Bull Kelp at Salmon Creek Beach

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I’ve been collecting Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) to experiment with its material properties and possible use in a woven structure, such as a seat for the California Windsor Chair I am developing. This time of year the kelp beds are far offshore, but I’m hoping to prepare for the fall, when storms begin to wash enormous, tangled deposits onto the beaches of the wild Sonoma Coast. With just a small amount of kelp I can test some ideas and perhaps make a prototype over the summer.

This morning I ventured out to Salmon Creek beach just after sunrise to see what the beach would yield on a -0.7′ low tide. The beach was empty when I arrived, the weather calm, and the tide still going out. I harvested several fresh young kelp strands and noticed a few clusters eddying in the gully. These pieces would be perfect for my experiment, being much smaller in diameter, shorter in length and generally more manageable than the monster clusters of the winter months.

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I sat and watched the outgoing tide, drinking tea and munching frittata made from our own delicious eggs and loaded with tender spinach from the garden. Several seal heads popped up in the gully as I dined and I realized they must be eating breakfast too. I thought of another strategy for the Deep Craft Manifesto:

Prepare for Unintended Consequences

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There appeared to be fish in the gully and I brought along my surf rod just in case. I’ve seen stripers, ling cod and sea perch caught here, usually by Mexicanos using live shrimp or anchovies for bait. I made a dozen casts into the slack tide gully and trolled my silver lure around rocks and beds of seaweed, waiting for more young kelp to wash ashore. I did not catch any fish, but enjoyed the clear-headed casting and loaded my backpack with shiny brown kelp before heading back up the ridge to home. Next time I’ll bring bait.

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12 replies on “Bull Kelp at Salmon Creek Beach”

  1. Hi, I ran across your site researching kelp. It is really interesting what your doing.

    I too use bull kelp but in a different way. I collect the kelp that has washed up on the shores, and become dry hardened by the sun. I then paint them in an unusual way. (Hard to describe I can send you a pictures).

    The dried kelp is an amazingly strong material and takes paint beautifully. The tale end is like a strong rope. Which is, I’m assuming, the part you use for your chairs. The bulb part dries as hard a a gourd, my favorite part. Just started experimenting with it myself. I have gotten very favorable comments regarding the end product.

    I am looking to get more, and wondered if you had run across any sun dried kelp in your area? I got mine from a beach in Cambria, and will try that beach again, but could use other areas. Look forward to hearing from you.
    Patty

  2. Found your article on Bull kelp, have you been sucessful in drying process ? Interested in your method , I would like to dry some.. Eric

  3. Looking for info on drying bull kelp and came upon your article.

    Wondering about your process for drying the kelp — you’d written about using it as a base for chairs. I would like to use it for baskets, but with the ultimate product more closely woven.

    I’m thinking it should be collected, dried and then briefly soaked again at weaving time. Should be less shrinkage.

    I wonder about the soaking moving the salt. Would that make the kelp more fragile? As well, would you finish the product with a coat of mineral oil, as I have read?

    Any suggestions you’re willing to share would be most appreciated.

  4. Hi Lois-
    I’ve found the kelp stays fairly flexible when dried slowly, not in direct sun. The weaving is best done while the kelp is still a bit ‘green’, pliant. Then the final drying happens when it has taken on a shape- a basket, whatever. I’ve had good luck treating it with mineral oil, as well as biodiesel fuel! Good luck!

    Scott

  5. Scott,
    So of course what really caught my attention was your mention of biodeisel (not that the kelp part isn’t fascinating too); I’d like to hear more about that.
    Unfortunately the documentation of my home-brewing adventure got lost in a server reset, but it would still be fun to exchange notes.

    BTW I am an avid reader of your site.

    – Robb

  6. I am interested in what you are doing with Bullwhip Kelp. I am also experimenting with it as a art medium and have tied several turk’s head knots with it and also have made seaweed pickles from it.

  7. Hey Michael-

    Thanks for getting in touch. I would love to see what you’ve been doing with kelp! If you send me some images and text related, I will publish them on my weblog (with your permission).

    Cheers-

    Scott

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