Progress report for FNE18-895

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2018: $14,968.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Walking Onion LLC
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Expand All

Project Information

Project Objectives:

Our objective is to develop a cultural and enterprise analysis for Seakale in order to encourage its adoption into production, sale and consumption in the northeast. We will address the primary barriers to adoption by conducting research trials and providing outreach to farmers with our results: enterprise analysis, practices, yields, site preparation and establishment, best management practices, maintenance needs, cultural requirements, marketing strategies, environmental benefits, propagation and sourcing, as well as recipes for farmers to share with customers.  

Introduction:

The purpose of this project is to facilitate and encourage the adoption of Seakale as a common vegetable on farms, in home gardens, in kitchen skillets, and on restaurant menus in VT and regionally.

As we have seen in our own nursery, grassfed beef operation, and business decision making – adopting new enterprises successfully into farm operations requires at the very least careful budget consideration, an understanding of best practices and cultural methods, and a viable market for distributing product.

We have selected Seakale because our own personal experience, and the advice and research of experts in the field, suggests that it is the perennial vegetable which is perhaps the closest to “production ready,” in terms of reliability and marketability. In order to encourage the adoption of Seakale—and to build cultural interest in perennial crops—we propose to establish at least 3 trial plots at our and host partner locations, and work with professional research partners, and farmers to collect data with respect to cultural practices, enterprise budgets, and marketability. A crop guide like this does not exist in the US.

Our Seakale Crop Guide will include enterprise budget, yield, cultural, and market data, which we will publish freely and distribute to farmers, service providers, consumers and food entrepreneurs through a myriad of channels in partnership with project collaborators.

Seakale – and perennial vegetables generally – present unique opportunities with respect to: climate change mitigation, adaptation, and transformation; food security; pest and disease issues; farm labor costs / time; diversifying production calendars; soil conservation; pollinator habitat; and more.

Despite these potential opportunities, there are knowledge and research gaps inhibiting farm scale adoption of Seakale and many of the most promising perennial vegetables. Adopting new enterprises and unfamiliar crops into farm operations will be feasible with a better understanding of Seakale as a crop and market opportunity. One of our project collaborators, Eric Toensmeier, is one of the foremost experts on perennial vegetables in North America, and considers seakale to be one of the top crops worth investigating for commercial production in the Northeast. This is due to its cold hardiness, reliability, 10+ years of productive life and similarity in taste, texture and appearance to commonly-eaten annual vegetables. Eric has advised us that developing enterprise budgets for Seakale and other perennial vegetables is critical to encouraging their wider adoption.

Our technical advisor, Dr. Joshua Faulkner at UVM, works extensively in climate-smart agriculture. He and Eric are both excited about the many environmental benefits of perennial crops in agriculture. Seakale and perennial vegetables reduce tillage, mitigate soil erosion, facilitate carbon sequestration and water infiltration, and reduce fossil fuel and human labor inputs (in comparison to annual vegetable production). Perennial crops grow soil, and they always provide a living cover and root system during the growing season – and a natural mulch on the soil surface in winter. Our management strategy will keep them mulched throughout the year as well, contributing even more to a positive impact on water cycles and soil conservation. Having a perennial crop like Seakale means you have productive beds which don’t require yearly preparation and planting, thus reducing a farmer’s labor and fossil fuel use. Seakale is deeply rooted and drought tolerant, adding resilience to climactic variability to its list of attributes. It also has flowers which are a nectary for pollinators – which our farmer / researcher partner on this project, John Hayden, will observe and provide data and reflections on. Seakale provides a harvest of shoot (in May) and broccoli florets (in early June), which presents farmers with an opportunity to functionally integrate Seakale into their cropping when there are few other crops available for harvest. Future research may explore functional intercropping systems in Seakale beds; enabling growers to harvest other plants after Seakale’s seasonal production window has passed.

Additionally, brassicas face significant pest challenges, notably with flea beetle at establishment and swede midge later in season. Anecdotal evidence from our and other growers’ experiences suggest marked resistance to flea beetles, and a potentially advantageous harvest window with regards to swede midge. Additionally, the perennial plant is more resilient than annual brassicas and appears to recover well from the midge. Seakale is easily propagated by root division – and its adoption by regional growers will present increased demand for its propagation and distribution on farms, in home gardens, and at nurseries. This presents opportunities for new enterprise and employment.

