Working Together Separately

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Many days Johnny and I can be found toiling about our garden, working together separately.  With bent over backs, we handle the earth, only speaking when necessary.  Perhaps because we rarely have silence in our full house.  Or because in the openness of the land, sound travels so easily.  With the constant island breeze, the birds might carry our intimate, personal conversation to the ears of neighbours and passing strangers.  Better to not risk it.  After all, if we can hear them, chances are they can hear us.  Although both of these reasons are sound, our silence is more likely because working with our hands is meditative, especially when working in nature.  It has evolved from the aforementioned reasons of appreciation and prudence to the contemplative cognizance of the task being carried out. The work is not just a means to an end; we are wholly aware that this is where we’re meant to be and what we’re meant to do.  So with this week’s mild temperatures and the sun hanging low and shining brightly, we headed to the beach to collect seaweed to fertilize the garden.  

Soil is a living organism and the fundamental basis for our food production.  After a demanding growing season, it is imperative that the soil’s fertility be replenished.  Seaweed is a gardener’s pot of gold if fortunate enough to have access to it.

It’s hard work following in these footsteps of many generations prior.  This is especially true with the modern convenience of dried and packaged seaweed readily available.  You’d hardly find an islander who would use it though.  A commitment to tradition and frugality is why on many of my morning beach walks with the dog, I witness tractors with trailers, driven by wellie boot donned farmers, gathering seaweed after stormy seas deposit aplenty.

On this day, we again decided to work together separately.  Johnny collected the seaweed while I gathered bairneach, an Irish word, pronounced “bornahee”, with the “h” sound coming from the back of the throat, which translates to limpets.  Being a New England girl, these gems of the sea are quite similar to the clams which I grew up with and we use them in similar ways.

I hope you enjoy these pictures of the occasion.  Melissa Xx


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screwdriver and stone, the simplest of tools

screwdriver and stone, the simplest of tools


remains of old fish factory in background

remains of an old fish factory in background


not bad for 30 minutes work

not bad for 30 minutes work

the rising tide put an end to bairneach gathering

the rising tide put an end to bairneach gathering



spreading seaweed in the polytunnel

outdoor beds, ready for a long winters feed

a couple of the outdoor beds ready for a long winters feed


  1. amykierce says:

    I loved reading about your seaweed collecting! The pictures were beautiful. Do you dry the seaweed first? I’m considering collecting it from the ocean near my parents, on Cape Cod. The thick seaweed in your basket looked so healthy! Do you eat seaweed? I like it in soups. And btw, I’m about to check out your pumpkin soup now!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aw, thanks Amy! We do not dry the seaweed. It naturally dries out and the earthworms do most of the work of breaking it down and integrating it with the soil. We do eat seaweed. Dillisk is nice dried in soups and scones. Crushed it makes a great salt replacement. I once tried making my own nori wraps. It was a great experiment but not worth the HUGE effort- they are so healthy and inexpensive already from Asian market. Really, I haven’t even come close to tapping it’s full potential.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! I LOVE seaweed salad. Alaria is our wakame substitute here in Ireland. It’s at super low tide so I come home with sea filled wellies always thinking I can beat the tide. But really I know the harvesting is never finished until my feet are wet. Our nori wraps are messy also. I’m sure yours taste delish tho 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. We think alike about the wonder of the living soil, for sure. I am fascinated with your living so close to the sea…and in Ireland. What am adventure this must be! And all that seaweed mulch, free for the taking – what a blessing! Lucky you! I have made some of my handmade plant papers using seaweed collected from the coast of Oregon when I visited my adult son who lives there. Seaweed makes a very pretty inclusion and very unique paper too!
    Your raised garden beds are wonderful too. I am looking forward to hearing what else you do with that seaweed! Donna at the Small House Homestead.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Roz Hill says:

    I sometimes wonder if our 5 year old smallholding will get the better of us. How I envy your seaweed! We have a huge pile of cow manure out side our poly which we decided to leave fallow this winter so we could replenish the soil. Only today I thought I could manage at least one barrow a day.. It could be ready for spring planting! Phil has decided to make a lean-to work shed and I am nagging at him to make more raised beds … We have four so far. Catch up soon Roz

    Liked by 1 person

  5. oh I just loved this post and tonight when the fire is lit plans will be made to go to Achill and fill the boot with seaweed, I never really knew how to do this , your post explains it so well the beds are ready and all I need to do now is dress them with the sea weed I collect , do I just leave it on top with raking in or do i dig it in to the soil and how long should we leave it there before sowing do you think , maybe a layer of soil with compost over it , I am not sure. Just love the pick up , I would so love one of these often I have thought about trying to get one. it has now been added to the list of things to get with cigarette money may take a few years ha ha . Good luck with the meditation today Kathy xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have yet to meditate today. It is my youngest birthday and I am working on making some costumes. Tonight I will do it, and I will respond properly to your question regarding the seaweed then as well.
      My little Miss en route home from school now and a few more bits to prepare. Bless you and look forward to talking soon. Melissa


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  8. Greg says:

    What lovely photos and interesting thoughts/background; in glad you re-blogged this one since I wasn’t aware of the blog then.

    Soil is a living organism: what a thought! I mean logically I *know* that and yet the idea of never really occurred to me either. I applaud you all for keeping with tradition, these and others you’ve shared. Traditions can be so important to our families and culture yet so easily lost.
    Have a bless week, Melissa 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tradition is too easily lost in our rapid changing world, understandably when so often replaced by convenience at an affordable price. The price is often much greater than what comes out of our pocket though, hence global warming and chronic diseases. Gathering seaweed for the garden won’t change the world of course, but it is a tradition we very much enjoy!!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Patricia Roberge says:

    Norma Biggins (Michael is your husbands cousin) I love the blog. Some relatives have come here to NE from Ireland and I loved visiting there. Your life sounds wonderful and a lot of hard work.
    Please keep your wonderful blog going we love to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We steam them until they just release from their shells. Then we rinse in cold water and separate the meat from shell. After that, if we don’t freeze them, we toss them in a pan with garlic butter or chop and make into ‘clam’cakes or use in chowder. Once I made them battered and fried and ate with tartar sauce and ketchup.
      Do you eat them? Any suggestions?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This is just the best slice of life piece. Your gathering of fertilizer for the gardens is just such peaceful good work. How fortunate you are to live this lifestyle.

    This essay is so beautifully written, and I smile thinking of many years down your life path timeline when you are very old and will have this beautiful record of your family’s life to read and remember with.

    The photos reminded me of my years living on the Oregon Coast of the United States. The seaweed and kelp washed up accumulating into deep piles. The organic farmers would come to gather it. The ‘bairneach’ resemble the limpets that covered the rocks. There were also huge mussels there to gather.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny you should say that as I often feel like I am keeping a scrapbook here. It’s a great way to keep memories alright.

      I love mussels but they are not as big here and quite a bit of effort for not much. Other things have proven to be more worth the effort really. The bairneach are the same as limpets actually; bairneach is just the Irish name for them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


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