Tales of kale
Edible kale provides interesting color and texture.
“Redbor” kale tolerates temperatures as cool as 15 degrees. Its color, as well as its flavor, intensifies as the temperatures drop in the fall.
Kale has gained popularity as a vegetable and, more recently, as a fall or spring bedding plant.
It is a member of the mustard family, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and collard. Botanically, it is known as Brassica oleracea acephala, which means “cabbage without a head.”
It originates from the eastern Mediterranean area and Asia Minor, where it has been a food crop since about 2000 B.C. Through the end of the Middle Ages, kale was one of the most common green vegetables in Europe.
During World War II, the “Dig for Victory” campaign in the U.K. promoted the cultivation of kale because it was easy to grow and provided important nutrients during a period of
Kale saved many generations of children from the “spring disease,” a malady we now call scurvy. It is one of the most nutrient-dense foods and is rich in minerals and vitamins.
In Scotland, it is said that kale provided such a base for traditional diets that the word in Scottish dialect is synonymous for food.
The Kailyard School of Scottish writers, which included J.M. Barrie, the author of “Peter Pan,” were those who wrote about traditional rural Scottish life — “kailyard” translates to kale field.
Kale cultivars come in white, red, pink or lavender and vary in size and leaf appearance. Cultivars grown principally for the landscape are edible but might not be as tender as the vegetable garden types.
Growing cool-season biennial kale is easy:
- It does best in a fertile, well-drained soil in full sun with a pH of 6.0-7.5. Constant moist soil produces the best leaves.
- If starting seeds indoors, sow four to six weeks before the last spring frost.
- For a fall crop, plant six to eight weeks before the average first frost.
- Sow the seeds ¼-inch deep, 4-6 inches apart. Space rows 18-36 inches apart.
- In a vegetable garden, thin the seedlings to 12-24 inches apart.
Kale’s outer leaves can be harvested for eating 50 days from germination. Ted and Debbie’s Flower and Garden, 3901 S. Harvard Ave., sells “Redbor” and other cultivars, which usually arrive in late September or early October, just after pansies and violas arrive in the early fall. For seeds, try Johnny’s Selected Seeds, www.johnnyseeds.com, or Territorial Seed Co., www.territorialseed.com.