You are probably already familiar with the ornamental kale that is a poplar plant for fall planting in the garden and in containers. You may even pluck a few of the crisp, crinkly leaves to garnish your food platters, or add to your fall floral arrangements. But did you know there are many cultivars of this ultra-cold-hardy, leafy green vegetable that are great additions to fall and winter menus. Some types have tender leaves perfect for salads. Others are perfect steamed and served simply with butter or perhaps vinegar, with salt and pepper. The Scotch Curled types (‘Vates Blue’, ‘Winterbor’, ‘Redbor’, and ‘Lacinato’) are very popular. Some cooks prefer the broader, smoother leaves of the Russian or Napus types (‘White Russian’, ‘Red Ursa’, “Winter Red’). Some of these are readily available from local seed suppliers, some you may have to purchase through mail-order seed companies.
Kale is an elite member of a highly nutritious family of foods known as the “dark-green leafy vegetables”. Kale is a good source of vitamin K, folic acid and beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the liver. Dark leafy greens also are exceptionally high in other carotenoids, including zeaxanthin and lutein, which are powerful antioxidants that protect against degenerative illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease and age-related macular degeneration.
Kale also has been touted as one of the best vegetable sources of calcium. Research on calcium’s role in human nutrition sheds even more light on how important kale, collards and broccoli can be—in order for the body to assimilate dietary calcium, magnesium also must be present in a meal. Dairy products are rich in calcium but have relatively little magnesium. Guess what? Kale and its relatives have substantial amounts of both nutrients.
Now, do you need any more reasons to sow a few kale seed this fall? These plants can be easily grown in big containers, if you don’t have a little plot of land to sow a full blown “sallet patch.” Incorporate some slow-release fertilizer in your container or bed before sowing seed. Your crop of kale should mature for harvest in 50 to 80days. You can begin to harvest individual leaves just as soon as they are big enough to eat—just don’t pick them all at once! Remember the flavor improves after the cold night temperatures, so be patient.
If you grow a selection of the Scotch Curled type you may want to try this recipe for “Krispy Kale,” a snack created by Kim Blanchard of Rock Spring Farm in Highlandville, Iowa. Take a bunch of fresh kale leaves, chip into 2 inch pieces. Toss with olive oil (I prefer canola oil) and kosher salt, place on a jellyroll pan. Crisp in a 375-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Yum
Lelia Scott Kelly, Ph.D., writes Garden Tips weekly and is a Horticulture Specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Her office is in the North Mississippi Research & Extension Center, Verona.