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Harvesting seaweed

Harvesting Seaweed on Shetland

For me gardening and looking after the environment should go hand in hand. I garden organically and try to feed my soil with compost and manure rather than feed my plants but like many gardeners there are times when I need something a bit extra, whether it’s to boost a sickly looking plant, to feed container grown plants or to help produce more flowers and fruit.

I’m a great fan of seaweed as a fertiliser and wrote a post a while ago about the wonders of this product. There is always the worry with a natural product like seaweed though, that the harvesting of it is damaging the environment. However, it is heartening to discover a business that is harvesting seaweed in the most sustainable way and producing a product that has as little an impact on the environment as possible is fundamental to their ethos.

Böd ayre are based in Shetland and are husband and wife, Margaret and Michael Blance. They are crofters and over 10 years ago were looking to convert to organic farming but were having difficulty finding natural fertiliser for their soil. This is often a problem for organic growers but for islanders, where there is not a ready supply of compost or manure it is a big obstacle.

Research pointed them in the direction of a natural resource abundant on the island’s beaches, seaweed. Historically, seaweed had been used as a fertiliser in coastal areas, making agriculture possible even on the poor, stony soils of the Western Isles. Packed full of minerals, seaweed is a true wonder plant and is often used by gardeners to boost plant health, especially for sick and ailing plants but further benefits are being discovered. Margaret and Michael have carried out small scale trials and possibly the two most interesting findings are the suggestion that adding seaweed granules when planting out Brassicas can prevent clubroot, even when it is known to be present in the soil, and that dusting carrots with fine seaweed powder can prevent carrot fly.

Certainly, the Brassicas I planted out last year on my allotment, where there is club root present, showed no signs of the disease. Maybe this can be attributed to the seaweed meal that I had incorporated into the soil when planting out.

Margaret and Michael now produce a range of products. There is a granular plant food and a finer seaweed meal, both of which can be used by incorporating into the soil. For faster effects there is a liquid extract which can be used diluted throughout the growing season and there is also a powder, which can be used to make a foliar spray or dusted onto your carrots and broad beans to prevent carrot fly and aphids.

From the outset the Blances wanted their business to have limited environmental impact. The seaweed is harvested by hand. It’s important to know what you’re doing as it is essential to leave the root and some of the plant behind so that the seaweed can regenerate. Margaret and Michael’s pickers never overpick from one area and sections are left for 4 years before repicking. The whole harvesting process is monitored by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Nothing is wasted in the process with the seaweed powder product created from the waste product of the other processes. The finest dust that cannot be sold is used by Margaret on her own garden. A combination of rainwater and seawater is used to wash the seaweed. They do use a small amount of oil in a generator in order to dry the seaweed but they have plans to erect a wind turbine to provide the necessary energy for this part of the process, taking Böd ayre one step closer to being a low carbon business.

For more details of Böd ayre’s products (they also sell seaweed to eat and feeds for animals), a list of stockists and how to buy online visit their website www.seaweedproducts.co.uk. There is a special offer of free delivery within the UK until the end of this month.