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Sea Kale Growing: Learn About Sea Kale Plants In The Garden

Sea Kale Growing: Learn About Sea Kale Plants In The Garden


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By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

What is sea kale? For starters, sea kale (Crambe maritima) isn’t anything like kelp or seaweed and you don’t need to live near the seashore to grow sea kale. In fact, you can grow sea kale plants even if your region is completely landlocked, as long as it falls within a cool moist climate in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. If this brief tidbit of sea kale information has piqued your curiosity, keep reading to learn more about sea kale plants, including sea kale growing.

Sea Kale Information

What is sea kale? Sea kale is a perennial known by a variety of interesting names, including sea-colewort and scurvy grass. Why is it called sea kale? Because the plant was pickled for long sea voyages, when it was used to prevent scurvy. Its use extends back hundreds of years.

Is Sea Kale Edible?

Sea kale shoots grow from the roots, much like asparagus. In fact, the tender shoots are eaten much like asparagus, and they can also be eaten raw. The large leaves are prepared and used like spinach or regular garden kale, although older leaves are often bitter and tough.

The attractive, fragrant blooms are also edible. Even the roots are edible, but you’ll probably want to leave them in place so they can continue to produce sea kale plants year after year.

Sea Kale Growing

Sea kale is easy to grow in slightly alkaline soil and full sunlight or partial shade. To grow sea kale, plant the shoots in beds and harvest them when they are 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.7 cm) long. You can also plant seeds directly in the garden in March or April.

The young shoots must be blanched to keep them sweet, tender and white. Blanching involves covering the shoots with soil or a pot to block the light.

Sea kale growing requires little attention, although the plant benefits from a mulch of compost and/or well-rotted manure. Use a commercial slug bait if slugs are feeding on the tender shoots. If you notice caterpillars munching on the leaves, they are best picked off by hand.

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Morgan Botanicals

I love sea kale: not only for its edible shoots, leaves and flowerbuds, but for its ornamental presence in the perennial garden as well. Sea kale was quite the rage in the late 1700's but sadly has lapsed into minor-vegetable status. I personally like having a garden made up of unusual plants with multiple edible parts. I enjoy tucking perennial vegies here and there into the landscape border.

Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is a clump forming perennial growing about 3 feet high and wide. The plants grey-blue foliage is much like true kale (Brassica oleracea), but the flowers are white and produced in large masses. I think it's a beautiful plant in any garden as well as the vegetable garden, as these plants can provide good harvests for up to 10 years.

The main crop of sea kale is in the spring shoots. The blanched asparagus-like shoots are cut at 6-9 inches and have a slight hazelnut flavor. The flowerbuds, resembling broccoli heads, are not only beautiful and fragrant but also have very good flavor. The leaves of first and second year plants can also be eaten, and taste like collards. In the fall, after flowering is complete, the leaves of more mature plants can be eaten. Roots can be used raw or cooked, usually boiled or steamed like asparagus and served with butter.

Sea kale is hardy to Zone 4 or colder, and also succeeds in Mediterranean climates as well as South to about Zone 8 on the East Coast and cooler summers on the West Coast. You can easily propagate by division or multiply by using root cuttings. But, like asparagus, sea kale is slow to grow the first and second year, and should not be harvested until the third year. This perennial thrives in a rich fertile soil and performs best in full sun.

Although sea kale has never achieved commercial success, it's still an enduring vegetable and well worth the space in your garden.

As always, please email any questions to [email protected]

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Jessica Morgan, M. H., Morgan Botanicals.

Disclaimer - The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. You should not use the information in this article for self-diagnosis or to replace any prescriptive medication. You should consult with a health care professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem, suffer from allergies, are pregnant or nursing.


Sea kale

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Sea kale, (Crambe maritima), perennial plant in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). Native to seashores and cliffs of Eurasia, sea kale can tolerate salty soils and is sometimes cultivated for its edible leaves and shoots. Young or blanched leaves are cooked and eaten like kale or spinach, and the shoots are often served like asparagus.

Sea kale is a hardy drought-tolerant plant and grows well in sandy well-drained soils. The waxy, blue-green, coarsely toothed leaves are 30–90 cm (1–3 feet) long. Clusters of fragrant white four-petaled flowers rise from the basal leaves in early summer. The plant requires cross-pollination and produces round corky seed pods.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Melissa Petruzzello, Assistant Editor.


Sea kale care

Undoubtedly, sea kale or Crambe maritima is a quixotic vegetable. On the one hand, it’s a striking ornamental plant and on the other hand it’s perfectly edible. Caring for it is straightforward and it’s particularly happy along the coast. Crambe doesn’t require anything specific in terms of care:

  • in Fall, cut the clump back to ground level
  • every Spring, topdress with ripe compost or manure , as ripe as possible to avoid any kind of root rot
  • in case of severe dry spell, keep an eye on soil moisture and, if necessary, water.

