Perhaps it is a little perverse to talk about kale when the season is finally allowing us to look ahead to summer. Why talk of winter vegetables when you can start thinking of sweet lettuce hearts? But we surely need to stop seeing kale as being only for the winter; sure, it is a cold-weather vegetable, but it can be as tender as any lettuce.
Kale is ancient stuff: it’s considered to be far closer to wild cabbage than, say, brussels sprouts or broccoli. In case you missed the millennial memo, kale is king of nutrition. It’s certainly the most nutritious vegetable you can grow at home. It’s one of the best sources of vitamin K, a rich source of vitamins A, C, B6 and folate, and a good source of iron, calcium and vitamin E. It’s a multivitamin, without the plastic pot.
Now, there’s a small rub to all these health benefits, which is that you need to eat your kale raw. Faced with a tough bunch of winter-hardy leaves, that’s a daunting task; but kale can be as tender as any other leafy green, as long as it is picked young and small. And the best way to grow it is as cut and come again.
The best leaves are somewhere between 5-10cm high. For a continuous supply, sow roughly every two weeks. Sow direct from now onwards and thin seedlings to 7.5cm apart. Cut and come again can be sown up until the end of July/beginning of August. If you want traditional big plants for winter, you need to sow by June and space plants to 45cm apart in either direction. You can raise kale microgreens on a windowsill year-round.
Although kale is more than capable of surviving periods of drought, that’s when you get tough leaves. If you are transplanting young plants to their final growing position, puddle them in with plenty of water and mulch. If your leaves are too tough to eat, massage with salt and oil and let them sit for 30 minutes before dressing with a vinegar or lemon juice; you’ll find they flop delightfully that way.
There’s a whole suite of new kales that are stunning to look at, both in the garden and on the plate. ‘Midnight Sun’ is a curly kale with bright magenta midribs; ‘Jagallo Nero’ has serrated blue-green leaves; ‘Emerald Ice’ is textured, ruffled and has ice-white midribs and new variegated new growth; ‘Red Ruble’ is a red, Russian-type kale for baby leaf production (the red fades as the plant matures); ‘Dazzling blue’ is a blue-green palm kale with striking pink midribs, and ‘Red Ruffled’ (both from Real Seeds) has tasty ruffled leaves with red veins.
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