I'm happy to see the resurgence of interest in Crambe maritima, Seakale, especially among folks interested in perennial vegetables. This forgotten vegetable may have fallen off of the dinner table for many years but I have references to it being grown in Ottawa in the 70s and 80s and it has been growing at the Experimental Farm in downtown Ottawa as an ornamental for years. They have a very impressive patch for those keen on having a gander.
Seakale was traditional foraged for its spring shoots that were naturally blanched by sand (Stephen Barstow, page 5, Around the World in 80 Plants) and eventually made their way into gardens. They are remarkably hardy considering their origins, surviving in my sheltered Canadian Z. 4b sandy garden with dieback only on the coldest years. I started with two varieties: a purple unselected species and Lilywhite, the most common vegetable variety grown.
My collection has grown. I was gifted Angers from a fellow Canadian edible plant enthusiast and now have a swath of seed grown ones. Once a good variety is grown, they can be easily propagated by root cuttings called thongs. So why do I persist with growing out seeds?
When you look up varieties of seakale, you will bump into names like "Pink Tipped." Trying to locate these varieties will give you less result. It is possible that some of these are grown in a garden somewhere (if that's yours, please contact me) but they may have disappeared.
Instead of just crying over lost varieties, why not go back to the beginning: the seed.
In 2013, I started gathering seeds from whatever sources I could find. 2014 and 2015, I grew them out. Here are some of the more interesting results. My goal is to look for interesting leaf form and colour while maintaining good eating qualities and vitality. I would also like to expand the vegetable varieties to include ones good for seakale-broccolis and perhaps even those that have better leaf texture and flavour.
Seakale selection 2015 in pictures
I tend to remove seeds from pods and soak for a few hours first but they can be planted pods and all.
Variation is evident from the seed up through cotyledon to seedling stage. Here are two with very different colouring.
Less vigorous and more vigorous one with purple-blue coloration
Interesting leaf and colour forms. Note the summer heat washes out colour somewhat.
Two by two in the seakale row. Lilywhite on the left versus some species selected as seedlings for purple coloration.
Going dormant in fall, variation in bud colour. Species tend to have purple growth tips whereas Lilywhite has green. Here is a rose growing tip on the left and lavender/green growing tip on right.
Goals for 2016
1. Test for winter hardiness over 2015-2016.
2. Taste shoots, buds and leaves.
3. Do minimal root thong propagation on most interesting varieties and check vigour.
This year I endevoured to grow so much skirret that not only would I sell out less quickly but I would have enough to do some selection. I sourced widely for seeds which means I managed to find them in five sources. Poor Sium sisarum, forgotten by many. One of the best is La Societe des Plantes - a fellow vegetable explorer and examplary seed house who has been selecting his best plants to be seed parents. The seed was fresh and germinated readily. I found soaking followed by cold stratification worked best for pre-starting.
I sold masses of seedlings but kept aside some of the most promising so to have even better plants next year!
Today, I decided to dig up two rows. One from a German selection and some from crowded La Societe des Plantes selection.
I was looking for five characteristics:
a. healthy growth
b. healthy roots
c. large roots
d. more than one large root
e. minimal core
The first two criteria had to be met. if no other criteria were met, they were food. If two out of three were met, I replanted in a separate row for winter hardiness and further evaluation. If all five were met, there were the superstars and planted in a special bed. I will also be looking for excellent winter survival with lots of green healthy growth in the spring and a good seed set.
All about growing, selecting and using edible plants in the Ottawa valley.