Farmers and gardeners will benefit in a number of ways: having a specialty crop that can be integrated into their farm brand which presents vertical integration opportunities, occupies a unique spring-time harvest window, doesn’t require frequent tillage or seeding, is resistant to common pests of its plant family, is drought tolerant, improves water infiltration, soil conservation, and may require less labor to manage. If this project is successful, there will hopefully be increased interest in, and funding for, researching more perennial crops for commercial production; and more farmers willing to integrate perennial vegetables into their operations. 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Joshua Faulkner - Technical Advisor
  • John Hayden (Researcher)
  • Eric Toensmeier - Technical Advisor
  • Jonathan Bates - Technical Advisor

Research

Materials and methods:
 
 

2018

Project Methods for 2018 / Year 1:  

  • Technical Advisory Phone Calls: considerations and discussions of plant spacing, planting methods, mulches, yields over time, pest and disease, research methods and objectives, 
    • Joshua Faulkner (4/3)
    • Eric T. (4/13)
    • Jonathan Bates (4/17)
  • Ordering rooted cuttings and root cuttings from Green Light Plants Nursery, PA (Initial conversations in January – order sent in May)
  • Phone check-in with Farmer / Researcher, John Hayden (4/25)
  • Plants arrived tied together in bunches of 20 or more with rubber bands; those root cuttings without greens were submerged entirely in soil, and those with greens were submerged to the point of the root top, and watered in; they were left in a shady place until planting (5/25)

 

Sea Kale Trial Planting

Spring 2018 Breaking Ground w/ Broadfork
Spring 2018 Spreading Compost
Spring 2018 Planting in Progress, Plastic Mulch
Spring 2018 Field Planting Complete
Fall 2018 Weeding
Fall 2018 Pulling Back Plastic, hinge over, re-pin on pathways
Fall 2018 Mulched for Winter

5/28/2018

Site:  The Farm Between, John Hayden

Present:  John Hayden, Graham Unangst-Rufenacht, Aaron Guman

 

Present:  John Hayden, Graham Unangst-Rufenacht, Aaron Guman

Field #1 Planting:

Preparation, Cultivation, and amendments:

  • Soil Testing (many soil cores from the area in a bucket, mix, make sample_
  • Broad Fork entire row
  • Lime: 50# / 1,000 sq. ft.
  • Compost:  Approximately 33 cubic feet 
  • Tie a line at either end of the row to help maintain a straight planting

 

Total Row Length:

  • 147 ft.

 

Planting:

  • Use soil knife, sometimes digging fork, to loosen soil and remove weeds
  • Mark each planting hole with flag
  • 30 root cuttings @ 3’ spacing
  • 33 root cuttings @ 1.5’ spacing
  • +1 extra plant
  • 64 Total plants
  • Root cuttings were planted with root crowns at the soil surface and gently tamped
  • Water in all plants
  • We rolled out 3’ wide landscape fabric on either side of planting, and used landscape staples to secure it down around plants – leaving the plants an open space between the fabric on either side of the row.

 

Total Labor for Field Planting #1:

  • 11:30 am – 2:53 pm; 2 people
  • .25 hrs. Extra for John Hayden (host)

 

Field Planting #2 (“Polyculture Orchard”):

Preparation, Cultivation, and amendments:

  • Same as plot #1
  • Compost:  app. 21 cubic feet

 

Total Row Length:

  • About 40’

 

Planting:

  • Use soil knife, sometimes digging fork, to loosen soil and remove weeds (did more thoroughly in Site number 2 vs. Site number 1)
  • Mark each planting hole with flag
  • 25 plants at 1.5’ spacing
  • Water in all plants
  • Set 3’ wide landscape fabric on either side of planting, and staple down around plants

 

Total Labor for Field Planting #2, Polyculture Orchard:

    • 3:10pm – 3:45pm: Graham, Aaron, John H.
    • 3:45pm – 4:45pm: Aaron and Graham
    • +.5 hours John H.

