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Dublin: 18 °C Thursday 6 August, 2020

GIY: My father-in-law still dismisses kale as cattlefeed - but these days it’s rightly valued as a nutritional powerhouse

Michael Kelly on the virtues of a relatively low-maintenance crop that tolerates even the harshest of winters.

Michael Kelly Grower

THERE’S A TWO track harvesting taking place in the veg patch these days. First of all you have the veg that are harvested once, in their entirety, like squashes, pumpkins, garlic and onions. But then, there’s also the ongoing, ‘rolling’ harvests – these are the veg that you either harvest as you need them (like salads, beetroot, potatoes and carrots) or the ones that need regular harvesting to keep them going (like tomatoes, courgettes and runner beans). In to this mix, and with a slight shift to more autumnal weather, we’ve also started to harvest kale.

My father-in-law still dismisses kale as cattle feed when he sees it growing in my garden, but the nutri-bullet generation have given it a hipster image makeover and it’s rightly valued now as a nutritional powerhouse. I see it as a relatively low maintenance crop that tolerates even the harshest of winters and I absolutely love the look and taste of the luxuriant dark green leaves of the Cavolo Nero variety.

Kale is, happily, less prone to (though not entirely immune from) some of the great brassica pests. A bionet cover is generally enough to keep pigeons and the doughty cabbage white butterfly away. I sow kale in June to ensure I have good hardy plants heading in to the winter and with a bit of luck, we get to harvest right through the winter in to March or even April of next year.

On the advice of our head grower Richard, I sowed kale direct in the soil this year, rather than in module trays as I’ve done previously. I then used the tender thinnings in the row as salad leaves (as quickly as 25 days after sowing), eventually getting to a spacing of just one plant every 60cm, with these plants being left to grow on for winter. At this stage these plants are about 3ft tall and are ready for more serious cropping. We harvest the leaves when 10-15cm long, starting at the bottom of the plant and working our way up. If you continue to take leaves from the lower part of the plant, it will continue to grow, producing new leaves as it does so.

Kale is featured as one of the veg in the second series of our TV show Grow, Cook, Eat. In addition to growing them in raised beds in the ‘TV garden’ at HQ, we also had great success growing Cavolo Nero in a window-box style container (outside). We were able to get 3 ‘salad’ pickings off the plants before getting a fourth proper kale leaf harvest later on.

The Basics – Grow Pea Shoots

The leaves and tendrils of pea shoots have a wonderful delicate pea flavour and are high in vitamins B1 and C. You can grow peas specifically to eat the shoots and because you are harvesting the little shoots at just 5 inches, it’s a fast-growing (3-4 weeks) crop that is perfect for container growing. You can grow them pretty much all year round, and a single seed tray will yield about a hundred shoots.

Fill a seed tray with seed compost, water well, and then sprinkle peas generously on top (about 1 inch apart) – then push them down in to the compost to about an inch depth and backfill the little holes. Place in a bright spot. Harvest with a scissors – you might even get a second harvest from the re-growth.

Recipe of the Week – Roast Squash with Caramelised Red Onions and Blue Cheese

Our first airing of a squash recipe for this year comes from our head chef JB’s mezze platter – a crowd-pleasing centre piece for a dinner party.


1 whole squash (butternut or crown prince or patty pan squash)
1 tsp of sea salt
2 tbs of olive oil
2 large red onions
1 tbs of organic golden granulated sugar
100g cashel blue cheese
100g crushed macadamia nuts


Halve and deseed the squash (keep the skin on). Place the squash, skin face down, on a roasting tray. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and drizzle with olive oil. Cover with tin foil and bake for 1 hour at 150˚C. Check with the point of a knife if the squash in entirely cooked.

Peel and chop the onions. Fry them on high heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil for few minutes and add the golden sugar. Leave the onions caramelising for few minutes and take off the heat. Take off the tin foil and cover the roast squash with the caramelised onions. Crumble the cashel blue cheese over the onions and sprinkle the crushed macadamia nuts. Turn up the oven at 180˚C and bake for a further 15 to 20 minutes.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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