Grow your own Samphire

Once described as a poor man’s asparagus it’s now a fashionable accompaniment to many a trendy meal. That said it’s delicious too. Salty and crisp.

I’m talking about Marsh Samphire (Salicornia europaea). It’s an annual that grows in estuaries, marshes and other sea soaked wetland areas. You might know it as glasswort, sea asparagus, sea pickle, sampha or sampkin. Whatever you call it I’d never tried it. Never at least until I saw it for sale in a supermarket. I don’t recall ever seeing it in any of the beaches or estuaries I’d visited. Perhaps I wasn’t looking.

Gosh that stuff is expensive. Anything from £1.73 per 100grams to way over £2.50 per 100grams. So I bought a small handful of the succulent strange looking stems to find out what all the fuss is about.

Well I liked it.

Rather than eat it all I wondered if I could grow the remainder of it. So I planted it. I couldn’t find any instructions on the web on how to plant Samphire from cuttings. So I set up my own experiment…

Ready to pot up Samphire cuttings.

Ready to pot up Samphire cuttings.

Samphire cuttings all potted up and ready to be moved to the window.

Samphire cuttings all potted up carefully around the edge of the pots and ready for the propagator lid to be put on and then to be moved to the window.

Samphire cuttings five weeks later. Big differences in success rate!

Samphire cuttings five weeks later. Big differences in success rate!

Are you wondering about what the difference is between the left and right pots?

About half way through potting up the cuttings I remembered that sometimes with cuttings you take the stem you are potting up back to just under a node. I hadn’t been doing that before (on the left-hand cuttings) so I decided to with the rest (the right half) – using a clean knife to cut the stem just under a node.

I didn’t really know if either technique was going to be successful, or indeed if any would survive. After all I’d purchased these from a supermarket. They had been picked and transported many days previously (all cutting technique advice says to get them into the ground as soon as you can) and it was a few days later that I took them out of my refrigerator and planted them.

I’ve since moved the successful cuttings to the polytunnel where they are getting much more light. The nice dark green colour has returned to the stems.

I am continuing to water with salted water. About one teaspoon of sea salt mixed to one pint of water whenever they look like they need it.

When I pot them up I’ll use a sandier mix (this one had some sand mixed in but I think they could do with more) and keep them separate from the rest of my plants – the others won’t appreciate the salty water.

Will they grow enough to produce seeds or will I have to find a way to keep them growing through the winter? I don’t know. It’s been fun. Though if they fail I might just ask for samphire seeds for Christmas.

Yes it’s August and I’ve just mentioned Christmas …

Homemade willow rooting compound

Willow sticks for making willow tea - a homemade hormone rooting compound.

Willow sticks for making willow tea – a homemade hormone rooting compound.

I had often heard that you can make your own hormone rooting compound from Willow (salix sp.) so after we had coppiced our willow I made sure I had enough left over for a few experiments. The first experiment was willow rooting compound.

Before the use of synthetic rooting hormone compounds gardeners would make a willow tea to increase the likelihood of their cuttings growing (strike rate). It turns out that what we might call folklore has some scientific backing as willow steeped in water releases indolebutyric acid – a hormone that stimulates root growth, and salicylic acid which triggers the plants defenses and helps protect the plant from pathogens. Pretty cool eh?

Now I have always been pretty useless at growing box (buxus sp.) from cuttings. It’s something that I’ve tried time after time. After all have you seen the price of decent sized box plant in nurseries? To me it makes sense to try and propagate them from plants you already have.

After a bit of research I decided to combine the bits of many different willow tea recipes:

Homemade rooting hormone instructions

My box cuttings with homemade willow tea root hormone compound.

My box cuttings with homemade willow tea root hormone compound.

  1. You’ll need a handful of sticks of willow, preferably the ends of the branch as that’s where the growing hormones are. Don’t use dead branches,
  2. Take off all the leaves and cut the sticks into short pieces (so that they’ll fit in your jar),
  3. Put the sticks into a heatproof container with a lid I used an old glass jar,
  4. Fill the jar with hot water so the water covers the sticks- be careful if you are using a glass jar you don’t want the glass to explode if the water is too hot,
  5. Seal and label the jar,
  6. Leave for at least 24 hours and up to two months – I went about a week before I moved onto the next step,
  7. Remove the willow while retaining the willow water,
  8. Put your cuttings in the willow water to drink it overnight,
  9. Plant your cuttings,
  10. Use the rest of the willow water to water the cuttings in if you wish
  11. Look after the plants in the usual way

They grew well and I am pleased with the result.

Perhaps you are wondering why a forest gardener is bothering with buxus sempervirens at all, after all it’s slow growing so I probably won’t be around to harvest the wood, doesn’t do much for biodiversity and you certainly can’t eat it. Truth be told I am also a sucker for a formal knot garden and a bit of ornamental topiary and I hope there will be a little space in my garden for those too.

The second experiment? Artists Charcoal. That’s another story.