Until I got an allotment I don’t think I’d ever eaten, never mind grown, kale. I was given some seed by another allotment holder, and used it to fill some space. When the time came to harvest and eat the kale, I realised that I’d been missing out on something. Now I’m a convert and have it growing in the garden for most of the year. An early sowing gives me young leaves to add to salads or stir-fries in spring and summer, then in autumn and winter there are bigger leaves to use in soups. This year I’m growing two kales – ‘Red Russian’ and Cavolo Nero (black cabbage). They’re both easy to grow, are low maintenance and just keep on producing leaves for months at a time. And they look good too, the leaves of both are ornamental and would sit just as well in a border surrounded by flowers as in the veg patch.
The leaves I’m picking now are from plants sown in March and April – started off in modules in the greenhouse. They soon grew into nice little plants and were planted out in May. They’ve taken the wet weather in their stride, while all around them the lettuces and beans are being decimated by slugs, the kale plants are producing lots of leaves. To keep things going, I’ve just made another sowing in modules to go out in the veg patch when the first plants run out of steam, although I’m leaving some of them to bulk up and produce leaves for autumn pickings.
There are just two things likely to spoil the kale harvest – pigeons and caterpillars. A determined (and hungry) pair of wood pigeons can strip a row of kale of anything worth eating in a short space of time, I learned this from experience. Netting works well to protect the tasty leaves – something with a fine enough mesh to keep the butterflies out, because, while they will happily eat the kale, our chickens show no interest at all in eating caterpillars crawling all over it.
Later in the year, the cavolo nero leaves will make a fantastic warming soup – ribollita, perfect for the cooler days of autumn. I would be making it right now for the cooler days of mid-summer we’re having, but the leaves aren’t big enough yet. So until they’ve grown one of my favourite ways with kale is to sauté the young leaves in oil with chilli, garlic and root ginger and serve them as a side dish or tossed with noodles for something more filling. Do you have a favourite kale recipe?