Kale: Its Many Faces

Kale – Beautiful and Nutritious

Kale may be just what your garden needs. Are you looking for a plant that has multiple faces – nutritionally rich, easy to grow, hardy and beautiful enough to use as an ornamental? Kale fits the bill on all counts.

Although we hear more about kale today than a few years ago, and it is now quite visible in most good organic produce sections of the grocery store, many of us have not embraced its potential. Kale is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables, a favorite since ancient Rome and nutritionally is superior to most vegetables.

It has the highest protein content of all cultivated vegetables. It is rich beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin and reasonably rich in calcium.  As part of a balanced diet, it is said to have particular benefits in helping to prevent the degeneration of the eyes as we age.

redbor kale

Beautiful and nutritious redbor kale

Kale is a leafy vegetable, usually grouped into the cooking greens category with collards, mustard, spinach and Swiss chard.  You can harvest very young leaves to use fresh in salads or allow plants to mature and use as a cooked green. Harvest by removing the larger, outer leaves and allowing the center of the plant to continue producing. Kale can be harvested throughout the summer months, but is especially good after a frost.

Kale leaves become too tough to eat fresh as they mature, so the young leaves are the best to use in salads. If you need to store picked kale, place it in the refrigerator and keep it moist but not sealed. It will retain its crispness for a week or so.

In the garden, kale is relatively pest free, but can be susceptible to black rot and club root as well as aphids, cabbage loopers, cabbageworm, cutworms and flea beetles. The best defence, as in all gardening, is to provide good growing conditions and keep the plants healthy. Companion plants that repel these insects are dill, mint and clover, so it may be beneficial to plant kale near them.

Growing Kale

Kale prefers cool temperatures – optimal soil temperature is 60 – 65 degrees F. Hot weather will turn kale bitter, so plant it very early in spring, or in the early fall for a late season crop.

Grow it in a rich soil, high in organic matter and slightly acidic (5.5 – 6.5 pH), with a high nitrogen content, since it is grown for the foliage. Water your kale well, and side dress it throughout the growing season with compost or fish emulsion to keep it growing well. Mulching is important to keep the ground cool.

You can direct seed in cold climates, in the spring, as soon as the soil can be worked and the soil temperature is at least 45 degrees F. Kale will mature in about 2 months or less. Start your plants later or even plant multiple crops in succession.

In warm climates, direct seed in late summer or early fall, as well as in the spring. A winter crop in warmer climates can be much sweeter than a summer crop.

Kale as an Ornamental

The ornamentals you’ll find in garden shops in fall are giant rosettes of frilly leaves in shades of lavender, deep rose, and pink, as well as crisp white and creamy yellow. They tolerate cold weather and hold their brilliant color into spring, so they’re ideal for growing in pots to display on porches, patios, or beside entryways, or for massing in garden beds.

However, don’t limit yourself to just these varieties. Plant some of the ‘vegetable’ varieties in and among your flowerbeds for interesting foliage. Redbor kale, with its curly deep red leaves adds color and texture. Other varieties mentioned below can also jazz up your containers as well as adding some nutrition-filled greens to your diet.

Varieties of Kale

LACINATO BLUE KALE  has gently arching leaves that can reach 2 to 3 feet. Try growing this blue-green heirloom with curly parsley planted at the base, or combine it with other beautiful cool-season greens, such as Swiss chard or red mustard. Also called black Tuscan.

‘REDBOR’ KALE has blackish burgundy edible leaves, and is striking against nearly any color, especially when paired with other kales or with pink or lavender pansies.

WHITE FLOWERING KALE has crisp white leaves edged in blue-green that look frosty and have an especially cool look when paired with white flowers.

RED FLOWERING KALE has crinkly green heads with vibrant reddish centers. Plant this kale near red winter-flowering shrubs, or grow one in a charcoal-colored pot with black mondo grass for a dramatic container planting.

Kale can be used in many ways. Here’s one of my favorite recipes for a delicious and nutritious smoothie, with kale:

Kale Smoothie

* 1 banana, thickly sliced, frozen (or fresh)
* 2 cups chopped kale
* 1 tablespoon flax seed meal (optional)
* 1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)
* 1/4 cup coconut water
* 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Place the banana, kale, flax seed meal, and coconut oil into a blender, pour in the coconut water and orange juice. If using fresh bananas, add a few ice cubes. Cover, and puree until smooth; serve.
Check here for more kale recipes.