ALL CRUCIFEROUS VEG (which we should be eating 2-3 times a week) are good for you, but kale is particularly nutrient dense. It’s a nutritional powerhouse in three particular areas – it is high in antioxidant nutrients, high in anti-inflammatory nutrients, and in anti-cancer nutrients in the form of glucosinolates.
It is an excellent or very good source of vitamins A,C, E and K, fibre, calcium and iron.
I was always somewhat put off by the fibrous nature of the leaves, but once you get to know it, kale can be a useful and delicious veg in the kitchen. From a growing perspective, it’s a great winter garden crop – hardy and attractive-looking and providing leaves right through the winter and early spring.
If you have space for 8-10 healthy kale plants in your veg plants you will have your own abundant super-food source right at the end of the garden. Kale is in season right now!
Sow from April to late June. A foolproof way to grow healthy kale seedlings is to sow them in module seed trays – sow one or two seeds in each module 1.5cm deep. Thin out the weaker seedling. Kale will germinate in about a week and will be ready for planting out about 6 weeks later. Make sure to harden off early sowings carefully.
Watch a GIY video tutorial on growing kale here.
Since it is a hungry crop, add plenty of compost or manure to the soil the previous autumn. Space plants about 50 cm apart in rows about 60cm apart. Include kale in your brassica rotation – do not plant them where there have been brassicas for at least 3-4 years previously.
Hoe around young seedlings regularly to keep weeds down. Slug damage can be a real issue at this stage, so do what you have to do to prevent it. Water regularly in dry weather to prevent the roots from drying out.
Earthing up stems will help the plant to support itself, particularly in a windy site. Remove yellowing leaves. A fleece or net cover is essential for organic growing of kale (as with most brassicas) to keep butterflies and birds away from the plants.
Start harvesting from autumn and if you play your cards right, you should be able to continue harvesting until mid-spring the following year. Remove leaves with a sharp knife, starting at the crown (or a quick tug downwards will do the job too). The plant will grow side shoots which you can harvest between February and May.
Nero di Toscana, Red Russian, Redbor.
Kale is rarely bothered by the diseases that can blight other brassicas. The key issues are slug damage at seedling stage and birds/butterflies later on.
1. Water seedlings thoroughly about a day before transplanting.
2. Tread on the soil around the plants every now and then which will firm up the soil and make sure the plants don’t topple over in the wind. Like all brassicas, kale likes firm (as opposed to loose) soil.
Recipe of the Week – Kale Salad with Cranberries and Pine Nuts
I credit this recipe from Dorcas Barry with changing my attitude to kale permanently – she did a demo of this recipe at the GIY Gathering in Wateford years ago and I couldn’t believe how delicious raw kale could be. Massaging the kale with lemon juice effectively cooks it, and makes it far more palatable while retaining its nutrient richness. It will keep for three days in the fridge. Serves 4.
- 250g kale
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 25g dried cranberries, chopped finely
- 25g pine nuts, roasted
- 4-5 spring onions, chopped finely
- 2-3 stalks of celery, chopped finely
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
Remove the stalks from the kale and roll each leaf before chopping in to fine strips. Place in a large bowl, add the lemon juice and 2-3 pinches of sea salt. Massage the kale with the juice and salt until is starts to soften a little, making sure all the leaves are coated.
Sprinkle with olive oil and leave it to sit for another 10 minutes to soften further. Before serving, add the cranberries, pine nuts, celery and spring onion and stir well.
Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.