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


  1. I love the bowl, with its shell-like look. I particularly like works of art that are a bit ephemeral and biodegradeable and can/should be disposed of, after a time. It makes room for something new.

  2. Clare: Your wabi-sabi sensibility must come from your experiences in Japan. The bowl is exactly as you have described it - a temporary bit of flotsam.