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Kale, the Power Vegetable (page 3 of 5)

by Frank Morton

Exciting New Kales

In the seed trade, the most prominent new B. oleracea kale is 'Redbor F1', a stunning 3-foot-tall hybrid from the originator of 'Winterbor'. Its warm-season growth is a mass of well-curled reddish leaves with deep purple veins, which turn a solid, deep violet in cool weather. 'Redbor' is everything you would want in an ornamental cooking kale: showy, vigorous, and healthy. So how is its flavor-- When it was lightly steamed and tasted against the ancient 'Lacinato' and the genetically diverse Wild Garden kale (see below), three adults and two children judged it a distant third.

The first kale I grew was 'Siberian', a B. napus variety with gray-green ruffled leaves and great hardiness; it's widely grown as a winter crop in the southern United States. 'Red Russian' came into my life a few years later, about the time I began saving seed. My first cross between these two soon appeared, and their undisciplined progeny soon infiltrated my garden, my commercial salad greens, my meals, and my seed collection. By now, these progeny have been sorted into a number of varieties that are among the newest kales in the seed trade.

For instance, National Gardening vegetable variety testers chose 'Red Ursa' as one of this year's top 10 new varieties. This red-veined, ruffle-margined kale is an intermediate form between 'Red Russian' and 'Siberian'.

Montana-based Garden City Seeds introduced my 'White Russian'in 1996 after two years of trials proved it to be the only kale to overwinter in the company's test garden. It was also the only kale to thrive after repeated winter flooding at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, Oregon, where the seed is produced. Field crews at both facilities voted 'White Russian' the best-flavored kale.

Renee Shepherd was the first seed dealer to test my Wild Garden kale. Wild Garden kales are not really a distinct variety; they're a strain, or what I prefer to call a "gene pool," derived from the original cross between 'Red Russian' and 'Siberian'. Wild Garden kale includes about as much diversity as you can work into a packet of seed, so much so that other unique varieties have been produced from it. Examples are 'Purple Rapini', a flat-leaved, purple-veined kale that makes prodigious spring shoots, and unnamed, frilly green or violet forms that resemble the kale engravings from Vilmorin's The Vegetable Garden. Among Wild Garden kales, you'll also find savoyed (curled, wrinkled), puckered, and fringed leaves in every hue from gray-green to lime to violet to red.

Years ago I gave friends at Gathering Together Farm a sample of Wild Garden kale. Out of that, they selected their favorite red types, with leaf forms from flat to ruffled to frilly, and saved seed. The result is their Wild Red kale, an open-pollinated strain that they have sold for years at wholesale and local markets. Bunches of Wild Red look like vegetable bouquets on the produce rack, and they're great examples of kale's genetic diversity being put to commercial advantage.

You can do the same. A packet of Wild Garden kales is an opportunity to experience the genetic diversity of kale, then select and save seed of the types suited to your own place, purpose, and flavor preferences.

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