Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Seaweed: Drifting from ocean to table

The tide comes in and the tide goes out, depositing tangled piles of seaweed all along the beach.  These strings of plant material in vivid shades of green, red and gold could be mermaids' necklaces, with their delicate fronds and bead-like bulbs.   At the start of the summer I vowed to find a practical use for the stuff, and added "Seaweed Gathering" to my list of daily chores.

Bladder wrack ( Fucus vesiculosis)

Garden Mulch

Seaweed adds nutrients to soil, prevents weed growth, retains moisture and reduces insect pests in the vegetable garden.  After dealing with the Colorado Potato Beetle infestation by removing the potato plants, I added a thick layer of seaweed to the ground where the bugs had multiplied.  There were no more beetles.  Dried clumps of seaweed from mid-beach are best for use in the garden, as the rain has already rinsed out most of the salt.

It's readily available, and free

A Dollar Store plastic bin is ideal for hauling seaweed

Spread between the rows, seaweed makes an excellent mulch
I like the fact that the crusty seaweed carpet makes working in the garden a cleaner experience.  No more tracking of dirt from the yard into the house!  When the garden is completely finished at the end of the season, we'll use a rototiller to incorporate the seaweed as a natural fertilizer.


The fibres in seaweed can be used to make beautiful paper.  After reading about a Japanese artist - Manabu Hangai - who uses handmade seaweed paper for his sculptural installations, I decided to experiment with the craft.

 The paper-making process involves cooking the seaweed with caustic soda to break up the cellulose fibres, a messy job best done on a hotplate outdoors.  I used a hand blender to puree the mixture and formed the paper using an improvised mold and deckle made from two wooden stretchers and a plastic needlepoint canvas.  The wet sheet of paper was transferred to a piece of cotton cloth and laid out in the sun to dry.

Paper-making equipment:  homemade mold and deckle

The resulting paper has a rugged texture, flecks of green and an aroma that's reminiscent of an ocean breeze.  It begs for a clever haiku, an artistic pen-and-ink sketch or an evocative love note.
( I'm still working on that part of the project.)
Papier de la mer

Seaweed Vessel

One thing led to another, as is often the case, and now I have a papier mache bowl encrusted with dried seaweed as a centrepiece for the dining room table.  The Neptune Dish has a surreal quality borrowed from Meret Oppenheim's fur teacup, saucer and spoon and is equally non-functional.  It might be a suitable container for seashells, but is definitely not dishwasher safe.

Papier mache bowl

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The vegetable garden has been feeding us all summer with generous baskets of produce  - lettuce, peas, beets, carrots, beans.  Now there's a row of tomatoes ripening on the window sill, a reminder that the bright days of wine and radishes are numbered.  There may be a few acorn squash and a dozen ears of corn to pick before the first frost warning is featured in the NB weather forecast.

Maintaining a garden is a conscious effort to harness nature. Gardeners carefully plan their plantings, select seed varieties, enclose and till a patch of earth, control irrigation, eliminate weeds and amend the soil.  The schedule of gardening involves daily sweat work, as nature is not easily subdued and pacified.   When the season ends with a good crop, the gardener feels personally responsible for the successful outcome and might even brag to the neighbour about the quantity and size of backyard zucchini in the same way one boasts about offspring.

The other day while walking in the back meadow I discovered an apple tree full of fruit embedded in the wild vegetation that grows thickly at the edge of our property. Perhaps at one time it was the project of an Acadian farmer who lovingly tended a small orchard, but from the looks of the unruly branches, the tree had been neglected for years.  Apples covered the ground around the trunk of the overgrown tree - a windfall that I happily collected and turned into applesauce.   The fruit was sweet and delicious, a total surprise to me, the busy gardener who had spent the summer focusing attention on my cultivated vegetable plot.  To think that the unexpected bounty had flowered, matured and ripened without my knowledge, without any monitoring or intervention gave me a chance to marvel at the goodness that happens when we simply leave things alone.

Carl Jung described the garden as an archetypal symbol for the conscious mind, while the forest represented the unconscious. Influenced by a Taoist guide to meditation entitled "The Secret of the Golden Flower" Jung wrote about the value of doing nothing at a conscious level to spur self-improvement or attain enlightenment.

"When I examined the development of persons who grew beyond themselves I saw that their fates had something in common.  The new thing came to them out of obscure possibilities.  In no case was it conjured into existence through purpose and conscious willing, but rather seemed to be borne on the stream of time.

