Pretty curly kale in the Ross patch. Photo - Luisa Brimble
I admit I giggle to think that kale has become a darling of the hipster food scene.
It’s the most unpretentious of vegetables, yet is so fashionable there was a worldwide shortage of seed recently due to overwhelming demand. Beyond the fad, it’s worth a spot in the garden.
The fashion is new, but kale is anything but. Siberian smallholders have been growing it in sub-Arctic winters for centuries, and there’s good evidence that it was a staple in medieval kitchens across Europe. In Australia it arrived aboard the First Fleet, although fancier varieties like the well known ‘Cavolo Nero’ is a more recent introduction.
One of the reasons kale has ascended to the Vegie Hall of Fame is that it is highly nutritious. The other is that it is really easy to grow. It scoffs at the heaviest frosts, is about as drought-resistant as a leafy green gets, and in the right climate, can be grown as a short-lived perennial. As proof I offer my friends’ cavolo nero that currently stands at two metres tall!
Seed can be sown direct into the soil, or started in a greenhouse. Sow in January to take advantage of warm soil but cooling air temperatures. To produce the most nutrient-dense leaves, ensure your soil is similarly nutrient-dense. Provide a boost with pelletised chook fertiliser, along with rock minerals applied at the rate of a handful per square metre. Add some garden lime or wood ash if you need to sweeten things up.
Curly kale. Photo - Carsten Medom Madsen/Shutterstock.com
Leaves can be harvested at various stages as required, firstly as microgreens, then baby leaves, and eventually at full size. The leaves toughen as they age so choose small leaves for salads and larger leaves for braising. We like to constantly pick leaves from the outside up, leaving new leaves to come from the centre.
Keep cabbage white butterflies at bay by covering plants with fine weave netting. Alternatively spray the leaves every couple of weeks with organically approved Dipel or Success.
Aphids can be a problem in spring and summer. Allow ladybeetles to proliferate to control them, but if the outbreak is severe, hit them with a horticultural soap spray like Natrasoap.
Not growing big enough? Our plants grow to 1m high with weekly liquids feeds and good soil is a must.
Bitter? Pick leaves throughout the cool weather, leaves can become bitter in warm weather.
‘Cavolo Nero’ -also known as Lacinato or Tuscan Kale. My favourite in the kitchen and perhaps the best kale for Australian conditions.
‘Red Russian’ - an heirloom with frilly leaves that become a deeper shade of red in harsh winters. Baby leaves are great in salads.
‘Red Bor’ - a decorative hybrid variety that looks brilliant in the garden and is perfect for braising.