The Herald - The Herald Magazine
Gardening with Dave Allan
KAIL is on message. It’s one of our tastiest, most nutritious, spaceefficient and stunningly attractive vegetables. No longer only fit for cattle and peasants, this popular crops finds breeders falling over backwards to produce ever more fanciful varieties.
Kail – or kale to use the standard English spelling – is so tasty that I’m happy to fight off the slugs and graze on tender young leaves straight from the plant.
But there are several different ways of cooking it and I’m told you can even enjoy a kail smoothy.
However you prepare it – assuming you don’t boil it to death in water – you’ll find it’s crammed with health-giving nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, iron and anti-oxidants.
Kail is the star of my kitchen garden, the leaves of these tall, elegant specimens display an astonishing range of shape and colour. Marginally frost-tender Emerald Ice is first off in the autumn.
It has light green, frilly leaves and unusual white ribs. Picked young, the sweet, mildly nutty taste is unsurpassable.
Like most kails, Red Russian takes any winter in its stride.
I love its aptly coloured ribs and broad serrated leaves and grow it next to the slightly smaller, much darker green Cavolo Nero di Toscana.
Then there’s Dwarf Green Curled and its red partner, Redbor. The list goes on and on.
With kail’s ever increasing popularity, breeders have got in on the act. When you’re trying out their latest varieties, choose with care. They’ve often been crossed with other brassicas.
Flower sprouts are fantastic. I find myself growing more of these kail-sprout crosses every year. They produce small, open, sprout-like buttons. Cooked whole, their frilly leaflets treat the palate to a range of textures and an outstanding taste.
Flower sprouts come into their own largely after Christmas and keep going well into the spring. Unlike sprouts, which form a delicious top, their crimson-leaved cousins keep growing upwards, producing a steady harvest.
Like traditional kails, flower sprouts reach at least 90cm, but some modern crosses are much lower-growing.
Pink Vane Candy Floss and Buttonhole Starmaker are cabbagekail crosses, so are cabbage-sized, reaching 30-40cm. To make matters worse, these hideouslooking plants form one-off heads.
They negate kail’s major asset.
Kail normally harvests over a long period in autumn and again in spring, so more than justifies the space it requires: it pays its way.
As a pick and come again crop, there’s absolutely no wastage, which is essential when we’re all trying to reduce food waste and don’t have ducks, wormery dwellers and composters to deal with it like me.
April is the month of the big brassica sow, with mid-late May planting out time. In milder parts of the country, you can sow and plant a little earlier, but it all depends on the weather and crops can mature earlier than you want.
But don’t sow kail any later than April, whatever seed catalogues recommend.
The plants have a lot of growing to do and, with a shorter growing season than the south of England, later planting in this country results in small plants.
If ordering plug plants by mail order, check that they’ll be dispatched no later than mid-late May. I saw one firm delivers kail plants from July onwards, which is hopeless here unless you want micro-kail.
Since “real” kail plants reach 90cm and more, plant at least 60cm apart in moderately fertile soil.
Use cabbage collars to ward off lethal cabbage rootfly. It’s best to buy collars because home-made ones can be less effective, I’ve found.