Kale is a rather humble plant. It is a brassica, a form of cabbage that is of the same species that includes broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. It’s also considered to be closer to wild cabbage than the other domestic forms. Because of this, some varieties are in fact gigantic, ugly-looking, coarse, or indigestible.
However, there are cultivated varieties that are more compact and are tender, with good eating quality. In my opinion, kale has a ‘buttery’ texture and flavor when properly cooked (it doesn’t need long cooking). Other kales have been bred to have showy interior leaves and are referred to as ‘flowering’ kales (though these are not flowers – kale flowers are small, stalky, and mustard-like). These kales are also just as edible as any other, though they can be trimmed and displayed as if they were a flower as well.
Growing kale is fairly easy. It requires no fertilizer or maintenance to speak of other than weeding if your plot gets choked with them. It needs a reasonably broken up/cultivated soil (I have had no trouble with it even in my very rocky or clay soil areas), and its seeds shallowly buried about a half inch deep in the dirt. You can try spacing the seeds or thinning the young plants out for better appearance, but I have never actively done this and I still get amazing yields. My kale plants have never been bothered by any significant insect pest or disease, and deer browsing was quickly recovered from. However, I advise ground planting – kale grows in containers, but has not done nearly as well for me. If you try one, I would suggest keeping it well watered and in cooler areas or shade if grown in the height of summer. It greatly prefers cool temperatures.
I have grown three varieties – Early Curled Siberian, Red Russian, and Blue Curled Scotch/Vates. All are a medium sized plant, slightly wider than they are tall, growing to about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet in height. The Siberian kale has moderate ruffling/curliness to its leaves, while the Scotch has very curly leaves. Both have a bluish tinge, or their green color may seem muted with white. Red Russian has a different type of shape to the leaf entirely, almost appearing cut and tattered on the edges, or ragged. It has an attractive purplish or maroon color to its stems and veins, and the color deepens and spreads to leaf surfaces during cold weather.
Cool weather… speaking of that, kale thrives in it. Frosts and freezes do not kill it, and in fact, kale tastes sweeter after it has been exposed to frost. In all the years I have planted it so far, at least some of the plants have survived the entire winter without protection. This includes winters with up to 3 feet of snow at a time, and occasional temperatures down into the double-digit negatives. I am sure that if it was protected in some way, it would have a good survival rate even in these conditions. This past winter, mild as it was, ensured that my entire row survived, even though a few nights had temperatures in the single digits. These plants are still producing edible leaves. If left alone this season, they will bolt, or go to seed. Sometimes I let them do this and collect the seed, but this year they will likely be tilled under and replanted before they get the chance to finish.
Kale is very high in nutrient content. A simple search can give you all the info you’d ever need to know about this fact. It is low in calories, with only 30-40 in a cup, but is rich in vitamins K, A, C, and E. It also has a reasonable level of calcium, iron, Omega-3s, and several others from copper to potassium. It also provides plenty of fiber and antioxidants, and contains compounds suspected to be anti-cancer, such as sulforaphane.
Young kale can be eaten raw or in salads. More mature leaves can also be stir-fried, chopped and added to soups or stews, or steamed, braised, or boiled as a cooked vegetable. It freezes nicely, and can be stored very well that way after a quick blanch in boiling water.
Another use that is rising in popularity is kale chips. This involves tossing the trimmed leaves with a little oil and the seasonings you desire, and then placing in a dehydrator for a few hours or until crisp. The temperature I use is between 115 and 135 – it isn’t too sensitive, and lower temps just take a bit longer. The finished product is then stored in an airtight container. The oil adds a bit of fat, but the natural goodness of kale and the ability to control the seasoning makes these snacks a healthy alternative to potato chips. They can also theoretically be done in the oven at a normal oven temperature of around 350F, but I’ve never tried it so I cannot speak for the result. The procedure is basically the same, but baking takes only 10-15 minutes.
My favorite method?
Simply steaming and serving with butter.
Kale also sells well for me at my farm stand. Its popularity is returning as word of its food value spreads. People love seeing that a stuffed plastic grocery bag is offered for only $2, and even after multiple bags were picked out of it, my kale was none the worse for wear, quickly growing new leaves to replace those lost.
… and, my young chickens go nuts for it, meaning kale is a source of entertainment as well.
What more could one ask for?