 

  • Total = 1.5 hrs recorded

    Other:

    Labor and Materials costs (recorded in receipts)

    • Flags (3-4 packs)
    • Compost
    • Travel 
    • Time
    • Root Cuttings
    • Landscape Fabric

    Sea Kale Trial Plot Maintenance and Fall Check-In

    11/12/2018

    Site:  The Farm Between, John Hayden

    Present:  John Hayden, Aaron Guman

    Labor below is on-site, does not include pickup of woodchip materials and loading onto trailer. Mulching went quite quickly shoveling off of trailer by hand into wheelbarrows and distributing on plants, as we were able to drive very close to each plot.

    John Hayden provided the following maintenance labor during Summer 2018, between initial planting day in May 2018 and november maintenance day:

    • 2 hrs total watering, 2x waterings in Plot #1 and 1 watering for Polyculture Orchard
    • 1 hr early Fall pulling plastic fabric up entirely from Plot #1

    Field #1 Planting:

    Maintenance:

    • Plastic mulch removed completely prior to maintenance day by John during late Summer because there isn’t room to hinge mulch back further (as done in Polyculture Orchard plot) due to proximity to adjacent rows of plants here.
    • Light weeding where needed
    • Added 2 yards chip, heavy on crowns of surviving plants, plan to use cardboard for mulch in spring for weed suppression and pull chip back on top of cardboard

    Total Labor for Field Planting #1:

    • Mulching + quick count and observational notes Aaron and John 1 hr together (2 hrs total labor)

    Field #2 Planting (“Polyculture Orchard”):

    Maintenance:

    • Removed fabric staples in plastic mulch in center of planted row, folded back away from plants, leaving other side stapled to act as hinge, then re-pinned side farthest from plants. Help to suppress weeds farther back from row. This was quick and efficient. Light weeding where needed
    • Added 1 yards chip, heavy on crowns of surviving plants, plan to use cardboard for mulch in spring for weed suppression and pull chip back on top of cardboard

    Total Labor for Field Planting #2:

    • Mulching + quick count and observational notes Aaron and John 1 hr together (2 hrs total labor)

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

2019

Project Methods for 2019 / Year 2: (add dates)

  • Ordering root cuttings from Aaron Parker (2/14)
    • Including phone consultation with Aaron Parker around methods for rooting cuttings
  • Rooting cuttings:
    • Root cuttings of various size (small & medium from Aaron Parker, large from Jonathan Bates) and are placed on the surface of a moist peat moss bed in standard plastic start trays, with slightly ajar hood over them, out of direct light, attending to with water as needed. (5/10)
      • Small = 37 root pieces
      • Medium = 58 root pieces
      • Large = 25 root pieces
    • Potting successful rooted cuttings (beginning 5/23)
    • Transplanting successful rooted cuttings into nursery bed at home site (7/5)
  • Phone / email check-in with Farmer / Researcher, Nicko Rubin @ East Hill Tree Farm (
    • Approval to locate project at East Hill Tree Farm, visit designating locations for trial plots (…../……)
  • Transplanting from nursery bed into trial plots at East Hill Tree Farm (9/12)
    • Mulching and watering trial plots at EHTF (9/17)
  • Phone / email check-in with Farmer / Researcher, John Hayden @ The Farm Between (10/23 email – season in review)

Rooting Cuttings 

5/12:  Bag of Root Cuttings that arrived in the mail
“Large” size root cuttings laid on moist peat moss

 

Root Cutting trays with slightly ajar lids
5/23:  Root Cuttings Beginning to Sprout
“Large” size cutting sprouting
“Large” size cutting sprouting

 

Sprouted cutting which had one end more submerged in moist peat: we found that cuttings were far more successful if planted with one end submerged in the medium as opposed to laying on top of the medium.
Sprouting cutting planted in pint sized container

 
 

Rooting cuttings potted on – note amount of sprouting top above soil surface (app. 1/4 inch)
6/7 – Rooting Cuttings growing on outside in nursery crate

June 4: Sample bunch of Mature Seakale Florets / Brocollis from app. 5 year old plant 

 

Sea Kale Trial Plantings, Farm Between (Year 2)

Year 2, Farm Between: Flowering Seakale
Year 2, Farm Between: June, Orchard Planting
Year 2, Farm Between: June Orchard Planting

 

Sea Kale Trial Planting, East Hill Tree Farm (Year 1)

Nursery Bed Where Rooted Cuttings were Planted
Transplant from the Nursery Bed
Nicko taking the first passes on the tractor

 
Digging and Raking Beds After Applying Compost and Mineral
 
 
 

Staked out Beds with Landscape Tape for Spacing
Planting holes prepped
Transplant from nursery bed
Transplant roots measured
Freshly planted transplants
After several weeks, transplants put on significant fresh top growth.

