How to grow sea kale

Sea Kale - Crambe maritima, is a mound-forming, spreading edible perennial found growing wild along the coasts of Europe. In southern England it is commonly found above the high tide mark on shingle beaches.

During the early nineteenth century (when sea kale popularity was at its height) local people heaped loose shingle around the naturally occurring root crowns in early spring, blanching the emerging shoots. These shoots are then cut, steamed and served like asparagus. either with a b├ęchamel sauce or more simply with melted butter with a touch of salt and pepper.

How to grow sea kale
You can either purchase root cuttings available from specialist nurseries and plant in a rich, deep and sandy soil in full sun, or sow from seed in the spring.

Grow sea kale in a permanent bed and blanch using forcing pots - much like small rhubarb pots. The bed should be very stoney, slightly alkaline, and enriched with plenty of rich organic compost. If the soil is at all heavy then is will need to be raised to ensure good drainage. The bed should be topped with 30 cm of peat, leaf mould or sand. If using peat or leaf mould consider a further topping of 15 cm or so of sand and/or grit. Feed with a seaweed-based liquid fertiliser every few weeks during the growing season, and take steps to protect for slugs, snails and caterpillars. Old gardeners also recommend adding a teaspoon or sea salt to the liquid fertiliser once a month.

Plants grown from Root cuttings (known as thongs) may be large enough for harvesting by the end of the first year, while seed grown specimens should be allowed to reach their second year. The blanched stems can be cut once they reach about 20 cm long. Harvesting time in the south of England is from February and March and avoid harvesting more than 2-3 cuts per plant. Come April the forcing pots can be removed. Replace the forcing pots at the end of December. Replant the beds after 5 years.

The height of its popularity was during the early nineteenth century when sea kale appeared in Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book of 1809. It was also served at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, when Prince Regent George IV (1762–1830) used it as a seaside retreat. It is recorded that the Prince Regent approved of the dish and coined the name 'Sickell' for it - how clever.
Main image - Siim CC BY-SA 2.5
In text image credit - By Steve Chelt - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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