Another Stormy Day

Another deep Atlantic low is expected to arrive in the western channel on Monday morning.

A stormy day, turbulent sea, and just the two of us wandering across wave scoured shingle, with little evidence of the detritus we found yesterday. Swept out to sea again, it’ll be deposited elsewhere with the incoming tide.
There’s plenty of seaweed scattered across the shingle, from strand line to low water, and mostly Toothed Wrack (Fucus serratus) and Fucus ceranoides, seaweeds of the upper, middle and lower shores. Hold fasts no longer holding fast, holding onto nothing; stranded, like the solitary shoe we encounter.

A metal detectorist appears, but he stays above the strand line sweeping the shingle.
He’s still listening, still searching, when we leave, carrying bags of seaweed. Passing by we say hello, wonder if he’s found anything.
‘No, just bits of foil, aluminium gives a good signal. It gives a good signal, does aluminium’.
‘Good luck’. But he’s wrapped his headphones round his ears again, returned to his searching.

We’ve collected enough seaweed to cover one of the potato beds.

stormy-sea_saltdean

sea-spume_saltdean

seaweed_saltdean

Collecting seaweed

With the wind easing briefly over the weekend, along the South coast, we were out collecting seaweed to mulch the fruit bushes, apple trees, and asparagus beds. We’ve also covered the potato beds so that the seaweed will rot over winter ready for planting in the spring, & the garlic beds have been covered ready for planting this week, rain permitting.

Strong south westerly and southerly winds have thrown up lots of Maidens hair seaweed; Ectocarpus siliculosus is found from the middle shore down to shallow water. This is the first time we’ve seen it dominating the shoreline, with little evidence of any other species. Potentially, the heavier & larger seaweeds are still being held in the sea by the energy of the waves, while the lighter seaweeds like Maiden’s hair have been dropped on the beaches during lulls in the winds currently lashing the South coast. It’s possibly also evidence of a large community of the seaweed in the Bognor to Brighton littoral zone.

 

winter light_stormy sea

 

Seasonal seaweed: harvest of the seasons, gift of the winds.

We recently went on one of our intermittent winter seaweed scavenges, in order to re-build our compost and manure piles ready for spring. Our supply of seaweed is important during spring for our potato beds; we cover them in winter (Nov/Dec) and leave the seaweed to rot down, then plant through any remaining, which then gets covered with compost or soil as we earth up the growing plants. It’s also important for our rhubarb and our asparagus beds, as well as valuable addition to our compost piles, and liquid fertiliser for our courgettes and pumpkins. We use seaweed in place of horse or cow manure to avoid the possibility of amino/clopyralid contamination and potential devastation for our allotment, something that has happened to many allotment holders on our site and across the city.

Winter along the south coast can be surprisingly stormy, and generally we’re assured of good supplies of seaweed during these months. Several days after stormy seas the seaweed harvest usually starts arriving on the shore. This year there’s been very little evidence of this. There are large seaweed beds off the coast at Bognor Regis, which provide the supply of Laminaria during the winter, one of the best seaweeds for mineral content. The Seaweed beds off Bognor are to the SW of Brighton, and the seaborne seaweed is moved along the coast through the process of longshore drift. The prevailing winds are from the SW, and the line of travel for longshore drift is also W-E. Hence, stormy seas tear seaweed from the seabed to the West of us, longshore drift transports the seaweed W-E along the coast then deposits it on the beaches, nearby. This year, the lack of seaweed suggests something else is happening.

Our current cold weather across the UK is caused by a weather system over the near continent. High pressure between Iceland and Norway has led to winds blowing East-West, from the high pressure to the north of us towards the low pressure to the west of the British Isles out in the Atlantic – remember ‘Winds blow from high to low’. So, I reckon, the winds have been blowing in the opposite direction to usual during winter, while longshore drift continues its movement West-East. This, I think has led to storm-torn seaweed clusters not moving inshore, but remaining suspended off-shore; the winds blowing from the East and longshore drift acting from the West has created an equilibrium. Hence, the distinct absence of seaweed this winter.

Such a small shift in our weather patterns, yet it could have a significant effect on our crops and harvests this year; I reckon we need to do some research.

collecting seaweed [2]

2012: growing food in difficult circumstances

I’ve been leafing through my allotment diary, reflecting on how difficult growing food has been, thinking about the key issues of the year, some about battles with weather, others more overtly political:

January
In January we experimented with potato recipes, mainly pastry because Denis has a gluten allergy, & we discovered a delicious potato pastry using non-wheat flour. We also had an excellent supply of main crop potatoes from 2011 stored in our shed for use during winter. So, plenty of tubers to experiment with.

February
February was raw with cold, along with much discussion over access to seed & to land for growing.

This month tested the cold hardiness of our over wintering crops. Snow & frost rendered the soil hard & impenetrable. Yet, the kales were remarkable; I used to leave them to get very large because that’s what I thought you did with them, but learnt the hard way during winter 2010 that large leaves also disintegrate into smelly mush when there’s a freeze. Now I crop the plants as soon as they produce large enough leaves to eat, plant them closer together, so have more for cropping more regularly. I added pictures of the various varieties, with commentary, to my post on kales, useful now I’m planning the varieties to sow in 2013.

February also marks the Celtic festival of Imbolc, the time chosen for Brighton’s Seedy Sunday, an opportunity to share local knowledge about the plants & foods we grow & eat. This gathering was marked by anger & concern over a threatened allotment rent rise that broke apart the superficially apolitical world of allotment gardening. A petition circulated, with much lobbying & planning in the background. The failure of the Allotment Federation to do anything to either inform or protect allotment holders from what was judged a predatory raid by the council on allotment rents as easy revenue, was also seen as a double betrayal by the 1st Green council in England. Continue reading