Depending on the garden for a significant portion of my annual
caloric intake has gradually refined my eating habits. Years ago I
learned to like cabbage salads as much as lettuce. Since lettuce
freezes out many winters (19-21 degree F), this adjustment has
very useful. Gradually I began to appreciate kale, too, and now
value it as a salad green far more than cabbage. This personal
adaptation has proved very pro-survival, because even savoy cabbages
do not grow as readily or yield nearly as much as kale. And kale is
a tad more cold hardy than even savoy cabbage.
You may be surprised to learn that kale produces more complete
protein per area occupied per time involved than any legume,
including alfalfa. If it is steamed with potatoes and then mashed,
the two vegetables complement and flavor each other. Our region
could probably subsist quite a bit more healthfully than at present
on potatoes and kale. The key to enjoying kale as a salad component
is varietal choice, preparation, and using the right parts of the
plant. Read on.
_Sowing date:_ With irrigation, fast-growing kale is usually started
in midsummer for use in fall and winter. But kale is absolutely
biennial--started in March or April, it will not bolt until the next
spring. The water-wise gardener can conveniently sow kale while
cool, moist soil simplifies germination. Starting this early also
produces a deep root system before the soil dries much, and a much
taller, very useful central stalk on oleracea types, while early
sown Siberian (Napa) varieties tend to form multiple rosettes by
autumn, also useful at harvest time.
_Spacing: _Grow like broccoli, spaced 4 feet apart.
_Irrigation:_ Without any water, the somewhat stunted plants will
survive the summer to begin rapid growth as soon as fall rains
resume. With the help of occasional fertigation they grow lushly and
are enormous by September. Either way, there still will be plenty of
kale during fall and winter.
_Harvest:_ Bundles of strong-flavored, tough, large leaves are sold
in supermarkets but are the worst-eating part of the plant. If
chopped finely enough, big raw leaves can be masticated and
tolerated by people with good teeth. However, the tiny leaves are
far tenderer and much milder. The more rosettes developed on
Siberian kales, the more little leaves there are to be picked. By
pinching off the central growing tip in October and then gradually
stripping off the large shading leaves, _oleracea_ varieties may be
encouraged to put out dozens of clusters of small, succulent leaves
at each leaf notch along the central stalk. The taller the stalk
grown during summer, the more of these little leaves there will be.
Only home gardeners can afford the time to hand pick small leaves.
_Varieties:_ I somewhat prefer the flavor of Red Russian to the
ubiquitous green Siberian, but Red Russian is very slightly less
cold hardy. Westland Winter (TSC) and Konserva (JSS) are tall
European oleracea varieties. Winterbor F1 (JSS, TSC) is also
excellent. The dwarf "Scotch" kales, blue or green, sold by many
American seed companies are less vigorous types that don't produce
nearly as many gourmet little leaves. Dwarfs in any species tend to
have dwarfed root systems.
Next: Kohlrabi (Giant)
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