That early September storm that took down trees, and electrical lines along with them, got us searching for the oil lamps. Almost an entire day and a whole night sans power tested our patience with light switches that refused to respond, and our ingenuity, as well as the consistency of the ice cream slowly turning to mush in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator. Yet all around us private home generators hummed and rumbled throughout the lengthening night.

Not exactly Luddites, nonetheless we seem to be the lone holdouts in our neighborhood without emergency electricity. And as I struck the match to light that old oil lamp, I thought of the elderly man from whom we had bought a replacement burner for that very lamp a few years back. He led us to his workshop, where he had a treasure trove of parts for oil lamps, and he knew right off which was needed for our burned-out one. I surmised he must be gone now, and wondered who would take his place to supply oil lamp parts.

As I sat, comforted in the glow of that lamp barely lighting up our little barn and throwing intriguing shadows on the beams above, I suddenly realized that there really wasn’t any market for oil lamp parts at all anymore. It sadly dawned on me that I was probably the only person in our neighborhood who was lighting an oil lamp as the night fell. Brightly lit windows were all around, and inside those windows no one was experiencing the warmth and simple joy and comfort of an oil lamp lighting up the darkness. Well, yeah, their ice cream wasn’t melting, but nevertheless I think they were missing out on something special.

Meanwhile as all this was going on, outside in my little yard several bags of seaweed sat patiently waiting to be spread on the raspberries and around the roses and a few other select plants. My reverie about the oil lamps got me thinking about that seaweed as well. I’ve long promoted the benefits of seaweed for the garden — a free source of trace nutrients ((such as iron, copper, zinc, boron and manganese) that are readily absorbed by plants. Brimming with trace minerals straight from the sea, seaweed can be considered a broad-spectrum fertilizer. As a bonus, scientists have found that seaweed contains hormones that can stimulate plant growth. One report states that: plants in seaweed-amended soil grow faster and larger than plants in soil with a comparable amount of conventional fertilizer. And when worked into the soil, seaweed can improve aeration and soil texture.

All garden plants love seaweed, anything from from ornamentals (roses adore seaweed) to vegetables, especially fruit trees, berries and herbs benefit from the addition of seaweed, either directly to the soil or in compost. Being low in cellulose, seaweed breaks down quickly. Seaweed can actually repel slugs and insects, and possibly prevents disease, too. According to one fact sheet from Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association: “Some scientists believe that seaweed has developed antitoxins to fend off bacteria and viruses in the ocean. In the gardens, these antitoxins interrupt the reproductive cycles of some insects and appear to repel others. Seaweed also reduces fungi when applied to plants or soil.

"In tests at the University of Maryland, seaweed meal reduced soil nematodes in turf grass plots. Clemson University studies showed fewer aphids and flea beetles on foliar threatened plants, and other studies showed resistance to spider mites and scab. In Clemson studies, fruits and vegetables treated with seaweed didn't grow mold and thus had a longer shelf life.”

But what seaweed does not contain also makes it great for our gardens. Seaweed does not harbor insect eggs, plant diseases or weed seeds, and no, you don’t need to wash it before using.

While gathering seaweed can be a chore, I’ve always enjoyed the idea of making use of this free resource. But like my old oil lamp, I expect not everyone today wants to go to the trouble of gathering seaweed. And for those folks, I’ve got great news. These days anyone can buy dried and pulverized seaweed to spread — no slippery strands, no muss, no fuss.

I was introduced to the regionally-produced product Ocean Thrive at a festival celebrating all things seaweed in Rockland last summer. For more information, and where to find Ocean Thrive, contact Source Maine: sourcemaine@compcast.net. Apply it at the rate of half a pound per 25-foot row or a quarter of a cup per square foot. Your gardens will thank you for it.