A Cold-weather Vegetable
Kale is a hardy variety of the cabbage family. Not only does the vegetable sprout forth giant, mystical leaves sometimes reminiscent of elephant ears or hundreds of ringlet hair curls, it also offers the following health benefits:
• High in fiber
• Rich in minerals that many people don’t get enough of such as calcium, (one cup of kale contains more calcium than one cup of milk), magnesium, potassium, and more iron than beef
• Contains more vitamin C than a glass of orange juice
• High in beta-carotene (which turns into vitamin A in the body)
• Contains many antioxidants (including lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that help protect the eyes)
Kale can be eaten raw or cooked, although many prefer the cooked version, which produces a less bitter, sweet and nutty taste. All kale varieties can make a colorful, nutritious addition to your winter diet. You can eat the leafy green:
• Cooked down and sauted in butter, salt, pepper, and garlic
• Oiled, crisped, and salted in the oven for kale chips
• Steamed with a little garlic and red wine
• Cooked atop a pizza
• Chopped and incorporated in soups, stews, or salads
• Blended into juices and smoothies
• Chopped and added to an omelet
According to the Old Farmers Almanac, it’s best to grow kale in the spring and fall. Kale can withstand all fall frosts, proving to be more rugged than some New Englanders. Frost actually makes the cool-weather vegetable sweeter. Sowing seeds in July or August can help avoid the flea beetle season.
These vegetable-bothering pests got their name because they look like beetles and jump like fleas (especially when approached). If flea beetles have infested your kale crop, you will notice small round holes in the plants’ leaves. The insect will be black, tan, solid, or striped, depending on the species.
To control flea beetles, the Fedco Seeds catalog recommends using floating row covers, mulching with straw, rotating crops, or perimeter trap cropping. The Old Farmers Almanac suggests a homemade remedy consisting of two parts rubbing alcohol, five parts water, and one tablespoon liquid soap to be sprayed over your kale leaves.
Other pests and diseases to beware when growing kale include:
CABBAGE ROOT MAGGOT
Cabbage root maggots feed and hatch under the soil, making them a difficult pest to control. They feed on cool-weather vegetables, making them more prominent in the Northern regions. These unpleasant creatures are white, legless, and about ⅓ inch long.
To rid your kale of cabbage root maggot, The Old Farmers Almanac suggests several anecdotes:
1. If you notice eggs (typically found at the main stem, ⅛ inch long, oblong in shape, and laid in rows), try digging up your plants and dragging their roots through cold water to rid them of eggs. Then replant.
2. If you notice flies in the air around your plants, run your fingers through the top layers of the soil to destroy any eggs.
3. Install “cabbage collars” to eliminate the possibility for egg laying.
CABBAGE LOOPER, DIAMONDBACK MOTH, IMPORTED CABBAGEWORM
To prevent these pests, the Fedco Seeds catalog suggests controlling cabbage-family weeds near crop fields and tilling under crop debris after harvest.
BLACK ROT, ALTERNARIA LEAF SPOT, BLACKLEG, CLUB ROOT, DOWNY MILDEW, WHITE MOLD
To avoid infestation from this group of plant-munchers, the Fedco Seeds catalog suggests avoiding transplanting plants with yellow leaves or v-shaped lesions, rotating crops, destroying crop debris after harvest, avoiding overhead irrigation, controlling weeds, and allowing for good air movement.
OTHER KALE GROWING TIPS
• Sow seeds about a quarter of an inch deep and an inch apart. Tem perature should be warm for germination and in the 60s for seedling stage
• Provide regular moisture (but beware of over watering) and feed kale well
• Harvest leaves from the bottom of the plant when they’re five to eight inches long. (Cutting out the center of the plant will stop growth.) Harvest in the early morning to prevent wilting and re frigerate afterward.