From plot to pot: Sea kale
PUBLISHED: 12:38 31 July 2010 | UPDATED: 11:52 28 February 2013
A coastal crop
A coastal crop
For some of us living by the coast in Suffolk, our gardens have to contend with the ravages of salty, sea winds and plants have to tolerate a sandy, very free-draining soil. It is unimaginable that there is actually a vegetable that thrives in these conditions and is seen growing wild on our seashores. Sea kale does and is fast becoming a kitchen garden treasure as well as a gourmet vegetable, found on many cutting-edge restaurant menus in the depths of winter.
It is a very hardy perennial plant, native to Britain, a vegetable grown for late
winter harvest delighting us in the barren months, found growing on our beaches, cliffs and rocks where it will survive periods of severe drought. It is closely related to the brassica family and gardeners can start growing it themselves if they have a deep, rich, sandy soil.
Germination from seed can take up to three years but the less patient can grow the white stalks from a root cutting taken from a healthy older plant in early winter, planting the rooted cuttings out in spring, or alternatively buying one year old cuttings (thongs).
Two years after sowing, plants can be forced. Crowns are covered in mid-winter outside with a terracotta forcing pot or quite simply, an upturned black bucket insulated with straw. Light will make the kale bitter. Succulent, well blanched stalks, which are eaten like asparagus will only be produced if light is strictly blocked out. Cut stems when 20cm tall, then uncover and allow plants to grow normally and recover.
Eat shoots raw or lightly steamed with melted butter, stir fried or sauted in olive oil with your finest salt flakes or accompany the stems with tiny brown pan-fried shrimps.
Belinda Gray runs a vegetable garden design business and gardening school in Suffolk, contact her at www.the-grower.co.uk or tel 01394 384712