We recommend you unpack and plant your thongs as soon as possible after receipt. If they are dry we
recommend you soak them in water for a couple of hours. Plant in a fertile, moist, well prepared soil in a sunny spot. Plant bud end uppermost 2in (5cm) deep and 12in (30cm) apart. Keep the thongs well watered. Your seakale will be ready to harvest in it’s second season. Harvest from March when shoots are 5-7in (12-18cm ) long.
Planting and Aftercare
Unpack the budded thongs as soon as possible after receipt. Plant them 2ft apart, ensuring the end with the bud is uppermost. Cover the tip with just 1in of soil. Sea kale, not surprisingly, does best in sandy, free-draining soils and the best feed for it is a liquid seaweed fertiliser, both of which it encounters in its natural habitat. Having said that, it will do well in most moderately fertile or even poor soils with good drainage in a position in full sun.
Now comes the patient bit, but we assure you it is well worth the wait! During the first summer the plants should put out a few leaves as they begin to establish themselves. Do nothing except keep the area free of weeds. Victorian gardeners referred to their permanent beds of this vegetable as a “seakale plantation”. Top growth will die back in autumn and winter and virtually nothing will be seen above soil level until the following spring.
Ideally the plants should be left untouched for another year, but if you are desperate for a taste of your new vegetable, you can begin forcing it in January by placing a 10in or 12in black plastic pot over each plant. Place a piece of black polythene over the drainage holes to exclude all light and then place a heavy object such as a house brick over each pot.
You should then be able to cut a little sea kale in March or April. Cut the blanched shoots cleanly at soil level when they are 10-12in high. Stop cutting by the beginning of May, after which time the pot should be removed and the plants left to grow naturally for the rest of the year. In this second season, just cut a few shoots rather than strip the plants. Remember they are still building up their strength to provide you with a delicious spring crop for many years to come, so treat them with a little respect!
The following January, the blanching process with the pots can be repeated, and so on for many years, as seakale is normally very long-lived. When the blanching pots are removed in May, the plants grow on during the summer to resemble loose-leaved, blue-green cabbages.
Some gardeners like to force their sea kale indoors, like the Victorians did, but this should not be attempted until the plants are at least three years old. To do this, wait until after the first autumn frosts when the foliage will have died away. Carefully lift a crown and plunge into a large pot of peat, with another pot of equal side inverted over it to act as the forcing chamber. Bring the pot into a temperature of 60-70°F and after a few weeks you should be able to make a cutting of tender, blanched shoots. After forcing in this manner, the crown is usually spent and is best discarded.
In the Kitchen
The small young leaves of sea kale are edible, but it is almost always grown for its succulent, white, forced shoots. These can be eaten raw, but are usually steamed and boiled. Boiling takes only about 4 minutes – do not overcook the shoots and they will retain a certain crispness. There is no need to peel the shoots prior to cooking. Sea kale makes a delightful accompaniment to a wide range of meat and fish dishes. It has its own distinctive flavour but is similar to that of globe artichoke in being slightly buttery and smoky.