The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Discovering marsh and rock samphire, salsola and seakale. Edible plants that need a bit of salt if grown away from the seaside

 

Thank goodness this hasn't been me!

Thank goodness this hasn't been me!

Even though I spent a lot of my childhood living beside the sea building seaweed castles to catch that special prince, I didn’t even meet the seaweed fairy and never tasted samphire until a couple of years ago. It was love at first bite, the saltiness and the crunch. The totally green tastiness of the thing.

So when I spotted samphire seeds for sale in the new Otter Farm online shop they were slipped into my basket within a thought. Having ordered these seeds I began to fret about actually growing them – we are an hour and a half drive from the sea after all.
So I decided to do a bit of research. The Victoriana Nursery sells the annual marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea) plants and soon quietened my apprehension about growing this treat. They advise that sand and saltwater are needed. Rather than motoring the coast to bring back buckets of the stuff you can make your own with sea salt and tap water (1 teaspoon to 1 pint)!

 Actually this plant grows in the muddy salt marshes so I reckon that for the best results a pretty watery saline environment is needed. Basically a saline mud bog with a bit of drainage where the saline water is replaced regularly.
I had just cracked how to do this when I twigged that the seeds that I’d ordered were infact rock samphire (Crithmum Maritimum). My initial disappointment softened when I realised that this is a perennial plant and some say it is a better flavour than the marsh samphire. This often used to be grown in rock gardens so the sunny gravel front drive should be a pretty good spot for these plants.
However I had got the marsh samphire bit between my teeth, I scoured the Internet for seeds. Even dreamt last night about harvesting the shoots. But I’ve found none.

The plants from the Victoriana Nursery are rather pricey for an annual at £3.35 a plant. Next year I might invest and then save the seed in the autumn. If you know where I can get seeds I’d  to be indebted to you for a very long time indeed.
Earlier this year I also invested in Liscari Sativa (Salsola soda) from The Real Seed Company. From what I’ve read this has a similar crunch to samphire without the saltiness. The seeds are difficult to harvest and don’t have a great germination rate. In fact Seeds of Italy can offer no seeds for 2011 – it is called L’Agretto – but you can order seeds for 2012! I’m planning to soak or chit my seeds before planting out to give them the best possible chance.
Dawdling in the Otter Farm shop, seakale seeds were also slipped into my basket. Years ago I bought a seakale forcer as it was so attractive. Finally I’m going to grow this perennial vegetable and use the forcer – although an upturned bucket or pot with the holes covered up very carefully will do exactly the same job.

Apparently seakale needs pretty gritty soil to thrive, with no standing water when it rains. So I’m thinking of growing it on the gravel drive too. I’m not sure how long we’ll have to wait to taste this delicacy. It’s recommended that it the plants grown from *thongs can be harvested in the second or third year so with plants grown from seed it looks like a long wait! Once established the plants will crop for at least four years before they need replacing (just take off rooted cuttings and begin again). The shoots are blanched in spring and these are supposed to be a real delicacy.

Seakale is rich in vitamin C, minerals and is antibacterial so sounds like a superb pick me up after a long winter.
*Sea Kale can be bought as thongs (yes the advertisers were instant and a bit alarming when I Googled ‘seakale thongs ‘– a new edible lingerie could be a must have item?) if you want to give yourself a head start with this vegetable. The prices of these vary considerably from £14.95 for 5 Anger’s thongs at Unwin’s to £6.50 for 5 Lilywhite thongs at the Victoriana Nursery And if you are really impatient Crocus has quite big seakale plants in their sale for £4.95 – which finishes on Sunday 30th January.
All these plants appreciate a good seaweed fertiliser. Pricey but cheaper than a trip to the Hebrides or even gliding in The Duchess to our nearest coast as it generally means stepping up for a massive sea food blowout.


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14 Comments

  1. skybluepinkish

    I’ve been collecting seaweed for years (there is some wierd legislation about foraging which is even wierder when it comes to seaweed and the foreshore which makes it all the more fun) We use it in soups, for crisps and for puddings. Seaweed is so versatile, I’ve even managed to convert my mother!
    Gille

  2. I have never had ‘true’ seaweed only the stuff they give you at the chinese which I am of the understanding is deep fried cabbage!
    However the reason for posting is to enquire if you fiona or anyone else grows stevia???
    I have recently, after giving up cigarettes last april, decided to ditch my other crutch…. artificial sweetner, I am an aspartame addict I have 4 sweetners in each of my 10-12 cups of yorksire tea a day and drink gallons of pepsi max which is loaded with the stuff.
    Researching its side effects have been a frightening experience it can cause anything from rashes to death basically and is the hidden cause of many of our maladies without us even knowing it.
    I noticed stevia is the natural version and is widely used in japan where aspartame is now banned.
    I saw suttons are selling stevia plants (delivered in june) but I have brought some seeds from ebay. Does anyone have any experince of growing or indeed turning the leaves into sweetner??

  3. So I’m confused; are you growing the march samphire or not? Because I’d worry about poisoning the ground underneath it (assuming it needs drainage) when you water it with salt water. At least, that’s what I think I read…

  4. I just googled the Salsola soda and Wikipedia says the seed is very short-lived (6 months) and should be sown in autumn or very early spring. Just a heads up!

  5. I’ll be very interested in how you get on with all of these plants, so I am staying tuned!

    Mandi – I have a stevia plant I bought from Jekka last year. AFAIK you simply harvest and dry the leaves and crumble them for sweetener, that’s what I have done. The plant needs to be brought inside for the winter, and there’s some more information on Jekka’s websie (http://www.jekkasherbfarm.com/HerbStevia.asp)

  6. I live three miles from the Wash – we go picking Samphire when its in season – I didn’t know what it was when we first moved here – now we go out every year and bring bunches home, boiled for a few minutes and smoothered in butter it is one of my favourite “free” foods!

    • Stigman

      On holiday by the wash, I have dined on samphire for three of the six nights I have spent here. I remember back in the early 1960s visiting a location where there was lots of it, within easy reach of a car park. Can’t remember where it was, I was only a kid. But this time it took a bit of finding and a lot of walking. Perhaps the foodies have a lot to answer for, but not sure where they get it from.

  7. We are also lucky in the fact that we can go and harvest the samphire off the salt marsh. I think it adds to the taste when we know that we have got it for free and in London they pay fortune for it!!!!

  8. bobquail

    I’d never looked at the Otter Farm website before. I’m impressed by their range of unusual veg. It’s a great shame our garden is so tiny otherwise I’d be ordering stuff from them right away.

  9. Robert Murray

    I got 2 marsh samphire plants from Victoria Nurseries last year and they grew well. I obviously confused the perenniel nature of rock samphire with marsh samphire which I now realise is annual. That is why I was disappointed my plants didn’t recover from the winter !
    However, I do seem to have seed – very small seeds. I am trying to germinate them.
    If you would like me to send some to you to try I would be very happy to do so.
    Bob.

  10. Pip Stokes

    DT Brown are currently offering Marsh Samphire seeds (250 for 2.39). I’ve tried the Salsola a couple of times which was OK tasting but was only usable when young. Marsh Samphire seems the more promising in terms of taste, yield and harvesting period.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Thanks Pip

      I’m off to order some right now. I went the Salsola route this year and didn’t warm to them – salty grass!

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