First Year Kelp Farming Lessons

Lessons from the first year on a kelp farm in Maine.
Well, it’s official. The Nautical Farms crew is now well into the second season of sugar kelp farming. Our farm has been set, our seed picked up, our seed out-planted. We’ve even gone out for our first farm check. Along the way, we’ve of course had a chance to reflect back on what our first year was like. We thought we would share key lessons learned from our first year of farming:
Mother Nature’s a blessing.. and a b*tch!
Mother Nature is pretty freakin’ cool. In all honesty, we are pretty obsessed with her (bitchiness and all). You probably are too if you’re farming kelp trying to save the planet from traditional agricultural methods, or if you’re reading about sustainable ocean farming. And while we are super obsessed (and obviously grateful), we were reminded just how much of a b*tch she can be. You know, like when it’s below freezing for over a week and a nearby river freezes. And then it warms up in the spring and ice starts to empty out of the river, and drag your kelp moorings along the bottom of the ocean floor. Or when the wind is blowing so hard your boat gets turned around and you get part of your kelp farm caught in the wheel... 🤦🏼‍♀️ it happens. The lesson here is to R E S P E C T the queen. Mother Nature. If you can help it, don‘t try to operate your farm in conditions that make it more difficult than it has to be, and research your farm location extensively so you know the type of weather you’ll get.
Make your moorings heavier than you think you need to
This may seem like common sense to some. But for the rest of us, make a mental note: it’s better to have your moorings be heavy AF than not heavy enough. You don’t want your seaweed farm swaying to and fro with the wind, the tide, and the ice!
Don’t sink your seed too deep
This will vary for each farmer. There isn’t a right or wrong depth to house your seed for everyone. It depends on your site, and what you’re growing, but finding that sweet spot- the spot where sunlight meets seaweed to grow just right is something you’ll want to pay attention to. We put our seed the first year at about 7 ft and our stipes grew pretty long trying to reach the surface to get light. We moved things up a bit closer to the surface this year- we’ll keep you posted on the out come.
Make a Plan A, B, C, and D
Seriously. This is important. If you take nothing else from this post, take this. Working on the ocean, in boats, along side good ole Mother Nature, can be a ridiculous thing to try to accomplish. Some days it seems like nothing is going in your favor. The wind isn’t right, waves are too big, the tide is coming or going, your boat won’t start... the list goes on. Be fully prepped for the task at hand and then be ready to adapt. Always have a back up plan! It’ll save you a lot of time and disappointment.
Lastly, ocean farming (or any type of farming) is not easy or romantic!
It’s hard work. Really hard work. Especially when your farming season takes place in the middle of the winter, in the North East. Waking up at 4am when it’s 10 degrees outside to hit the tide just right so you can get out to check the farm is rough, no matter how you slice it. Hours upon hours of time and energy goes into applying for, planning, building, maintaining, and then harvesting a farm. It’s a serious endeavor. One not to be taken lightly. Believe me, for every beautiful picture of food or farming you see on Instagram, a million things went wrong in order to get it. THANK YOUR FARMERS!