We are so greatly tempted to turn everything into purpose and method.  I have been deeply impressed with the fact that the new thing presented by fate seldom or never corresponds to conscious expectation.... Consciousness is forever interfering, helping, correcting, negating, never allowing the growth of psychic processes in peace."                                    -   Carl Jung

One bushel of apples produced by an overlooked tree has restored my faith in the enchanted forest of the unconscious, where ideas grow to fruition blissfully unattended.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Out to sea

The lobster fishing season opened this morning after a week of dispute about pricing.  Fishermen demanded $4.00 per lb for their catch, and almost achieved that price.  Late last week they were able to reach a settlement when the Maritime Fishermen's Union and processing plant owners agreed to pay $3.00 per lb. for canners and $3.50 per lb. for market lobsters.

Boats heading out from Cap-Pele wharf this morning

As lobster boats head out on the Northumberland Strait, controversy continues.  The money for "topping up" the per lb. rate comes from an extended government loan to the union, a peace-keeping strategy that closely resembles a welfare handout.  It's a subsidy that not all taxpayers are happy about, especially when this year's low wholesale price for lobster is not reflected in store prices.  

Here's a sample of comments posted on a CBC NB article:

I'm all for preserving jobs and strengthening the local economy, but what these guys want to do sounds an awful lot like price fixing to me, does it not? I bet these fishermen complain about oil company conspiracies to raise prices when they fill up their trucks at the gas stations. What they are trying to do is the exact same thing.
The world is constantly changing. Either adapt and thrive, or resist and get left behind...  - Chris60

Meanwhile, dairy farmers in PEI are suffering a loss due to the drought and high grain prices. Dairy producers produce milk which is a vital necessity for all of us.
Lobster is a luxury food and the taxpayers are subsidizing the fishermen who do this. Something is dreadfully wrong. 
Market prices for cows and bulls at the cattle auctions in Truro and Florenceville show that farmers are getting less than 90 cents a pound for their critters. This is hardly a level playing field , don't ya think ??
If you are going to be fair then the farmers need a better price for their products whether its milk or beef. Pork and poultry producers deserve mention as well. 
It seems like a special group got special treatment all because of what is caught in a trap feeding off the bottom of the ocean floor.  - Riot Act

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lobster Lock-out

Atlantic Lobster (Canadian)
The temporary foreign workers from Haiti and the Philippines formed a long line on the bike path early this morning as they cycled home from their jobs at fish processing plants in Cap-Pele.  The workers' unexpected day off is the result of a protest by lobster fishermen who have piled a wall of traps on the access road to the plant.

The fishermen in NB are blocking fish factory driveways in order to prevent the arrival of trucks carrying loads of lobsters from Maine.  A glut of lobsters south of the border this year has lowered the wholesale price to $2 per pound.    The Canadian lobster season doesn't open until next week, and local fishermen simply cannot afford to operate their boats, buy bait and hire employees at such a low rate.  Unlike their U.S. counterparts who are permitted to harvest lobster year-round with few restrictions, Canadian fishermen are limited to a 10-week season with definite open/close dates.  The industry is strictly controlled by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Lobster traps

 Warmer water in the North Atlantic is a contributing factor in the current over-abundance of soft-shell lobster.  The American Lobster grows faster in a warm environment and fishermen have reported moulting occurring about six weeks earlier than in previous years.  Conservation efforts on both sides of the border have also increased the stock size, but quality has deteriorated.  Soft shell or shedder lobsters are not suitable for the live sales market, do not transport well and must be processed soon after landing.  The excess Maine lobsters are processed in Canadian plants and exported back to the U.S as canned or frozen meat.

Fishermen in NB have been challenged in all facets of their work this year, as fuel costs have increased, the life-cycles of Atlantic fish and crustaceans have changed and government managers have failed to adjust regulations to be in synch with nature's timelines.  Competition from a huge, under-priced U.S. lobster catch does nothing to improve financial prospects for the 2012 season and may, in fact, signal the end of a main source of income for fishermen in this region.   Here's the CBC report.

Fishermen protesting outside Westmorland Fisheries in Cap-Pele, NB
The ones who stand to benefit from the importation of foreign workers and foreign catch are the fish plant owners.  They abandoned the local work force several years ago, when the practice of hiring employees from other countries such as Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Russia and the Philippines became routine, a perk granted by a government-sponsored program that allowed companies to pay lower wages to temporary foreign workers.  The fish processing companies have now abandoned local suppliers in favour of foreign ones - a cheaper alternative, too. Corporate commitment to community - once the hallmark of good business -  is sadly a thing of the past.