Kale gets a bad rap. It’s often pureed into smoothies or roasted into chips–the belief being that it’s too bitter and tough to eat raw. Many varieties of kale, though, are delicious and tender when picked when the leaves are small. Kale is easy to grow, especially if you let it go to seed–your garden will be filled with a forest of baby kale plants in no time!
Kale is a good source of phytochemicals, calcium, copper, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and K. Avoid kale if you are taking blood thinners like Warfarin–the vitamin K can interfere with its effectiveness.
Ideal growing conditions
Kale does best in well-drained soil that is not too rich, so do not mix too much compost in the soil, and use only aged compost. Kale prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade.
Kale is a cool weather crop, like other brassica crops. It can survive temperatures of -15C. It can be grown in the spring and fall; it may bolt and get tough and bitter if the weather gets too hot. The leaves are sweetest after they’ve been hit by frost.
Start seedlings indoors, 6 weeks before the final frost, or direct sow it outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked. Set plants about a foot and a half apart. They take up a lot of room! You can also grow regular or dwarf varieties of kale in large pots.
- Curly kale, as the name indicates, has curly leaves and is usually cooked, as it has a bitter or peppery flavour when fully grown.
- Dinosaur/Lacianto kale has a slightly wrinkled texture. It is more tender than curly kale, and retains its sweeter flavour when cooked.
- Red Russian kale (pictured above) has flat leaves that resemble oak leaves. Its leaves are tender and sweet, which make it suitable for eating raw. Just make sure to remove the tough stems first
Harvesting, using, and preserving
You can start harvesting kale once it is about 8 inches tall. Pick the outer leaves when young for use in salads, or wait until they get larger, then pick them for use in cooking. Leave the centre of the plant untouched so that it can continue to grow.
Kale is usually harvested in the spring and fall, but it’s sweeter in the fall, especially after a light frost.
Use young greens fresh. Steam, stir-fry, or add mature leaves to sauces and dishes that call for spinach or other cooking greens like chard.
To freeze kale, blanch it as you would spinach, then place in freezer bags. After you thaw it, you can gently squeeze it to remove excess water (feed the juice to your houseplants!)
To make kale chips: Preheat oven to 400F. Remove stems, tear kale into bite-sized pieces, arrange on a cookie sheet, then drizzle the pieces with olive oil and a dash of salt. Bake 10 to 15 minutes.
- Lettuce and other greens
- One cup of chopped raw kale contains more than 100% of the recommended daily dose of vitamins A and K, and more calcium than a small carton of milk.
- Although kale seems like a new fad, it’s been eaten for over 2000 years. So much for a fad diet food!