Sunday, March 13, 2016

Collards and kale in your garden

Potted kale, petunias and Egyptian walking onions

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Kale is not only beautiful, it is good for you!  Kale is chock full of antioxidants, beta carotene, lutein, vitamins C and K, and calcium.  It also contains compounds that are potent against cancer, sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol.  Nutritional info
Kale was the first to be domesticated from the ancient cabbage family of plants.  The Celts were the first to cultivate these greens, causing the birth of kale, broccoli, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi.  

Collards are a uniquely American vegetable that has always been associated with the South and appeared in the late 1700’s.  Thomas Jefferson’s favorite kale was a variety similar to a Siberian kale.  He also grew a variety similar to today's Tuscan kale, also known as dinosaur or black kale; a very striking plant to have in the garden with its long, dark blue-green and bumpy leaves.

Most kale is a biennial, but there are still perennial varieties if you can find the seed.  Perennial varieties include tree collards, walking stick kale, western front kale, Dorbenton kale, and sea kale.  

Dwarf blue curled kale
If you want to save seed from the biennial, you have to allow the kale to go through one winter, allow to flower and dry on the plant.  Kales cross easily with other kales and collards so if you want true to type, grow only that kind in your garden.  Flowering kale have pretty yellow flowers and the bees love them!

There are many colors and textures of kales.  There are the “dinosaur” kales which have a blistered, black appearance, red kales, green kales, dwarf kales, green, red kales, and ornamental kales which are edible.  Some are more winter hardy than others.  Check seed packets for descriptors like "winter hardy" and "cold tolerant".  Those grown in the fall are sweetest if picked after a frost.  Fall garden planning and planting

Kale is generally a fall crop but can be cultivated in the spring.  They can be started indoors or direct seeded in May (soil temp of 55-75 degrees F).  They prefer rich soil and should be kept moist until sprouted.  Sow seeds 1/4” deep and 4-6” apart, thin to 12”.  If planting rows, allow at least 18”.  I have also had great success raising them in a pot. 

Several varieties of kale come available as bedding plants in March.  There are also a couple varieties of collards.  Both can be planted into beds and pots in our Zone 6 garden now.

For fall, plant around Independence Day (July 4th).The kales I planted last fall are still alive.  I had several different kinds planted in pots.  Kale is very cold hardy. 

You can harvest the outer leaves when they are 8-10” long for cooking or juicing.  You can also harvest the leaves when smaller for salads.  Store at 32 degrees and high humidity in the frig for the longest life.

One of the fun ways to prepare kale is to salt and dry in a dehydrator or low temp in the oven.  They can be eaten as you do chips, but are much healthier.  You can also eat the new leaves in salads or saut√© or steam the larger leaves.

For any that I don't eat fresh, I blanche and freeze to add to a steamed veggie side dish or to soups.  You do need to blanche kale and other greens to maintain the tasted.  Freezing the extras for winter

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