 

9/12/2019

Site:  East Hill Tree Farm, Plainfield, Nicko Rubin

Present:  Nicko Rubin, Graham Unangst-Rufenacht, Aaron Guman

Site Prep:

  • [Soil tests previously taken by Nicko Rubin, owner of EHTF; who did test analysis and recommended a mineral blend which we made up and applied]
  • 2 tractor passes on sod on app. 75’ x 14’ area (for SARE grant and associated Specialty Crop Block Grant plantings – 1/3 of total cost applied to SARE grant as using 1/3 of the space)
  • Applied 2.5 yards of compost (1/3 of total cost applied to SARE grant)
  • Spread minerals (1/3 of total cost applied to SARE)
  • Tilled one more time
  • Rake into app. 32-36” beds

Total Row Length:

  • 75’

Planting: (9/12)

  • Dig seakale from nursery bed into nursery crates, and transport to EHTF
  • Plant x number of seakale at x spacing
  • Plant x number of seakale at x spacing
  • Water in planting
  • (9/17) Apply 7 yards woodchip and water
  • (11/3) Planting x number of mature sea kale transplants in nursery bed at EHTF

Total Labor for EHTF Planting and maintenance (2019):

  • 9/12:
    • Graham and Aaron: 2.25 hrs ea = 4.5 total
    • Nicko: 1 hr
  • 9/17:
    • Graham and Aaron: 1 hr ea = 2 total
  • 11/3:
    • Aaron: 1.25 hrs

 

