Hale and Hearty Kale
A potent superfood that’s now touted by celebrity chefs, kale is one of the few veggies that regularly crop through the coldest months. And, good news if you live on the Highveld, frosts only make it sweeter!
Why is it good for us?
In brief, kale is high in fibre, vitamin C (immune boosting), vitamin A (good for skin and eyes), contains more calcium per gram than milk, is full of iron (reputedly more so than red meat), and contains antioxidants that help prevent cancer. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. However, sufferers from irritable bowel syndrome are advised to avoid it because the very high fibre content can cause bloating. Raw kale (but not cooked kale) contains substances that can affect the functioning of the thyroid gland.
How to grow it
Kale is easy to grow because it tolerates cold, is disease resistant and is less troubled by pests than other brassicas. It grows up to 1m tall and is cultivated for its leaves, which grow from a central stem and are picked from the bottom upwards, always leaving the top four leaves as the growing crown. As the stem becomes denuded of leaves, space is created for other veggies to be grown at its base, making it a real space saver in small gardens. It can also be sown in August and September as a spring crop.
- Kale grows best in fertile, well-composted soil that is slightly acidic.
- Full sun is ideal, but plants also tolerate partial shade.
- Space seedlings 45-50cm apart and in rows 60cm apart.
- Regular, plentiful water is essential if the leaves are to be sweet and tender.
- Feeding monthly with a nitrogenrich fertiliser will also boost leaf production and quality.
- Mulch around the plants for weed control and soil insulation in winter.
- As the plants grow, draw the soil up around the stems to support them.
Like spinach, a few leaves are picked at a time from each plant, always making sure that the top leaves are left to carry on growing. The smaller leaves can be eaten raw in salads and larger leaves can be chopped and steamed or stirfried like spinach. Remove the tough central rib before cooking. Leaves stored in a plastic bag in a refrigerator will last 4-5 days. They can also be par-cooked and frozen like spinach
‘Chou Moullier’ is a common seedpacket variety with a taste that is a blend of cabbage and Brussels sprouts.
‘Black Palm’ (also known as Nero di Toscana) is an Italian heirloom variety that grows year round but is best when grown in winter because the cold enhances its flavour. With regular picking it starts to look like a small palm.
‘Dwarf Siberian’ is another very winter-hardy kale and originates in Russia. It is recommended for very cold areas. The leaves are very frilly.
‘Tronchuda’ is a loose-leafed variety that is associated with the Portuguese dish Caldo Verde. The flavour is robust and it produces an abundance of leaves that are harvested like spinach.