Kale - To Make Your Toes Curl
This member of
the brassica family looks gorgeous in your garden and
tastes great on your plate, says Fiona Lawrenson, who's
a big fan
I just love curly
kale. I became totally hooked on the plant when I was
introduced to it at Wisley. From a designer's point
of view, I loved the look of the leaves and could see
how well it complemented the other plants. From a gardener
and cook's point of view, I found that it wasn't that
difficult to grow and tasted simply delicious when cooked.
Like all brassicas,
kale prefers an open, unshaded site with fertile, well-drained,
moisture-retentive and slightly acidic
soil. If your soil is too acidic, then add enough
to change the pH
level to pH7 (you can buy simple kits from garden centres
which will show you how to do this).
For the best preparation,
you should prepare your vegetable bed the winter before,
but if you've only done it this spring, then it's not
the end of the world - go ahead anyway.
Sow the seed outside
in late April/May into well-prepared seedbeds. These
should be sown thinly at a depth of 1 inch. In late
June/July, transplant the seedlings into additional
neat rows placing them between 15-18 inches apart. Make
sure you firm them in and water well. Check the plants
throughout the summer for both caterpillar eggs and
larvae. If you do find them, then my best advice is
remove them by squashing them between your finger and
As kale is a crop
that grows through the hardest of winters, it will benefit
from an organic
feed, such as seaweed extract, in the spring. This
will give the plant a real boost and stimulate new productive
side shoots. You can start harvesting kale throughout
the late autumn through to early spring by removing
the lower leaves and working upwards.
Like most brassicas,
kale can become susceptible to soil-born diseases such
root, so do check the plants for lumps on the roots
when harvesting. You should always try to prevent disease
from occurring by: rotating your crops each year so
that they are not grown in the same place; providing
good drainage; working in lots of well-rotted organic
matter into the soil and checking that it has the
correct pH level. Always burn infected matter, never
compost it as this can easily spread disease throughout
the garden. I once heard of an old gardener who swore
by placing chunks of rhubarb in each hole before he
transplanted his cabbages. Apparently the acid from
the fruit helped to prevent club root!
Saying all that,
I think kale is the easiest of all brassicas to grow.
The plant can stand up to the winter weather extremely
well. Adding kale to your vegetable garden creates an
ornamental effect. The curly kale 'Pentland Brig' has
excellent dark petrol-green coloured leaves or, for
a really colourful display, try 'Russian Red', which
has dark purple leaves with scarlet veins.
Redbor: a new variety
- red-tinged leaves turn crimson in cooler weather.
Nero di Toscana: a narrow, frilly, dark green/black.
To cook kale, simply
wash thoroughly since mud and bugs get trapped in the
leaves. Chop coarsely, place a small amount of water
in the bottom of the pan, add the kale (so in effect
you are steaming the leaves) and cook for about 5 minutes.
The leaves should still be slightly crisp when eaten
- there's nothing worse than soggy greens. Pouring a
white cheese sauce over the cooked leaves, as you would
with cauliflower cheese, works a treat.
In the spring, very
young, tender side-shoots can be used in salads.
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com