Cooking kale | Growing kale | Soil | Varieties | Sowing | Transplanting | Harvesting
Kale is the quintessential ‘hungry gap' vegetable, a tough member of the cabbage family that could be depended on to survive the rigours of winter cold and provide ‘greens' for eating in spring. While the imperative that encouraged hardy cottage-gardeners to grow this vegetable is not with us any more, kale is still a good garden vegetable.
It is very easy to grow and takes up ground during the slack time of year when there is little pressure on space. And it is one of the most nutritious garden vegetables. It can be used in all the ways cabbage is used, although it takes longer to cook. The trick is to use the central part of the head, which is more tender, and the removal of the head encourages tasty side-shoots to develop.
Kale is commonly used in Mediterranean countries, especially Portugal and Italy, often in dishes with potatoes and garlic sausage. The variety illustrated is the Italian variety, ‘Nero de Toscana', also known as ‘Black Tuscany', which can have leaves picked off when they are large enough and can be used in salads to give ‘bite' or can be cooked. It overwinters well, though the more usual green curled kale varieties are probably hardier.
Kale is very nutritious, an excellent source of Vitamins A, B, C and E. It also contains the minerals calcium, iron and phosphorus. The older leaves can be quite strong, so the young leaves and central head should be used. The side-shoots that develop in spring are full of flavour. It needs a long simmer and it is best used to add flavour to other ingredients.
Kale will grow in any soil, but ideally use ground that was fertilized for a previous crop. It is usually planted, just like spring cabbage, in ground left vacant by early potatoes.
The seed companies offer a range of varieties but mostly of the green curly type, such as ‘Dwarf Green Curled'. There are newer varieties, such as ‘Starbor', which is a cut-and-come-again type. There are red varieties, such as ‘Garna Red' or ‘Redbor', and there is ‘Nero de Toscana', dark green and decorative.
The seeds are sown in a seedbed outdoors in April or May, the later date in milder parts of the country. The seedlings are thinned to allow the remainder to develop into nice storng plants for planting out in August or September.
Ground after early potatoes is ideal, and it is best not to dig or soften the soil. Plant directly into the firm soil - the plant stands up well to winter gales in firm soil.
Leaves can be picked off for use in salads or allow the loose head to form. Pciking after frost makes the kale sweeter and the side-shoots can be used as they make adequate size.