Kale is a perfect vegetable garden plant. It will grow almost anywhere. It survives our Puget Sound winters without cover. It tastes best in the cool seasons, especially after a frost. It’s easy to cook. It’s delicious. It’s good for you. Wow. I plant every year for a fall and winter crop, and every year I am surprised at its sweet taste.
Kale is a brassica, a member of the cabbage family. It was a popular leafy green in Europe up until the end of the Middle Ages (wikipedia). Yum – porridge and kale. Today kale is still popular in Europe. In Germany there is a festival celebrating kale, in which boiled kale is served with schnaaps. (again, wikipedia)
Because kale tastes best in cool weather, plant in late summer for a fall and winter crop. My rows are usually too close together, at about 14 inches, but the kale doesn’t seem to mind. Plant 1/2 inch deep and keep watered. You can also plant in early spring when the soil is about 45 degrees; that would be March here near Seattle. I don’t plant a spring crop because I need the space for spinach or lettuce. Kale is for hearty cold weather meals. Summer is for salads. Keep your kale watered and feed with fish fertilizer, or even just a good red worm compost. The kale can be bothered by cabbage worms, but they really don’t eat much of it. The slugs and snails seem to avoid it. I probably don’t have insect or pest damage because I grow it as a winter crop, when the bugs and slugs are hibernating. They don’t know what they’re missing!
There are many varieties of kale: White Russian, Red Russian, Siberian, weird, smooth leaf, curly leaf, and ornamental. My favorite is Red Russian. I see that Territorial Seed has a variety that is a cross between a cabbage and kale, Nero Di Toscana Kale. So maybe I’ll plant some of that later in the summer. There is usually some form of kale on the seed racks in stores in the spring. I think they’re all good, except I’ve never heard of anyone eating the ornamental kale. In 2009, I planted Territorial Seed Winter Red on July 17. It survived the winter uncovered by a cloche. It even survived the 9 degrees we had one night in November.
Pick leaves from the outside in. If you leave the central stem, it will continue to produce more leaves. The central leaf rib can be tough, so just cut it out as you wash the leaves. Your kale will last until summer heat turns it bitter, or it sends up too many flowers.
If you have leeks, here’s a great recipe for Kale and Leek soup.
Kale and Leek Soup
- 2 c. diced carrots (coarsely chopped)
- 3 cups of chopped leeks (use all of the white part and into the green an inch or so)
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 Tbs. light olive oil
- chicken broth or water
- 1 tsp. dried orange blossom thyme, or 1/2 tsp. ground thyme
- 1 tsp. dried winter savory, crumbled, or dried summer savory which is milder
- 1 tsp. white pepper
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- salt to taste
- 5 c. chopped kale
- 1 can of white beans, I used cannellini beans
- In a large pot, saute carrots, leeks and garlic in a couple of glugs of olive oil, until leeks are tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add chicken broth (or vegetable broth or water) until of soup consistency, about 4 cups.
- Sprinkle in thyme, savory, pepper flakes, pepper and salt.
- Bring to a boil and add kale and cannellini beans.
- Simmer until time to eat, at least until carrots are tender, 15 – 20 minutes.
- Ladle into bowls, garnish with a sprinkle of grated parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese.