In Praise of Seaweed


As we enter into the season of storms and wild winds in Harris, I thought I would write a little about our croft and how, far from finishing outside work, we are busier than ever. Autumn and Winter are the time to settle the beds ready for the colder weather. I always think of it as tucking everything up ready for a winter of restorative rest (alas only for the plants not us). Our plants work hard, they grow, flower and set seed in a few short months, withstanding some pretty demanding weather, so as the year progresses we like to take extra care of them.

 Working with plants in the Hebrides is an endless dance with the elements, ensuring that there are sufficient wind breaks, checking that perennials are kept in tip top condition, keeping Roses pruned to prevent root-rock from high winds, tying any shed down to make sure it’s still there next season.

 Where we are, with the Atlantic rolling in on one side and the tidal sea lagoon on the other, salt is always an issue. When the wind really blows the salty air burns the leaves, leaving them scorched and brown. It means that we can often only pick for a short time because the leaves and flowers can become stressed and damaged as the seasons progress.

 So we have to be sure that we give every plant the best chance possible. For this, the soil and its management, are critical. In Spring we compost, in Summer we make a feed from our Comfrey and seaweed however, it is in late Autumn that the really hard work begins. We cover the soil with cardboard, fortunately we have a lot from all our deliveries, then Matt heads down to the beach, two minutes away, after stormy nights and high tides from the full moon, with our big blue barrels. There is so much seaweed that is washed up of every variety, from Ascophyllum or knotted wrack which is really common on the shoreline here to different Kelps, which grow further out in the deeper sea water. It all washes ashore in a tangled mass of browns, reds and dark greens.

 It’s gathered up and spread over the cardboard in an even layer. This has several benefits, the soil is protected from the harshest weather, both the cardboard and seaweed break down over winter to feed the soil and the mulch keeps the plants that are dormant below ground snug and warmer than they would otherwise be.

 This method of land management has been used for generations in the Hebrides, it was part of the lazy bed system (never has a system been so misnamed) where the ground was gradually built up with soil and organic matter to create ridges where plants were grown and channels where the excess water could escape. Ingenious but back breaking digging.

 The other benefit to managing the croft this way is the environmental impact. We can keep our soil in really good condition without bringing in anything from off the island, we’re not felling trees for bark chippings, there are virtually no carbon miles attached to it, it cleans the beach and it works brilliantly. It also adds to the particular terroir of our drink – the unique taste of plants that have been grown surrounded by the sea and its bounty. We think it’s very special.

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