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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  1. Lesley

    Hi, as I live at the seaside & am building my own small water garden, I thought it would be nice to add a little rock samphire. I have small cutting & wondered if anyone has any idea how it should be planted & looked after (in hope that it actually grows)

  2. Hello

    I am confused by the suggestions that the mash samphire is an annual plant. I bought a plant from the Victoriana Nursery last year. It grew well and died off towards winter but when I pulled the dead plant matter off this spring (after keeping it in an unheated greenhouse throughout the Winter) and there were baby seedlings, I put it on my windowsill and watered with sea salt solution and these are now fully grown and more plentiful than last year. As such I had assumed this is a perennial plant.

  3. charlie

    hi, I grow marsh samphire so I know it is difficult to obtain the seeds, I have plenty of seeds left but do not sell them normaly, but if you contact me I will help you out cheers charlie

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