2020

Project Methods for 2020 / Year 3

  • Technical Advisory Call: Updates, checking in, etc. 
    • Joshua Faulkner (3/3/2020)
    • Jonathan Bates (3/22/2020) – specifically about experience growing sea kale, propagating, etc.
  • Farmer Partner Call: Plan Spring visit, discuss on-site workshop, chef relationship and tasting, etc.
    • John Hayden (3/18/2020)
  • Seakale transplants dug out of nursery bed for transplant at EHTF research site; plants 3 yrs old, variety of sizes. Plants put into plastic nursery pots to hold over until planting time. On coldest night bought into garage to protect from freezing, otherwise very little care needed. (4/15/2020).
  • EHTF Research Site:
    • visit to check early Spring status of Fall transplants (4/21/2020; 4/23/2020)
    • Planning Call for supplemental planting and Spring maintenance at EHTF research site (5/8/2020)
    • visit to check health of plants in particularly cold and windy period – plants all look fine and very hardy as per our past experience. No plants were noted as lost due to winter 2019-2020. Appears plants are very winter-hardy once established. (5/13/2020)
    • Site Work: weeding, directing app. 15 yd. wood chip mulch delivery, some mulching of beds and pathways (6/4/2020)
      • Graham: 1.5 hr.
    • Site work: mulching, weeding, watering seakale planted 2020 in polyculture bed (6/26/2020)
      • Graham: .25
      • Aaron: .5
    • Site work: weeding, checking moisture levels, plot notes (7/29/2020)
      • Aaron: .5 hrs
    • Site work: weeding, plot inspection, photos (9/22/2020)
      • Aaron: .75 hrs
    • Site work: removed landscape fabric from borders and pathways to preserve fabric from winter weather. Mulch and weed. (10/3/2020)
      • Aaron: 1.5 hrs
      • Graham: 1.5 hrs
    • Site work: mulched crowns of seakale before winter. Suggested by Aaron Parker of Edgewood nursery, likely unnecessary based on past experience. Aaron P has had some winter loss with unmulched crowns in past. (11/21/2020)
      • Aaron: .5 hrs
    • Total Labor at EHTF Site 2020: 7 hrs total Aaron and Graham (including some time making observations, taking photos, etc.)
      • Graham: 3.25 hrs
      • Aaron: 3.75 hrs
  • Farm Between Research Site:
    • Planning Call for Farm Between site (5/18/2020)
    • Email correspondence with John Hayden (Farm Between site): harvest data, pollinator study, site visit logistics planning (re: COVID) (6/6/2020, 6/11/2020)
    • Research: John Hayden did sea kale harvest sample for weight May 30, 2020.
      • John noted: “I harvested 5 plants (every third plant from the start of the row) yesterday (May 30). 3.75#, 6.25#, 2.5#, 4.5# and 1.5#. I cut all shoots with flower buds on them. Delicious! There was no regrowth or opportunity for a second harvest.”
        • This gives an average harvest / plant of 3.7#.
      • Plants which were harvested had all flower buds cut at peak (prior to broccolis maturing into flowers). Plants were harvested at the point where they first started branching. None of these plants put out additional shoots, suggesting plants will yield once / season. These plants which were harvested did not flower during the 2020 growing season. A question for further inquiry is what harvest pattern is best, for ex. harvesting a plant totally of broccolis every year, or leaving a couple, and whether any harvest patterns have an affect on productivity. For commercial harvest we will want the greatest yield possible without tiring out the plant.
    • Research: John Hayden did pollinator research (June 2020).
      • Due to John’s selling the his farm this summer and moving with partner to Maine, he had limited time to perform the pollinator study originally planned. John was only able to make observations at The Farm Between, and not able to travel to East Hill Tree Farm planting as originally intended.
      • Observations from John: “I did do the pollinator protocol 2x and it was very interesting in a negative way. Very few insects were seen visiting and the ones noted were all different species of flies (mostly Muscids). I did see a few small adult syrphid hover flies visiting which are beneficial predators as larvae. I was not able to capture anyone in photographs. Bottom line is that sea kale, as wonderful as it is, can’t also be considered a good pollinator resource.”
      • More investigation is needed. Aaron took a photo of a carpenter bee on a seakale flower at The Farm Between (see photo below). We will be investigating the question of pollinator value further through online research and reaching out to other growers for experience.
    • Plant propagation: John and partner Nancy, experienced nursery plant growers, were able to easily propagate plants, which they both planted at their new homestead on the Maine sea coast, as well as sold to their nursery customers, who received the plants with enthusiasm. John noted “We had some good success propagating plants by taking root cuttings and potting them with the cut surface exposed to air.” John and Nancy use 7″ root-trainer pots with a 2-3″ chunk of root sticking out just a bit above the surface of the growing medium. See photos below.
    • Site Work: weeded seakale bed, spread chip mulch, recorded data, took photos and video, updates with John Hayden (6/15/2020)
      • Aaron: 3.75
      • Graham:  3.75
    • Total Labor at Farm Between Site 2020: 12 (John Hayden, Aaron, Graham, including documentation, communication, etc.)
      • John Hayden: 4.5 hrs (including communication and measuring yield data from seakale, photos)
      • Aaron:  3.75
      • Graham:  3.75

East Hill Tree Farm Trial Planting: Year Two

    

05/08/2020: Seakale shoots beginning to emerge after a cold April with late snows. Notice difference in coloration between plants.

    

On left 06/04/2020: Small polyculture trial planting, interplanting mature sea kale plants from off-site nursery bed (approx 3-4 yrs old) inbetween hosta plants, with further interplanting of spinach vine.

On right: 07/29/2020: Same planting 7-8 weeks later, note massive growth of sea kale.

       

06/04/2020: Seakale row with spring weeds; after quick weeding with fork; light compost top dress and mulch. Weeding is easy in loose soils which were tilled and broadforked at establishment, growing rows not trampled, kept under permanent mulch, and very little to no additional water since first few weeks of establishment spring 2019, approx one year prior.

06/15/2020: Seakale in flower.

6/26/2020: Post flower sea kale, mulched and weeded

       

07/29/2020: Seakale row with volunteer milkweed plants, which we left as they did not seem to interfere with our planting and provide additional ecosystem service. Plant post-flower. Minor funk at base of stem of one plant, did not seem to affect plant at all.

09/22/2020: Mid-late September seakale row, milkweed plants.

10/3/2020:  Note the significant increase in foliage since June.