Propagating sea kale

You can multiply your Crambe maritima in Spring by preparing root cuttings:

  • unearth a mature clump (over 3 years old)
  • segregate the largest roots from the rest
  • chop them into segments that are around 4 inches long (10 cm) the important consideration here is that there should be at least 1 or 2 buds on each
  • plant them in pots and wait for them to start sprouting again before transplanting them back to the ground.


Plant Profile: Sea Kale

Sea What?

Sea Kale in its native habitat. Image credit: www.aphotomarine.com

Sea Kale! Crambe maritima

If you are looking for a low-maintenance plant that serves as an attractive element in your garden and is also edible, sea kale is a great plant to land on. Sea kale’s group epithet, maritima, refers to its native shores of Europe and Asia Minor, but it does not require a coastal environment to survive. The genus Crambe, comes from the Greek word krambh which was the name of a cabbage-like plant in ancient Greece, and gardeners will recognize this plant as a member of the Brassicaceae family.

Rediscovering an Old Favorite

Sea kale was a favorite in Victorian times, but then almost disappeared. A renewed interest in heirloom and perennial vegetables has given sea kale a resurgence, and it is celebrated by chefs across the British Isles. The early spring shoots that push up between January and March are often color blanched, or etiolated, by blocking the sunlight with overturned buckets or plastic coverings. Blanched or sauteed, they taste like a cross between asparagus and celery and are often served with classic asparagus sauces like hollandaise or lemon butter. Later in the year, the flower bud clusters can be harvested like broccoli rabe, and the mature sea kale leaves can be fried or added to dishes that call for kale, spinach, or chard.

Home gardeners can use buckets to blanch the first spring shoots for harvest. Image credit: Wikipedia

This versatile perennial is best grown in sandy to gravelly, well-drained loam in full sun, although it does tolerate light shade and some drought. The plant habit is a spreading basal mound that grows 30-36” tall and to 24-30” wide. With a mounding crown of fragrant white flowers that attract pollinators, it adds a stately presence to a vegetable patch or ornamental garden.

Sea kale and welsh onion (Allium fistulosum) growing as companion plants at RDG client Wildside Cottage and Gardens in Conway, MA.

Sea Kale Facts:

  • Sea kale was pickled and used by the Romans on long ocean journeys to prevent scurvy. It is naturally high in vitamin C.
  • Coastal Europeans routinely covered emerging sea kale shoots with loose rock to blanch, or etiolate, the new growth. Etiolation deprives a sprouting plant of sunlight, triggering rapid growth, delaying leaf development, and preventing the production of chlorophyll. Etiolation is a predominantly European farming practice routinely applied to sea kale, chicory, and asparagus. Etiolated vegetables are desired for being less bitter and fibrous, and adding a touch of exotic white color to dishes.
  • Thomas Jefferson loved sea kale: he planted it at Monticello, and listed it in his Garden Book of 1809.
  • Sea kale received a British Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit for its reliable and versatile performance.

– Rachel Lindsay, Associate Designer


Propagation

Sea kale is a an autopolyploid of tetraploid configuration (Rudloff 2011). Varieties are clones that can only be maintained through cuttings.

Vegetative Propagation

You can begin taking your own thongs (root cuttings) in the second year. Taking root cuttings from first year plants is not recommended.

Sea kale exhibits polar organogenesis, meaning that it sprouts from the top end of root segments (Bowes 1976). This is the reason why thongs are cut so that you can tell the top from the bottom.

Sexual Propagation

Seedlings may require as much as five years to first flowering (Scott 1976) but I usually see flowering in the second year and occasionally even the first. If you allow the plants to flower, they will produce hundreds to thousands of seed capsules. Each flower becomes a green fruit which dries to the familiar corky capsule containing a single seed.

Sea kale seeds with pericarp and without

Flowering generally begins in April and concludes in June. There is a great deal of insect interest in the flowers, so cross pollination can be achieved without the need for human intervention. Bumble bees, honey bees, flies, wasps, and other native pollinators all visit sea kale flowers. In most cases, there is no need to isolate different varieties, since sea kale is polyploid and the progeny will not be true to type even if seed is pure. When making controlled crosses between varieties, they should be grown together and netted to prevent insect pollination. Wind pollination does not appear to be a problem with sea kale.

Sea kale will make seed capsules whether or not the flowers are pollinated. Clones are self-incompatible to some degree, so if you only have one clone, that means reduced seed set. Flowers that were not pollinated will make empty capsules. There is no way to tell the difference, short of opening them. Some people have suggested that larger capsules are more likely to be full, but I have not observed this to be true. The only way to be sure is to open the capsules. It is a fairly common experience for people to report opening all of the capsules in a packet of seed (not ours) only to find them empty! So, before you rely on stored seed, you should open a random sampling and make sure you don’t have a bunch of blanks.

Averaging several years of data, our plants produce about 300 seeds when they flower in the first year, 1200 seeds the second year, and 3300 seeds in the third and later years. Not all of those seeds are full though and I haven’t tracked the percent that are empty by year.


Sea kale

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