Kale: The or­na­men­tal veg­etable

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Al­though kale is al­ready fall­ing off trendy menus it should be a sta­ple in any good veg­etable gar­den – or flower gar­den, for that mat­ter. It’s beau­ti­ful and nu­tri­tious both and it comes in many in­ter­est­ing va­ri­eties. Its only down­side is that rab­bits and squir­rels love it just as much as we do.

When it comes to most veg­eta­bles in Canada, we race to beat the cold weather, but for kale, the closer the frost, the sweeter the leaf. Kale ac­tu­ally tastes bet­ter when har­vested after frost. Even frozen stiff in the gar­den, it will come back just as sprightly after thaw­ing as it was in July. You can freeze your ear­lier har­vest for crisp tasty sal­ads or steamed dishes through­out the win­ter.

Con­versely, the hot­ter the weather, the more bit­ter and tough the kale. Keep it in the shade dur­ing the hottest parts of sum­mer, mov­ing it to di­rect sun­light as the weather cools. Add a lit­tle oil and vine­gar to re­duce any strong flavour.

You can start kale in­doors five to seven weeks be­fore the last frost. Out­doors, sow the seeds one half inch deep, six inches apart. You can sow as late as two to four weeks be­fore first frost. It needs soil tem­per­a­tures to be be­tween 40 and 70 de­grees F to sprout.

Plant kale with beets, cel­ery, herbs, onions and po­ta­toes but not with beans, straw­ber­ries or toma­toes. Very heavy clay soils or very light sandy soils can both af­fect flavour ad­versely. It likes a pH of 5.5 to 6.8.

You can start us­ing spring planted kale in May when the small leaves will be ten­der – gen­er­ally, though, it takes 70 to 95 days from seed to har­vest. When the plant is eight to ten inches tall, you can cut back the whole plant and it will sprout new leaves in seven to 14 days.

Called the new beef, the Queen of Greens, kale has been re­cently re­dis­cov­ered in the kitchen but peo­ple have been ap­pre­ci­at­ing this nu­tri­tious green all over Europe for cen­turies. In the Mid­dle Ages, kale was a sta­ple in the kitchen and was the most com­mon green veg­etable eaten. It was served in Italy as an in­gre­di­ent in ri­bol­lita soup and called cavolo nero; in Por­tu­gal it was chopped and mixed with po­ta­toes and called caldo verde. The Ir­ish mixed kale with mashed po­ta­toes and cream, nam­ing it col­can­non and in the Nether­lands a sim­i­lar dish was called boerenkool when it was mixed with ba­con. The Ger­mans made kale stew. Of­ten, it was served with sausages. In Scot­land, the word kale is slang for food. In The Sec­ond World War it was grown in vic­tory gar­dens.

Kale is packed with cal­cium, vi­ta­mins K and A (100 grams has 86 per cent of your daily A needs); is low in calo­ries, hav­ing only 36 in a cup. In ad­di­tion to a miner’s trove of trace met­als, 100 grams of kale is packed with only 5.63 grams of carbs; 1.9 grams of pro­tein; 76 per cent of your daily beta carotene needs and less than half a gram of fat.

Kale helps lower choles­terol (best when steamed); low­ers the risk of blad­der, ovar­ian, prostate, breast and colon can­cers. It is an ex­cel­lent an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory and an­tiox­i­dant and helps detox­ify the body. Eat one to two cups a week. Don’t overdo it. Kale con­tains some ox­alates that could have a neg­a­tive im­pact on those with kid­ney or gall blad­der con­cerns.

You can sim­ply sauté it as you would spinach or col­lard greens, steam it or eat it raw. Rinse it in cold wa­ter; chop stems into quar­ter-inch slices, leaves in half inches and let sit for five min­utes be­fore cook­ing. Sprin­kling kale with lemon first can help re­lease phy­tonu­tri­ents. Steam it for five min­utes. To eat it raw, add some bal­samic or red wine vine­gar, pine nuts and feta cheese with a few dried cran­ber­ries and some olive oil. You can make a hearty meal by in­clud­ing some cooked bar­ley or len­tils.

All kales are ed­i­ble, but they are of­ten used in slightly dif­fer­ent ways. Curly kale has ruf­fled leaves. It is dark green and has fi­brous stalks and a pun­gent, pep­pery flavour. Or­na­men­tal kale, also known as salad savoury, has green, white and pur­ple leaves with a mel­low flavour and a ten­der tex­ture. Di­nosaur kale, known as la­cinato or Tus­can kale, has blue-green leaves and em­bossed tex­ture, and is sweeter than curly kale.

Or­na­men­tal kale are colour­ful enough for the flower bed.

With it's hearty flavour, kale can be a healthy ad­di­tion to any meal.

A rain­bow of kale.

Lac­into Kale - aka di­nosaur kale, due to its tex­ture.

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