After years of not eating kale because the first time I ate it was from a store, I have now become something of a Kale aficionado – mostly because I have discovered that not only is it delicious all seasons of the year, and comes in all sizes, shapes and colors, but it is one of the easiest, most carefree plants I grow in my fairly shady garden! I had my first serious aphid attack on some huge beautiful plants in September last summer – mostly because I figured the plants were so big and healthy that they could handle a few aphids! Well – turns out I was wrong! But that’s another story…
There are so many different kinds that it’s fun trying new ones each year. Some take winter in their stride – dinosaur kale, in particular, can freeze solid and not even seem to notice! Others taste good even in the heat of summer. The chickens like it almost as much as Swiss chard – which is their all time favorite. I watched Maude working on an old plant I tossed into their hazelnut grove today. She just ripped off little leaves and chug-a-lugged them down, one after another!
The plants need a fair amount of nutrition to keep them growing well, but respond well to just diluted urine, every other week, and a good soaking of my “Kick-a-poo Joy Juice” (chicken manure, urine, comfrey, nettles and molasses – diluted and fermented for a few days) about once a month.
I start plants in January in my unheated greenhouse and then again in early July. I think the “Wild Garden Kale Mix” is one of my favorites, but since I keep trying new ones each year – don’t hold me to that. This winter I planted two new ones – Bolshoi Kale (a Russian Red type) – considered one of the sweetest, and one called Beira Tronchuda which is one of the key ingredients of Caldo Verde, a famous Portuguese soup. It’s really more like collards in it’s looks – or like Sea Kale. It’s supposed to take both heat and cold well and be very tender – in spite of how large and tough the leaves look.
Many years I have plants that do well enough and are in a spot that I can let them grow on for two and sometimes three years. Sometimes just chopping a plant way back forces it to grow a whole new top and go on for many more months. Collards and Broccoli respond well to this treatment too, as I’m sure you have discovered with lettuce!
One of the things I discovered several years ago that makes kale even more interesting is the delicious bud shoots! This is one plant that I look forward to “bolting” in the spring! The bud is like a small dainty broccoli – or broccolini, and the long stalk is tender like asparagus. With all the small, tender leaves along the stalk, a handful of these make a lovely meal, and I get lots of these for several months in the spring and early summer!
Another great thing about kale is that you can dig, or, if your soil is loose and soft, gently pull a big plant that is in a bed you want to use for other things – and replant it somewhere more convenient! I have done this with winter kale in June when I need to put in summer veggies and I’ve done it in late summer. I discovered this when a friend who had never grown kale tried eating her first meal of it in the middle of August and decided Kale was just not her thing! So she pulled all her plants up rather unceremoniously, stuck them in a shopping bag and brought them to me for my chickens! After she left I pulled them out and found they still had a nice root mass and they were nice healthy plants. So I planted them around the base of the blueberries in the hazelnut grove, where the chickens spend their days. Each blueberry is surrounded by a two foot high wire fence cage to protect them from zealous chicken scratching. I figured the girls could pull bits off the leaves without pulling them up and it worked great! AND it taught me about kale’s ability to survive a rough transplant even in the heat of summer!
I just planted two new varieties for winter – one called Fizz and one called Dazzling Blue – which I have to admit I got as much for the looks as anything! Here’s a picture from Territorial Seed.
What are your favorite kinds?