The sea kale is an almost forgotten crop, but it has achieved delicacy status in some countries. We introduce the unusual cabbage and give tips on growing it in your own garden.
The wild-growing sea kale ( Crambe maritima ), also called beach kale, also thrives on very salty soils right by the sea and was previously collected as fodder. The fact that the sea kale is undemanding and easy to care for and at the same time can be eaten as a vegetable early in the year made it a garden dweller over time. In this article, you will learn everything about the origin, cultivation, and care of sea kale.
Sea kale: origin and properties
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The sea kale occurs wild along the East and the North Sea coasts, on the Atlantic coast of Western Europe, and on the Black Sea and was previously collected as food for humans and cattle in Germany and in all neighboring countries. Nowadays the wild plants are strictly protected and are no longer allowed to be collected. Sea kale is a crucifer (Brassicaceae), but it is only very distantly related to our well-known cabbage vegetables such as broccoli ( Brassica oleracea var. Italica ) or palm kale ( Brassicaoleracea var. Palmifolia ).
Sea kale is a hardy and partly evergreen perennial with a deep taproot. In winter, the leaves and shoots usually die off and freshly drift through again in the next spring. The sea kale, also known as beach kale, has crinkled, turquoise to green-violet leaves that form a basal rosette. The highly branched plant is about 20 to (more rarely) 70 centimeters high. The flowering period extends from May to July, when the sea kale forms thousands of white flowers on long inflorescences.
After fertilization, rounded pods develop, inside each of which a single sea kale seed ripens. These seeds float on the surface of the water and are thus also spread by the tides and the currents of the nearby sea. The sea kale is extremely tolerant of salinity and is therefore also known as a halophyte (salt plant). The sprout that sprouts in spring is considered a delicacy, which is bleached with the help of a clay pot and later cooked like asparagus.
Sea cabbage species and varieties
The genus sea kale ( Crambe ) consists of about 37 species, ten of which are native to Europe. In Europe, however, only the real sea kale ( Crambe maritima ) and in Africa the Hispanic sea kale ( Crambe hispanica ) are used for culinary purposes. We owe the few varieties of real sea cabbage to the sporadic cultivation of the vegetable in France, Holland, North America, and England. A distinction is made between the varieties ‘Lily White’, ‘Ordinary Pink-Tipped’ and ‘Ivory White’, which differ primarily in their foliage color and thus in their ornamental value.
Planting sea kale
Sea kale can be sown or planted. Propagation is also possible with the plant’s own seeds or cuttings. The perennial perennials do not have to be sown or replanted every year.
The sea kale should be sown in March, either protected on a light window sill or in very warm, frost-protected locations directly in the ground. If you let the seeds soak in the water for a day and then place them about 2 cm deep in the ground, then the sea kale seeds germinate much better and faster. Unfortunately, the seeds only have a very short shelf life, after a year the ability to germinate already decreases noticeably.
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Seeds you have collected yourself should therefore be sown as quickly as possible. After a few weeks, the seedlings are planted out and separated at a distance of about 30 cm. Vegetative propagation is easier with root or head cuttings from existing plants. After just a few days, the roots of freshly cut cuttings begin to grow in nutrient-poor potting soil.
When planting out, the sea kale should be placed in full sun on loamy-sandy, well-drained soil with sufficient nutrients. Young plants or seeds of the sea kale are now available from many rarity dealers, mainly online. The collection of wild sea kale plants is prohibited under species protection law.
Care of sea kale
Immediately after planting, the sea kale should be watered a few times to encourage root development. It never grows as lush in the garden as it does on its salty beach coasts, but it can reach decent sizes here too. After the first year of standing, the roots have grown well enough to supply the beach cabbage with water. Only in extremely long periods of drought does the sea kale require additional irrigation.
The nutritional requirements of the beach kale are medium to high, especially if sprouts or leaves are repeatedly harvested. Regular fertilization with a predominantly organic slow-release fertilizer replenishes the soil reserves of nutrients over the long term and evenly. Incidentally, it can be applied when the sea kale is planted.
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Harvesting beach cabbage
The first shoots and leaves of the beach cabbage can be harvested as early as April – they are simply cut off with a sharp knife. In summer the leaves already have a distinct cabbage aroma and can then be used for hearty dishes.
Eat and prepare sea kale
Sea kale is usually bleached under an opaque clay pot and then cooked like asparagus. But unbleached, tender, young shoots also enrich the menu in April and May. With beach cabbage, however, the leaves can also be cooked and used like ordinary cabbage leaves.