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the life cycle of kelp: from spore to your plate

We recently announced the newest addition to our kelp family on social media during our seventh kelp harvest and it got us thinking about a common question we get asked: “Where does kelp seed come from?”. Our kelp’s life cycle begins long before the seaweed graces your table or enhances your skincare routine. The journey starts with the tiny yet mighty kelp seed.  Let’s dive into the fascinating process of how these seeds are sourced - literally, because it starts at the bottom of the ocean. 

sourcing kelp seed

The first step in kelp farming involves obtaining kelp seed, which are not traditional seeds but rather spores from mature kelp plants or to be more precise, algae. These spores are collected from the wild kelp that is reproductive and growing in kelp beds along Maine’s coast. Obtaining Maine wild reproductive kelp ensures genetic diversity and resilience, as well ensuring that the kelp is native and not invasive to our coastlines. 

The exact process of securing reproductive kelp involves a diver venturing into the waters off the coast of Maine, selecting robust, healthy kelp specimens that are prime candidates for spore production. Mature sorus tissue (or reproductive kelp) is identified by looking for kelp that has a dark and sometimes slightly raised section running down the center of the blade. It can be found running down the entire length of the blade, or just a section of the blade. 

the hatchery: nurturing the next generation

Once reproductive kelp is secured, the next phase is the hatchery. A hatchery or sometimes referred to as a nursery, is a controlled environment, where optimal conditions are created (often in fish tanks) for kelp spores to develop into sporophytes or tiny microscopic “seeds”. These conditions often replicate the environmental conditions that would be found naturally and allow for the best growth, survival, and reducing contamination. 

This phase of the process - like many parts of kelp farming has to happen fairly quickly. Ideally within hours of the sorus tissue being collected, it will be inspected and cleaned to remove any unwanted organisms. The cleaned kelp is then placed in tanks filled with filtered seawater, where they release their spores.

These spores settle onto spools of twine or other suitable materials submerged in the tanks. Over the next four to six weeks, with meticulous attention to temperature, light, and nutrient levels, the spores germinate and grow into tiny kelp seedlings. This stage is critical, as the seedlings are highly sensitive and require precise conditions to thrive.

from hatchery to ocean: planting the kelp

When the kelp seedlings have attached to the twine and grown to a sufficient size, typically a few centimeters, they are ready to be transplanted to the open ocean. At Nautical Farms, we utilize sustainable aquaculture techniques that not only ensure the health of our crops but also contribute positively to the marine ecosystem.

The process of planting kelp in the ocean involves attaching the seedlings to long lines or ropes, which are then anchored at strategic locations in our kelp farms. These lines are suspended in the water column, allowing the kelp to grow vertically. This method maximizes space and ensures that the kelp has access to sunlight and nutrients. To learn more about how kelp is farmed and what the farm looks like, check out our blog post here titled “How is kelp farmed? Benefits, methods, and challenges of kelp farming in Maine“.

As the kelp grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, benefiting the surrounding marine environment. Our kelp farms also provide habitat for various marine species, promoting biodiversity.

harvesting: the final chapter

After months of growing in the ocean and several farm checks, the kelp reaches maturity and is ready for harvest. This typically occurs in late spring or early summer, depending on the species and environmental conditions. The harvested kelp is then processed into various products, from nutritious edible seaweeds, like our Organic Sugar Kelp Flakes which are the perfect salt alternative to any meal, or to bath and skincare items like our Amber & Moss Kelp Soap or our Kelp & Sea Salt Body Scrub enriched with kelp’s natural benefits.

commitment to sustainability

At Nautical Farms, our commitment to sustainability is at the core of everything we do. Kelp farming is an eco-friendly practice that helps mitigate climate change by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Additionally, our methods do not require fertilizers or pesticides, making kelp one of the most environmentally friendly crops available.

join us on our journey

We invite you to explore the world of kelp farming with us. Whether you’re enjoying a delicious kelp-based product or using kelp-infused skincare, you’re part of a sustainable movement that starts with a tiny kelp seed and ends with a healthier planet.

If you’re interested in starting your own farm, or hatchery or just want more details on the process, the Ocean Approved Kelp Manual is a great resource.

Visit our Radio Waves blog to learn more about our kelp farming practices and how you can support sustainable seaweed cultivation. At Nautical Farms, we're not just growing kelp; we're cultivating a better future for our oceans and our communities.