Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Good King Henry and Sea Kale from seed

Perennial vegetables, what's not to love!  You plant them once and harvest forever.  Not all perennial vegetables produce seed, but Good King Henry and Sea Kale are two perennial vegetables that are simple to grow from seed.

Good Kind Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus, sometimes also called Blitum bonus-henricus) also called Poor-man's Asparagus, Perennial Goosefoot, Lincolnshire Spinach, and a few other names is a nice perennial vegetable that is rarely grown in Australia.  It dates way back to neolithic times and was common in every garden in Europe prior to the Spanish bringing back all the vegetables we commonly grow from South America.  It is hardy, delicious, perennial, good for you, and best of all it has a fun name.

Sea Kale (Crambe maritima) is another perennial vegetable that is rarely grown in Australia.  It was also commonly grown across Europe prior to the the Spanish returning from South America with all of the vegetables we now commonly eat.  It is hardy, perennial and good for you.  I am not a huge fan of brassicas but people who like cabbage tell me that Sea Kale tastes great.

There are very few named varieties of Good King Henry and Sea Kale.  People grow these perennial vegetables from divisions and root cuttings and often complain that it is impossible to germinate their seeds.  The internet is filled with misinformation and complaints about how difficult they are from seed, so much so that many people warn that it is not even worth trying.  I have never bought any seed after reading these warnings so have never tried to germinate them before now. 

As luck would have it, I have been sent some seed of several named varieties of Good King Henry and Sea Kale.  Each of these named varieties are apparently superior to the un-named ones.  I have been told that they will grow true to type as they have been isolated, but to be honest I don't know if that is true or not.  I will find out soon enough and be able to grow the best plants from division after that.

I should write another blog post later on each of these perennial vegetables and their uses and taste as they are worthy of mention, but for now I want to write about how easy it is to grow Good King Henry and Sea Kale from seed.

Growing Good King Henry from seed

Being a Chenopod they tend to dislike being planted and prefer to self seed.  That is great, but I have to plant the first seeds or they will not be in my garden.  I have also been told that they have low to no germination rates.  I have a decent number of seed but kept it simple to begin with.

I soaked 10 seeds of each variety of Good King Henry in warm water for an hour.  I would have preferred overnight but did not have that luxury this time.  I then planted in a seed flat on a heat mat and kept moist just as I would tomato seed.  It is a bit cold at the moment, but I wanted them out of the way before it was time to plant tomatoes.

One week later the tiny seedlings started to sprout.

That certainly didn't seem overly difficult, I didn't do anything special other than soak briefly and provide heat.

I will try to compare the different varieties once they are larger and I am able to see how they fare in the garden and can taste them.

Growing Sea Kale from seed

I have heard horror stories of sea kale seed.  People complain that they never germinate for them without rigorous stratification etc, I have read that seeds take months or even years to germinate, I have also heard that viable seeds float.  Apparently none of those things are correct.  Again I have a decent number of seeds but kept it small scale to begin with.  All of the different sea kale varieties have seeds that looked different which was unexpected.

Sea kale seeds are each covered in a foam like pod.  I cut that pod off 10 seeds of each variety and soaked them for an hour in warm water.  Again I would have preferred overnight but did not have that luxury.  The seeds all expanded and sank.  I planted them in a seed flat on a heat mat and watered them.

A little over a week later the seedlings started to sprout, much like any other brassica.

That was a bit more work as I had to remove the seed coat, but it certainly was not difficult.  Perhaps people have issues as they do not remove the seed pod?  Common sense suggests that the pod needs to be removed just as it is in any other brassica.  Leaving the seed pod on would certainly make sea kale seeds float and would prevent germination for months or years as no water could get in to the seed.

As above I plan to compare the varieties and see which are best in my climate.

Where to get Good King Henry and Sea Kale in Australia

At this stage there are a few places that sell seed of Good King Henry as well as Sea Kale, to the best of my knowledge none of them have any named varieties.

After I have grown them and compared them I will probably list seeds or divisions from the better varieties of Good King Henry and Sea Kale on my for sale page.

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