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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Cabbage Family Greens (page 2 of 2)

by National Gardening Association Editors


Kale used to be more popular in our country. Before the days of trucking lettuce thousands of miles to market, local growers provided some of the big Eastern city markets with fall, winter and early spring kale. It helped fill the need for fresh, nutritious greens.

Now kale is making a comeback. Kale is one of the very best greens if you're shopping for high vitamin and mineral content. It's sometimes called the "wonder crop" because its vitamin A and C content is so high. Kale even outranks orange juice in the vitamin C department. It is also loaded with cancer fighting chemicals.

Good taste goes hand in hand with its nutritional excellence. The leaves are tender and sweet tasting when harvested at the right time, which is after a couple of hard frosts in the fall. The leaves develop a tanginess that's hard to match. Don't stop harvesting when snow comes. The plants stay green and tasty - all you have to do is dig through the snow to get them.

Another peak harvesting period for kale is when the snow melts in the spring and the plants start growing again. The leaves are delicious raw, or you can cook them and use them like spinach.

Kale isn't a fussy plant. It simply needs well-fertilized, moist soil to get started. But like most cabbage family greens, after it comes up, you have to make sure it has enough moisture and you must thin the crop.

Kale doesn't like very hot weather - it's strictly a cool-season green.

For spring crops, plant as early as four to six weeks before the last frost. Plant again about 10 weeks before the expected date of the first fall frost for a late harvest. In the South you can plant kale later in the fall and enjoy fresh greens through the mild winter into spring.

A few weeks after planting, thin the plants so they're six to eight inches apart. Later, harvest entire plants to put a little more distance between the remaining plants and give them room to grow.

Don't worry about mulching kale as winter approaches. While cold weather does kill some of the plants, most survive and put on good growth the following spring. Well-drained soil is more important: It will prevent the plants from rotting in the early spring. Overwintered kale tastes good until the plants bolt with warm weather.

'Russian Red' and 'Blue Curled Scotch Vates' kale are the two common varieties. 'Russian Red' has a colorful red stem and red-tinged leaves, however, many people think that 'Blue Curled Scotch Vates' is the best-tasting variety. It also makes a nice houseplant in winter. Dig a couple plants up each fall, pot them and place them near a south-facing window. The plants lose some color, but the intricate shapes of the curled leaves are quite pleasing.

You might also try planting flowering ornamental varieties of kale, such as 'Red Peacock' and 'Tokyo Hybrid'. Their curly, green and maroon leaves are beautiful at the edge of the garden, and they also can be potted and brought indoors for the winter.

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