10/3/2020:  Mid-September saw one of the coldest frosts in the last century for that time of year in this part of VT; Sea Kale on this site weathered it well. 

 

10/3/2020: Sea Kale and the King Stropharia mushroom, an edible mushroom which grows in woodchips and can be a great ancillary yield in perennial plant systems with woody mulch.

11/21/2020: Sea kale plants foliage provide a nice application of self-generated mulch at the end of the season if left on the plant.

 

The Farm Between: Year 3

06/15/2020: Our smaller field planting at The Farm Between, in heavy clay soils. Plot has decreased each year. Sea kale do not tolerate heavy, clay, and wet.

 

06/15/2020: Flowering plants, which were not harvested, on either side of plant which had all edible shoots harvested on May 30 (2 weeks prior). Plants which had all edible shoots harvested did not flower during the season.

06/15/2020: Seakale plant in flower between cover crop (on left) and perennial row of currant (Ribes spp.) on right. Plant has done well in a perennial system with low-input of labor each year. No water since initial planting three springs prior, some occasional compost, mulch, and a quick weeding 2-3x/season. John Hayden was quite please with yield of plants given low input of system.

 

06/15/2020: Small carpenter bee (Ceratina spp.) on seakale flower.

06/15/2020: Yellow Collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis) on sea kale flower.

06/15/2020: Seakale propagated in  7″ root trainer pots via 2-3″ root cuttings, top exposed above surface of growing medium

06/15/2020: Seakale plant shown at peak flowering with maximum diameter of nearly 3′ 9″. Plants are quite vigorous after 2-3 seasons of establishment, as this plant in it’s 4th season is. Note that this plant was unharvested, and notably larger than harvested plants.

 

Research results and discussion:

Year 1: 2018

  • Notes on Results and Conditions:

    • This planting was done during a dry period which extended from May until mid-late July; and below avg. precipitation for the rest of the growing season through early to mid October
    • Very sandy soils in Field #1; “heavier” soils in Polyculture Orchard plot – John Hayden suggests this plot’s soils hold moisture better / longer
    • Less active cultivation and removal of weeds in part of Plot #1; more thorough in Plot #2
    • Survivability was greater in the “Polyculture Orchard” plot 
      • Survival rates for season:

        • Field #1:

          • Survival rate for season = 43 plants (64 total planted – 67% survival rate)
          • Possibly vole damage in plot 1 due to plastic cover? Not 100% sure but saw signs of vole activity near crowns of dead plants
          • Also very dry season, watering in plot was infrequent, some plants looked rough going in and may have suffered during course of season

             

            • Field #2 (Polyculture Orchard):  20 plants (25 total planted – 80% survival rate)

              • Despite dry season, good survival rate – if water was limiting factor for plants in Plot 1 it’s possible plants in the Polyculture Orchard plot survived better due to heavier soils here which hold moisture much better.
              • Generally plants in this plot were much larger and robust than plants in plot 1
              • 1 yard chip here made for very nice thickness of mulch
    • Planting was easier when we more thoroughly removed competing roots and loosened the soil
    • Root Cuttings:
      • We would prefer to plant rooted cuttings / transplants
      • We had concerns around the viability of some portion of these root cuttings; some were clearly more healthy and vigorous than others
      • Sourcing ideal cuttings and maintaining their health prior to planting was a challenge
  • Questions for Spring (review with Joshua Faulkner)

    • Do we add new plants where holes are to fill in plot thickness, even though we would have plants from different years? Do we divide some of the larger existing plants in plot to fill in?
    • Look at soil tests and determine whether we will amend plots with minerals – John was in favor of soil amendment.
  • Research: 
    • all of our measurements for planting, applications, etc. are noted in the previous section, “materials and methods”

 

