The Cottage Smallholder

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Investing in perennial vegetables for the hungry gap: Sea Kale/ Seakale/ Crambe maritime


Cigar anybody? No they are seakale thongs

Cigar anybody? No they are seakale thongs

Many years ago, when I was just a newbie herbaceous gardener a friend came to stay with her mother. Her mother bought me the book The Victorian Kitchen Gardenby Jennifer Davies. As I wasn’t actually planning to grow vegetables at the time it was put on my books for later shelf.

I had no idea that suddenly it would come into its own this year. Here I found details of making hot beds and so much more. OK Victorian kitchen gardens were labour intensive but I do have time on my hands and if you cut out things like expensive hothouse boilers, so many of their methods apply today. Such as how to keep a bunch of grapes fresh for weeks after picking. Leave a long stalk when you harvest and put it in a cool place with the stalk in an almost horizontal bottle of water.

Incidentally this book is available on Amazon for just 1 pence!

I have been working on a post on perennial vegetables for quite some time now. I got very excited when I discovered that there are loads of these around. The post has finally overwhelmed me – the subject is just too big for one post. So I’m going to do a few posts that focus on perennial veggies that I think are worth growing.

Of course there are the standard ones that most veg gardeners with a bit of space grow. Asparagus, globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, Welsh Onions and of course herbs – thyme, winter savoury, parsley, chives, oregano, French and Russian tarragon to name just a few. But there are others that I’d never considered before this year.

The Victorian Kitchen Garden introduced me to one. Seakale. The more that I read about it the more that I wanted to grow it. As a flower grower I loved the sound of honey scented flowers in the summer and as a foodie the idea of forced Sea kale shoots over winter and into spring was seductive.

I ordered some Seakale seeds but failed to get them to germinate. Since then I’ve discovered that they are easy if you carefully remove the corky outer case. If you grow Seakale from seed you are looking at a three to four year wait before you can start forcing it. I’m already doing the ‘waiting for/tending asparagus three year run’. Will I actually be alive in three or four years time?!

I’m impatient.

Although the years seem to fly by, only one more year to go before we can eat our homegrown asparagus, I was tempted to spend to save time. So I invested in some Seakale Angers thongs – at £14.95 for five they seem expensive. Danny was shocked at the price. But these plants have a lifespan of at least five years (some people say ten) so even if you don’t take root cuttings they will only cost a maximum £3.00 a year for a delicate and tasty treat. And that’s what this site is all about – living a good life for less. You can harvest your own thongs after three years for new plants. In fact Danny suggested that selling thongs could be a good source of income in the future.

So managed well, these thongs are actually not as expensive as they initially appear. They can provide tasty treats and a possible income stream year after year.

Planting the thongs is easy. The convention is that the top is cut straight across and the base at an angle. They like a sunny open site. Prepare your Seakale bed well with lots of organic compost from your bin – they will be living there for some time! Using a dibber plant the thongs so that the top is covered by 1”/5cm of soil. Set the thongs about 18”/45cm apart. Pick the flowers as they appear, feed them occasionally and water when it is dry. Leave them to romp away and build up their strength during their first year. Start forcing them in the winter and spring of their second year.

I can’t wait to taste this bounty!

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  1. Jono / Real Men Sow

    I tried sea kale last summer after finding it growing wild while on holiday. It was really tasty, especially when folded into a curry.

    The two perennials I look forward to the most are my asparagus and globe artichokes. I like the unique globe veg, and it doubles up as a really attractive plant too. Incredible recovery as well – each and every winter they’ve been in the plot I’ve thought they’d had it, before they perk up in Feb.

  2. Tamar- I did exactly the same thing with sheep on Saturday morning.

    I read an article about a chef who keeps Zwartbles sheep for milk and then went to our local farmers market where the felting lady was weaving with their fleece on her peg loom.

    Destiny, surely?! I have been wanting dairy sheep for a long time and I’m now trying to persuade DH that this means that we really should have a couple of Zwartbles ewes in our garden. Our 50′ square garden. He’s not convinced.

    Re: perennial vegetables. I’m all for an easier life, so I’ve been searching them out this year, and there are lots of perennial alliums available, at least in the UK. I’ve planted a selection, but they do tend to be of the flavouring-rather-than-actual-part-of-a-meal inclination, but I guess it all helps…

    Nine star broccoli is another one that seems a good bet, although lots of suppliers have sold out of seeds, so it’s obviously having a bit of a renaissance here.

  3. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    Until today, I’d seen zero mentions of sea kale in my entire life, and just this morning, I’ve seen two (the other was Paula, at Weeding for Godot).

    I’ve often wondered why there weren’t more perennial vegetables — why are the tastiest plants all annuals? I’ve got rhubarb, I’ve got asparagus (second year), and I don’t really care for Jerusalem artichokes. I would love a few more perennials. I’ll investigate sea kale, and I’m looking forward to your other posts.

  4. Thank you! I’m really looking forward to reading this series of posts.

  5. I have two sea kale plants and some seeds this year. I came at sea kale the other way about. I’d read about it as food, but didn’t really know what it looked like. Then a friend and I had a lovely morning looking around a garden near Moreton in Marsh and were admiring a plant with a mass of tiny white flowers….sea kale!
    It’s so pretty I’m even keeping it in the garden instead of putting it in the allotment. :0)

    I’ve bought a few perennial alliums this year too.

  6. Whilst on holiday in the Loire Valley in France recently staying with a friend, Huguette, the very elderly farmer from opposite, brought across a bunch of grapes picked last year from their vineyard! They were coming to the end of their shelf life and were quite soft but they were the sweetest grapes I have ever tasted. We were also presented with endive but no eggs. She has a massive vegetable garden and never, ever buys veg. She has chickens for eggs and meat and also rabbits for eating. I suspect she spends very little on food. They live on a quite remote farm and neither she nor her husband drives. They had a moped when they were younger but never went far, yet she knew all about the chateaux, which she had never visited, from magazines. She was quite incredulous about the distances we travelled each day and where we had been.

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