Photo by Linzy May Mahoney
Kale is touted as the meat of the vegetable kingdom—rich in vitamins C and A and loaded with potassium, calcium, iron and fiber. It can be eaten raw or cooked. (When using it raw, be sure to use an acid like lemon juice or vinegar to make it more digestible.) Like other brassicas, kale prefers to grow in the cool season and can become sweeter in winter if grown with protection from frost.
Kale transplants are available at most nurseries in the fall, but adventurous gardeners will grow their own from seed. In seed cata- logs, not only will you find the usual suspects such as Scotch curly kale and lacinato (pronounced la-chee-NAW-tow, also known as Dinosaur or Tuscan) kale, you’ll also find seeds for heirloom or open-pollinated specialties including Dwarf Siberian (a personal favorite), Red Russian (sweeter that its cousins), White Russian, Winter Red, Mar- row Stem, Vates Blue (perfect for kale chips), Red Ursa or the Portuguese collard-like kale Tronchuda Beira. Those who prefer to grow hybrids can choose from Redbor, Ripbor, Starbor, Winterbor and Red Chidori.
Seeds can be direct-seeded in the garden, but they grow best with a little coddling indoors in seed trays about six to eight weeks before you want to plant them out in the garden. Start seeds in late August for early October planting. Plant in well-amended soil or seed-starting mix blended with compost. Kale needs full sun, so make sure seedlings get at least six to 10 hours of sunlight per day. When several sets of leaves develop, transplant the seedlings to the garden.
Kale prefers regular watering and can be fertilized mid-season to keep producing leaves all winter long, but it may not even need it. As far as pests go, there are two main bugs that plague kale: cabbage worms and aphids. Aphids are generally less of a problem in cooler weather; one more reason to grow in fall instead of spring. Cabbage moths—little white butterflies—lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. Those eggs turn into tiny green worms and become bigger, fuzzier green worms that eat their way through your kale, leaving you wondering what happened while you were sleeping.
The best way to fight off cabbage worms is to keep them off your kale from the start. Floating row cover, or garden fabric, covers your plants and prevents cabbage moths from landing. In the end, the solution to both aphids and cabbage worms is inspection—check under the leaves each day and squish or remove the pests by hand. There are organic sprays available as well, but read the label carefully because even organic sprays can kill beneficial insects as well as pests.
Over the past few years a new predator has been attacking Southern California kale during warm weather: the Bagrada bug (Bagrada hilaris). It breeds like mad when temperatures reach 75° and can consume a kale plant in a day. In my garden, I keep a bucket of soapy water—a few drops of dish soap per gallon of water should suffice—and several times a day I knock the Bagrada bugs into another bucket, and then dump them into the soapy water. It cuts back the population and eventually interrupts the bugs’ life cycle. You can also sprinkle food- grade diatomaceous earth on the plant and soil to kill the pests.
With all that talk about bugs, kale may not seem as appetizing now, but I assure you it is delicious when prepared correctly. Raw kale salads have found a place on many a restaurant menu in LA, but nothing compares to the Esalen Institute’s Raw Kale Salad. A quick search online will yield the recipe, or you can buy their cookbook and get scads of other wholesome recipes too. Cooked kale can be made into frittatas, sautéed lightly and drizzled with toasted sesame oil and soy sauce, tossed with quinoa and lentils, or even baked into chips for a quick and healthy snack. Check out my recipe for Crispy (Addictive) Kale Chips from Gardening for Geeks (Adams Media, 2013). Make a double batch if you plan to share.
SCOTCH CURLY KALE
crispy (addictive) kale chips
SERVES 4, OR 1 ADDICT
“What are kale chips?” That’s the question that is usually asked when a bowl of oven-crisped kale is put down in front of newbies. They eat one out of curiosity and are surprised to find kale can taste so good. That’s all it takes to get hooked.
- 12 ounces kale, stems removed (curly kale works best, but you can use several varieties for diversity)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (or more to taste)
- Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Tear kale into 3-inch pieces (they shrink). In a large bowl, combine kale, olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Use your hands to massage the leaves until coated evenly. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast and salt and toss to combine.
Place leaves in a single layer on two baking sheets. Bake in batches for 15–17 minutes, until crisp, rotating trays halfway through. Curly kale takes longer than Dinosaur/Lacinato kale.
Try not to eat them all in one sitting, or at least share with friends.
Excerpted from Gardening for Geeks written by Christy Wilhelmi, founder of Gardenerd.com. Copyright © 2013 by Christy Wilhelmi. Used by permission of F+W Media, Inc. All rights reserved.