Year 2: 2019

  • Notes on Results and conditions:
    • Sourcing of plant material:
      • This year we were unable to locate any rooted Seakale cuttings at any of the nurseries we have previously sourced from. We ordered root cuttings as an alternative, and experienced a relatively significant loss of root cutting material in the rooting process as we experimented with two methods presented to us by different nurseries.
    • Site location for second trial location:
      • We anticipated planting in the Spring at a site in Calais at which we were planning on co-owning and operating a farm based business. Plans changed with respect to living at this site, and co-owning a farm business at this site – so we found a new location at East Hill Tree Farm, in Plainfield, VT.  This meant that we weren’t able to plant until later in the season; but we now have a stable and secure site, at which other research, education, and diversified production is already ongoing. 
    • Site Specific Reporting from John Hayden, Year 2:
      • “We did a focus group taste testing with the UVM Farmer Training program and the steamed florets (with black currant vinegar) were universally liked. I sent some to Frank Pace at The Great Northern and he loved it both as florets and with full flowers and wants to order some next year. The plants in the orchard didn’t overwinter as well as the sandier soil by the road, but did OK by the end of the season. We will see how they look this spring. I look forward to doing some root propagation this spring also.”
    • Bed Prep:
      • We decided to use tillage, forming raised beds, and mulching to prepare our planting space as opposed to tarping.  This was primarily due to the fact that our planting was pushed out until the Fall (beyond a window for adequate time to kill sod beneath fabric), but also in order to experiment with another common form of bed preparation for vegetable crop production: tillage.  
    • Questions for Spring
      • what will weed pressure look like in the tilled area and how effective will applying landscape fabric for weed control be?
    • Research
      • all of our measurements for planting, applications, etc. are noted in the previous section, “materials and methods”

Year 3: 2020

  • Notes on Results and Conditions:
    • East Hill Tree Farm Site Report, Year 2:
      • We considered this first year of growth to be a “establishment year” for the plants, and you can see from the photos how much growth the plants put on over the course of the Summer into the Fall.  
      • We created a “polyculture” bed combining Sea Kale with two other perennial vegetables (Spinach Vine and Hosta).  Given the establishment phase of Sea Kale and other perennial vegetables – we are interested in maximizing space and time by exploring intercropping with annual and perennial vegetables.
      • Weed pressure (question from previous season) was sufficiently managed with a couple weedings in June and woodchip mulch in applied in tandem. Additionally, borders of trial plot were managed with black plastic in 3’4′ wide sheets. Controlling weed pressure at edges helps immensely with ease of plot management. Considering that plot was tilled under and dug for planting from filed/sod, weed pressure has been very manageable with liberal application of woodchip mulch.
      • This region of the State experienced a fairly dry summer in 2020
    • Farm Between Site Report, Year 3:
      • Farm owner and research collaborator John Hayden sold the farm and moved out of State. We have established contact with the new owner to continue the research in this final season. In what we hope is an exciting turn of events, the new owner of the farm is Sterling College, who will be utilizing the farm as a place to research perennial agriculture. We’re hoping that they work we’re doing in this grant on perennial vegetables may be of interest to them and perhaps they will continue research inquiry.
      • John experimented with Sea Kale propagation by root cutting and distributed many plants through his nursery. 
    • Research:
      • Specific Notes are in the previous section, “materials and methods”
Research conclusions:

2018 / Year 1: 

In the first year of this 3 year project, we sought to plan, install, and document a Sea Kale planting at the first of two participating farms – the Farm Between in Jeffersonville, VT.  We sought to measure survival rates at the end of this first year of establishment, and record other notable conditions, influences, considerations in relationship to this planting.  As documented in previous sections, we accomplished these goals, and planted 2 different plantings (as opposed to 1) at The Farm Between in order to test viability in different soil conditions.  

Notable conclusions:

  • Survivability was greater in the “Polyculture Orchard” plot: 80% vs. 67%
  • Planting was easier when we more thoroughly removed competing roots and loosened the soil
  • Root Cuttings:
    • We would prefer to plant rooted cuttings / transplants
    • We had concerns around the viability of some portion of these root cuttings; some were clearly more healthy and vigorous than others
    • Sourcing ideal cuttings and maintaining their health prior to planting was a challenge

Year 2 / 2019:

In the second year of this project, we sought to plan, install, and document a Sea Kale planting at the second of two participating farms – the East Hill Tree Farm, Plainfield, VT.  We planted in the Fall, and recorded notable conditions, influences, considerations in relationship to this planting.  We also maintained correspondence with John Hayden, at the Farm Between, where our first trial plot is planted – tracking maintenance, getting good testimony with respect to soil conditions which may be more favorable, and learning about some taste tasting done with the Beginner Farmer Training Program and a local chef.  As documented in previous sections, we accomplished these goals; though the path wasn’t entirely as planned.

