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TITLE
Harvesting seaweed
EXTERNAL ID
PAW18556A
PLACENAME
unidentified
PERIOD
1950s
CREATOR
David Whyte Studio
SOURCE
Highland Photographic Archive (IMAG)
ASSET ID
21023
KEYWORDS
seaweed
carrageen
dulse
fertilisers
Harvesting seaweed

These men are gathering seaweed, traditionally a valuable resource for those living in coastal areas. Brown seaweeds have traditionally been used as a fertiliser for the land. They have high levels of potassium and nitrogen, so are particularly suitable as fertilisers in low potassium soils. Plants brought in by winter storms were dug directly into the soil after only a short period of composting. Oats, wheat, barley, potatoes and brassicas were then planted. Crofters in the Western Isles still use seaweeds in this way, although processed seaweed-based fertilisers are also available.

An alternative way of using the seaweed was to dig trenches and lay the seaweed out to rot in the piles of earth next to them. After about three weeks, the composted mixture was turned into the trenches using a cas chrom, a small plough. Once the crops had been planted, no more work was necessary, as the seaweed provided all the required nutrients, and this method has been called the 'lazy bed' system. Traces of trenches can still be seen on the islands and west coast of Scotland.

The earliest recorded use of seaweed in the Highlands is in the 600s AD. In a poem attributed to St Columba, there is a reference to the monks of Iona collecting dulse from the rocks. Dulse was often eaten with oatmeal in a thick broth or served, boiled, with butter as a separate dish. It was also used in various folk remedies.

Carrageen is another species of seaweed still in use. A dried, bleached version can be purchased to make a jelly-like pudding. Carrageen extract is used as an emulsifier in various foods, medicines, surgical dressings and cattle feed. Early farmers probably noticed that cattle grazed happily on the foreshore and used this freely available resource to supplement other fodder


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Harvesting seaweed

1950s

seaweed; carrageen; dulse; fertilisers

Highland Photographic Archive (IMAG)

David Whyte Collection, Highland Photographic Archive

These men are gathering seaweed, traditionally a valuable resource for those living in coastal areas. Brown seaweeds have traditionally been used as a fertiliser for the land. They have high levels of potassium and nitrogen, so are particularly suitable as fertilisers in low potassium soils. Plants brought in by winter storms were dug directly into the soil after only a short period of composting. Oats, wheat, barley, potatoes and brassicas were then planted. Crofters in the Western Isles still use seaweeds in this way, although processed seaweed-based fertilisers are also available.<br /> <br /> An alternative way of using the seaweed was to dig trenches and lay the seaweed out to rot in the piles of earth next to them. After about three weeks, the composted mixture was turned into the trenches using a cas chrom, a small plough. Once the crops had been planted, no more work was necessary, as the seaweed provided all the required nutrients, and this method has been called the 'lazy bed' system. Traces of trenches can still be seen on the islands and west coast of Scotland.<br /> <br /> The earliest recorded use of seaweed in the Highlands is in the 600s AD. In a poem attributed to St Columba, there is a reference to the monks of Iona collecting dulse from the rocks. Dulse was often eaten with oatmeal in a thick broth or served, boiled, with butter as a separate dish. It was also used in various folk remedies.<br /> <br /> Carrageen is another species of seaweed still in use. A dried, bleached version can be purchased to make a jelly-like pudding. Carrageen extract is used as an emulsifier in various foods, medicines, surgical dressings and cattle feed. Early farmers probably noticed that cattle grazed happily on the foreshore and used this freely available resource to supplement other fodder <br /> <br /> <br /> This image can be purchased.<br /> For further information about purchasing and prices please email the<br /> <a href="mailto: photographic.archive@highlifehighland.com">Highland Photographic Archive</a> quoting the External ID.