Monday, February 14, 2011

Collecting seaweed

We awoke to a beautiful morning; clear, cold and still.  We have learned that here, we must take advantage of the weather right away, as later may be just too late, so with a few jobs to be done while the sun shone, we headed down early to the croft.
Collecting seaweed has been on the agenda for a few weeks now.  The shore around the township is deep in seaweed, cast up from the Winter storms.  In fact, there are a few Winter's worth here, as no-one seems to gather it in anymore.  This surprises me a bit, as it is such a rich source of nutrients and is alkali too, so excellent for our slightly acidic soil.  Traditionally this was one of the first tasks of the crofting year - gathering the seaweed to compost for a short while, before spreading on the field.  
 As we came down the hill past the shore, we noticed that the tide was out and the beach was frozen. The beauty of the ice on the seaweed and the glassy water was breathtaking. being here just makes me feel so alive!  But, no tarrying - we had other jobs to do first, so on we went.

And - task accomplished, (but more on that in another post), back we went to the beach with our various trugs and fish boxes to collect our treasure. Another tangible connection with the past is the tool collection that was left in the barn.  I love to think that the last hands that touched these (rather lethal) implements was Dubhghall himself. They certainly did the job!  We all worked away, slipping and slithering around, gathering in this bounty.  In the past, the seaweed would be loaded into creels, which the womenfolk would fasten  to their backs, with a strap around their head, and carry them up the hill to their blackhouses.  
We now have a very large pile of seaweed in our compost bay, beside an equally large pile of rotted horse manure.  In a couple of months time, this should be a wonderful mixture to add to the crop beds.   

I forgot to take a picture of the compost bay, so to make up for that disappointment - here is a picture of the office instead.


  1. It is fascinating reading about your adventures from my side of the world (Australia) which is so very different! I do however remember collecting seaweed with my parents when I was very young, as mulch for the garden. I was wondering about it recently. Is there any problem with the salt? In our dry country (er, apart from recent terrible floods) we hear a lot about salinity of the soil, caused by farming irrigation and oh, I'm not really sure of the science of it. Is there any concern with putting seaweed - that must have a reasonable amount of salt in/on it - on the soil?

  2. Natures beauty and bounty. It looks quite heavy work, but hope you haven't to carry it too far. I just love the colours of the clear water reflecting the blue sky, the colour of the seaweed and the land around. There is satisfaction in preparing for fertile land too.

  3. Beautiful pictures, I love the frozen beach, although it really does look cold! I hope you rewarded yourself with a nice piece of cake and a hot cup of tea after all that work. It will be so worth it when all your plants are growing strong and healthy. So much to look forward to!

  4. Wow! Don't think I need to say anything else for that last picture.


  5. Thank you
    Not cake exactly - valentine's day cookies made by James.
    The work is not too heavy, although it is easy to load too much onto the fork - also helps that we were loading into the pickup instead of me having to carry it up the hill on my back :)

    Jane - Hello! I have been thinking about all you folk in Australia - I hope you were not affected by the floods. One or two blogs have gone very quiet:(
    Seaweed - my husband is very concerned about the salt, I am less so. When seaweed was being seriously collected in the 'old' days, it was washed in the burn (stream) before being taken back and composted. Some folks do hose it first. We are stacking it seperately and will give it a rinse before we mix it in with the rest. I have read mixed advice - some say it washes out anyway, on the beach, some say it must be rinsed first. I think we will leave it to the rain and a few extra buckets of water.
    I believe (with no evidence to back this up) that the salt is all around anyway, so it wont make that much difference. Our land is on a narrow peninsula, so we get salt spray from both sides, depending on the winds. And we get a lot of rain to dilute the salinity. it is our first year, though, so we shall see...
    I imagine that in the hotter drier land that you live on, the salt content will be more concentrated,so I would give it a wash in freshwater and compost it down. it is such a marvellous resource and a pity to waste it.

  6. I saw recently about using seaweed as a mulch, and wished we had some, as we need lots of mulch for the allotment. Unfortunately, we couldn't be further from the sea! Glad to see you making good use of a local, free resource.

  7. We like to collect a little and compost it a little before using, great resource and I agree with you about the salt, it disappears quickly.

    Loving your office x

  8. Thanks for your answer about the seaweed!
    Yes I would imagine if you live somewhere that has plenty of rain, excess salt will be washed off and away eventually. Interesting to know the history of it being washed in the stream. Must be fascinating to live in a place where farming / general living traditions have been going for hundreds of years. Our Australian aboriginal people were nomadic and left very little trace of their ancient presence.
    I'm in South Australia and the floods were far away from us. But poor Queensland... yes it's one of those things of fairly incomprehensible scope. I'm making some soft toys to send up to kids up there... every little thing helps I guess.
    Meantime I am very much enjoying your blog :-)

  9. How about an export order to the Central Belt? ;)

  10. These are such beautiful photographs, and it's fascinating to hear how you're making use of Nature's bounty. I happened upon a poem today, originally in Gaelic, that seemed the perfect accompaniment for your recent posts. I hope you won't mind me quoting it?

    God the Holy Trinity

    Seasons come and seasons go,
    Tidestreams ebb and tidestreams flow,
    Father, Son and Holy Ghost
    Fill the days and cleanse the coast.

    Storms and winds and waves arise,
    mists and sunrays clothe the skies,
    Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
    Three in One have power the most.

    Spring renews the yearly life,
    Man has work and peace and strife,
    Father, Son and Holy Ghost
    Reign the Three unchanging host.

    (from G.R.D. McLean's Prayers of the Western Highlanders - translated from the 19th century Carmina Gadelica)

  11. Love the view from your "office"! I bet you all sleep soundly with all that fresh air and exercise.

    hugs San x

  12. Anything that smells as bad as seaweed must be good for the soil.
    It can lie feet deep rotting away on the beach when it can be put to such a good use.

  13. One or two other people do collect it, but not many folk grow crops hereabouts. By next year we hope to have a trailer, which should make the job a bit quicker.
    San - it sure tires us out, but James doesn't seem to be as exhausted as us.
    Christine - that is a beautiful verse - thank you. The Carmina is one of those books I want to read , so I must remember to ask at the library van.

  14. lovely again mama, amazing photos, reminds me of Lillian Beckwith books, i love xx

  15. This sounds like a scene out of a movie or something. It's the beauty and rhythm of crofting. It's so easy for me to say sitting here looking at your beautiful photos and post. I'm sure you were pretty tired. I use to pat myself on the back for my incredible compost pile (very small). Never in my life and I thought of a compost bay. You are incredible! thanks for sharing your world with us.


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