Notable Conclusions:

  • We clearly favor the method of rooting root cuttings of entirely burying the cutting vertically except for app. 1/4 inch above the soil surface over the method of laying the cuttings loosely on the soil surface.  The latter method proved unreliable for us, and led to relatively significant root cutting loss through desiccation or mold / wetness.

Year 3 / 2020:

In year 3 our primary goals were monitoring our plantings at both sites, conducting research and maintenance, and hosting events at both sites.  The COVID 19 pandemic significantly affected our plans for public outreach and events, however we were able to complete our work and be present at both sites as needed.  Our research collaborator and farmer John Hayden has sold his farm, and we now need to be in touch with the new owner in order to determine how to continue our research into this last year of the grant. John Hayden conducted detailed research in Year 3 of the planting at his farm, and we will begin to conduct yield research at the East Hill Tree Farm site this coming season.  We saw extremely high survival rates at East Hill Tree Farm after Fall transplanting, close to 100%, and at the Farm Between in the lower field sight between years 2 and 3.

Notable Conclusions:

  • Once established in well-drained soils rich in organic matter, sea kale plants are extremely hardy plants that thrive. They need very little input, and can be very low-maintenance to manage if weed pressure is strategically addressed. Weed pressure was not unmanageable at either site, although the establishment method at The Farm Between plot was less labor-intensive (using black plastic vs. tillage and digging a raised bed). At The Farm Between, establishment with black plastic which was in year 2 folded back again from the plants with mulch added, worked very well and proved very low input in terms of labor. The Farm Between has found that with mature plants, 2-3 fairly quick weeding rounds through the season worked quite well.
  • It appears there are opportunities for additional yields from interplanting with seakale, especially in year 1 and 2 of establishment. By the 3rd season plants which are planted at 2.5-3′ spacing have intersecting crowns (when left to flower), which will crowd out most other plants. But while plants are establishing there is likely opportunity for inter planting annuals, and also integrating other yields such as the king stropharia mushroom, as seen above, which can continue to thrive in the understory of mature seakale plants.
  • Further investigation is warranted of pollinator interactions of sea kale flowers.
Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Our education and outreach will primarily occur in 2021 – the final year of our study, in which the crop will hopefully be more established and come into more substantial production. Our plans for significant in-person outreach beginning in 2020 were cancelled by COVID. We are working on budget evaluation and updates to maximize project impact and meet all of our goals for the project during harvest season of 2021, which we have confidence we can meet. We have established an online landing page for those interested in perennial crops in partnership with Juan Alvez via UVM, and will be completing our initial digital publications during winter 2021.

Learning Outcomes

3 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:
  1.  Gaining familiarity with an unfamiliar plant:  as an agricultural crop, and as a food (we brought some Sea Kale broccolis from more established plants to eat with John Hayden at the Farm Between when we planted)
    1. John Hayden enjoyed the broccolis and thought they could be a very marketable product
  2.  Experimenting with no-till planting methods, and different mulching methods

Project Outcomes

1 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant applied for that built upon this project
1 Grant received that built upon this project
$18,915.00 Dollar amount of grant received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

The change in practice is the planting and maintainance of a new perennial crop as part of this small farm ecosystem at the Farm Between.  We are too early in the project to assess benefits in relationship to our goals for the project, or impacts more broadly.  Partly as a result of getting this SARE Grant, we were able to secure funding for another 3 year perennial vegetable research project into two more crops (Spinach Vine and Hosta) through a USDA Sustainable Crop Block Grant.

One little success story: the Farm Between hosted an event including a pollinator habitat and farm tour in September.  We walked past one of the seakale plantings, it was asked about, and I was able to briefly talk to the group about the plant and have a couple smaller follow up conversations with more interested people.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

An assessment of our study’s approach and methods to this point (including successes, challenges, and considered revisions in methodology) is included in previous sections:  “Research Results and Discussion”, “Research Conclusions”.  In terms of this years goals in relationship to the questions we set out to study, as stated in the “Research Conclusions” section – we did achieve our objectives.  The remaining questions in this section will be answered in the final year of, and final report on, this study.  

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.