifeforms. This insight triggered decades of research in this field beginning in 1938 and continuing through the 1950s.
In Murray’s first trials, the U.S. Navy supplied seawater from oceans all over the world. Railroad tank cars delivered seawater to Cincinnati which was sprayed at various controlled rates onto test plots. In over 20 years, Dr. Murray tested sea solids on various crops in seven states and different climates. Sea solids were administered to soil at 500–3000 lbs per acre.
In the 1950’s, Murray began assaying crops for nutrients. Consistently, foods grown with sea solids had significantly more minerals (ash content), vitamins (+25% vitamin C in tomatoes, +40% vitamin C in carrots), and sugars. Dr. Murray wrote a book called Sea Energy Agriculture (BUY the Book) that chronicled his work and communicates his conclusions.
The work of Rene Quinton (1867–1925) is another example of the power of natural sea minerals towards health. The claims made of his feats using sea minerals to cure disease are extraordinary, with his primary work around the concept of the law of osmotic constancy. He determined that our inner environment, the liquid in which all our cells are bathed, has almost identical mineral composition with ocean water, and postulated that disease was a result of the imbalances resulting from the osmotic interchanges with the intra- and extra-cellular environments.
This begins to explain why table salt (NaCl) is so bad for people. Both sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl) are major ions in the health of humans and the oceans. But when Na+ and Cl- are delivered in abundance outside the balance of the other elements found in Nature it results in the disruption of the osmotic regulation of cells, causing hypertension, added water weight, and becoming bloated. The same is true of NOK-based artificial fertilizers that create the equivalent of plant obesity.
As Dr. Murray said himself, “My sea water experiments produced excellent results. It conclusively proves the proportions of trace minerals and elements present in sea water are optimum for growth and health of both land and sea life.”
In simple terms, using sea minerals in your gardens and farms is bringing back what used to be on the land and is no longer. When we only add a portion of this erosion back over time it should not be surprising that results wane and pest and disease pressure increase. Plants are resilient, but they desire much more than they require.
In Sea Energy Agriculture, Dr. Murray makes the following analogy:
“If a soil is like a mine with its myriad of elements, then whenever man tills it, plants crops and in other ways engages in farming, he is for all practical purposes engaged in the business of mining. Like a miner, the farmer breaks the earth with digging tools, but instead of dynamite, he plants seeds to loosen the minerals and elements from their holding matrix. And finally, he carts away his minerals in the form of food rather than ore.”
The issues facing modern agriculture in regards to regenerating soil are vast, we have plundered the topsoil and we are only adding a fraction back. In doing this we have lost sight of what makes soil soil, the living ecosystem of micro- and macroorganisms that feed and protect the target plants we are growing. Plants don’t live in bubbles!
In the same way our bodies produce an immune response when we get sick, the soil is now undertaking the same response. This shows up in the form of plant disease and pests, and the tools we have available to combat this are no longer working as they used too.
The silver lining in the degeneration of our agriculture is the renaissance of regenerative agriculture, and sea minerals represent a simple way of returning elemental diversity to the land, so the Earth may be healed.