It has taken most Australians quite some time to discover the old European vegetable kale. This primitive vegetable, in the same family as cabbage, was cultivated back in Roman times and for many centuries was the most widely grown green vegetable in much of Europe. Kale is extremely nutritious and can be grown and harvested throughout the winter months. Well-established plants can tolerate our highlands frosts.
This is a vegetable high in vitamin A and C, iron and calcium. It also contains lots of beta-carotene and lutein. Kale is a vigorous plant, reaching maturity in about two months. Young leaves can be harvested after just five to six weeks. With plenty of bushy leaves, allow 40 to 45 centimetres between plants.
City folk are turning in numbers to kale as a health food and adding it to juice blends. To prepare your health juice, take three medium organic carrots and one cored organic apple, and blend. Then blend in two or three kale leaves along with two sticks of celery.
Kale chips can be made by tearing the large leaves into smaller sections and dipping them into olive oil mixed with paprika and chilli powder. Place them on baking paper and bake in a moderate oven for 15 minutes.
Kale is quite easy to grow during the cool autumn and winter months. We had some plants come up from the seeds of last year’s crop and they transplanted easily. Give the little seedlings a watering of liquid seaweed solution at the time they are transplanted. You can also plant the seeds directly into prepared garden beds that have been boosted with a generous addition of compost. Plant just one centimetre deep.
The young, tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads and added to mesclun mixes. Keep picking the outer leaves regularly and you will have a long harvest season. Leaves of mature plants need to be cooked and are best steamed.
Kale is a wonderful addition to soups and casseroles. It can be served as a substitute for spinach, lightly sauteed with olive oil, as an accompaniment with steak dishes.
Cavolo nero or the black Tuscan kale is tall, thin, heavily savoyed and dark green. A favourite of families and many restaurants, this variety can be harvested after 30 days for use in salads.
Red Russian is another favourite. It has pretty leaves with large frilly edges, bluey green in colour but also tinged reddish purple. Redbor grows a mass of frilly deep red purple leaves. Blue curled Scotch kale has finely curled blue green leaves with a peppery cabbage taste. These varieties are all hardy plants for winter growing.
Like other brassicas, kale will often be attacked by the white cabbage butterfly, with eggs being laid on the underside of the leaves. You can use Dipel, the biologic control that contains rotenone. More simply, just check the leaves of your plants every few days and physically remove any caterpillars and eggs.
This week in the garden
Plant strawberries into a hilled-up row that has been enriched with plenty of compost.
Plant out winter lettuces, rocket, cabbage and spinach seedlings.
Plant out advance onion seedlings.
Build a deep bed in which to plant asparagus crowns.
Enjoy brisk sunny winter days by preparing new garden beds for springtime plantings.
Continue winter pruning of fruit trees and old-season brambleberry vines.
Spray citrus trees with light winter oil to smother leaf and scale pests.