Seakale is looked upon by most people rather as an expensive luxury than an everyday vegetable, and so it is - for the man in a hurry. For the man who is not impelled by a feverish eagerness to have produce on his table half an hour after he has bought the seeds or plants it is not an expensive crop at all.
Strong forcing crowns of Seakale - crowns 8 or 9 inches long, and the better part of 2 inches through - are, of course, dear, but it is the greatest mistake in the world to conclude that Seakale can only be enjoyed by buying such things as these.
The simplest and cheapest way to start is to buy seed, which is cheap enough for anybody. The seed is contained in a husk, which may be broken prior to sowing. A drill may be drawn from 1 inch to 2 inches deep in well-worked soil in spring, and the seed scattered thinly in. Transplant the resulting plants 18 inches by 2 feet apart a year afterwards, providing a rich, thoroughly pulverised soil, and have no doubt about strong crowns developing. They may be ready by the second autumn; they are sure to be by the third.
Fig. 83. Forcing Rhubarb. A strong seedling crown forced in a wide-mouthed bottle of water under a scullery table.
When once a stock is secured, it is the easiest thing in the world to maintain it. Lift the crowns in autumn, as soon as the leaves break away from them under slight pressure, which will probably be' in November. There should be a straight growth 6 to 9 inches long and 1 to 2 inches thick (this is the forcing crown), and a number of smaller pieces, 2 to 5 inches long and as thick as a cigarette at the base. All of the latter may be cut away close to the parent root. It is the custom to cut one end straight across, and the other slopingly. These "whips," as they are called, should be covered with earth, like Potatoes in a clamp, till spring, when they should be planted out in rows 18 inches by 2 feet apart, the tips just level with the surface. A number of shoots may sprout at the top of each when growth begins, but they should be thinned to one, or the tops will be weak and crowded. If the soil is thoroughly well cultivated and very fertile, every such whip will develop into a forcing crown by the autumn of the same year.
Fig. 84. Raising Seakale.
A, relating to seed: a, seed vessel (pod) containing seed, being the form in which the seed is received; b, seed proper removed by cracking the pod.
B, root cutting taken from the root of a crown lifted for forcing and kept in soil or sand till planting time: c, callus and shoots formed all round crown; d, callus at base of cutting from which roots proceed; e, depth of planting.
C, one year old plant: f, root with side roots broken off near main root; g, crown cut off; h, depth of planting.
D, once forced crown kept, after cutting the heads, in soil or sand till planting time: i, rootstock; j, young shoots pushing round crown; k, depth of planting.
A system of natural forcing is in vogue in some of the Middlesex market gardens, and those who see the produce resulting cannot but admire it. The growers take up, say, the first row of Seakale, leave the second and third, take up the fourth, leave the fifth and sixth, and so on. This, of course, provides for a number of pairs of rows, with wide alleys between. From these alleys the soil is taken and heaped in ridges 1 foot high over the rows. When growth shows at the surface the soil is cleared away, and the produce taken. This system does not give such early Seakale as hard artificial forcing, but the sticks are excellent. Moreover, the forced crowns are good for planting out.
The next simplest plan of forcing is to cover the stools with a pot in the open ground, and heap manure or leaves over it. Forcing crowns may be lifted, packed in soil in boxes or barrels - leaving a space of about 1 foot below the lid in order to permit of the produce developing - and placed in a temperature of about 55°.
Seakale is sometimes subject to canker, especially when grown on damp, heavy, highly manured soil. A light, very friable, well-drained soil suits it best. If the disease puts in an appearance, change the ground, if possible, and apply a dressing of kainit at the rate of 5 lb. per square rod.
Of special varieties, Lily White may be chosen, but few are offered.