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“Collected on the coast – Brewed on the hill” The making of Highdown Seaweed Tea

“Collected on the coast – Brewed on the hill”
The making of Highdown Seaweed Tea.

Have you seen the movie The Field, starring Richard Harris? It’s the story of a struggle over a field, transformed over generations from a rugged clifftop area into a fertile pasture abundant with crops, by improving the soil with seaweed hauled up from the beach below.

Hi, I’m Toby, a Craft Gardener up at Highdown, and I began my own exploration into the benefits of Seaweed Tea at the end of January this year.

After previously chatting with my colleague Rob, leader of the Foreshore team, and then completing the necessary Risk Assessments, I was clear to start gathering the dried seaweed on the high tide line of our shingle beach.

In about an hour I had filled two bulk bags half full (one full bag being too heavy to lift safely, thank you Risk Assessment) I loaded them into my car, then drove up the hill to work and to start brewing.

Collecting seaweed on the beach

Collected seaweed
I put the seaweed into 12 large old plastic plant pots and then into four household wheelie bins, I’d got from my colleagues in the Refuse Department. Then, with a hose, filled the bins halfway with water to cover the seaweed buckets. Then I had a cup of tea (not seaweed) and waited. Hoping for the magic to happen and have the brew ready for the new growing season starting in spring.

The seaweed soaking in the buckets

The benefits of Seaweed Tea are numerous, as Monty Don often extols on Gardeners World, so I’ve been very interested to discover more about this natural resource, we’re lucky to have on our doorstep.

Long before commercial fertiliser production, seaweed had been used to aid plant growth. Providing many benefits to plants way beyond the capabilities of artificial fertilisers.

It promotes stronger, healthier plants which are better able to cope with environmental stresses, including flooding, drought, salinity, pests and diseases.

No doubt, it’s a tool all gardeners should have up their sleeve.

After 12 weeks’ fermentation, as April drew to a close and May brought warmer weather, so the brew was ready. I removed the buckets and drained off the pale green liquid and smelt the strong healthy odour which gave a reassuring nose of goodness, then poured and stored it into an old water butt.

Once a week since, I’ve been diluting the tea, one-part seaweed to ten water, then feeding all the new plantings I’d introduced to the garden, including annuals, herbaceous perennials, woody shrubs and trees.

But how would I really know if the seaweed tea has increased their health and vigour? As I wondered what to do with the free seeds supplied with the Gardeners World magazine, the idea came to me. Sow the basil, parsley, lettuce and Zinnia seeds and when they’ve germinated pot them up into two identical groups, feeding one with the Seaweed Tea and a control sample fed only with water.

So, on 15th June 2022 the two samples look similar, but what will the results show in three months’ time? Hopefully, the proof will be in the brew…

Photo: Growing experiment – plants fed with only water

Growing experiment - plants fed with only water

Photo: Growing experiment – plants fed with seaweed tea

Growing experiment - plants fed with seaweed tea

Note from the Worthing Coastal Office: What Toby from Highdown Gardens is doing is very small scale and a pilot scheme for exploiting ways to potentially utilize and deal with any large seaweed deposits in the future. As it stands, so long as the seaweed is for personal use, floating and un-attached then it is ok to harvest.

Crown Estate webpage quote: Seaweed collection for personal use, in small qualities does not require a licence. However, we would recommend that anyone doing so takes account of the environmental sensitivities of collecting anything from the wild.

If you have any questions about seaweed collection please contact the Worthing Coastal Office coastal.office@adur-worthing.gov.uk