Magical Kale

I’ve never understood the attraction of cabbages or Brussel sprouts; every time I’ve attempted to grow them they either succumb to pests, usually slugs ( that’s the cabbages)  or the sprouts fail to develop or blow overnight. This last year I broke my resolve never to grow cabbages again; I was seduced by the promise of trouble-free cabbage production in the HSL (Heritage Seed Library) 2011 catalogue. I was wrong. Here is the best of my Delaway cabbages:

This sorry specimen will no doubt be populated by a horde of slugs when I pull it apart to cook. I cut the heads off all the cabbages, leaving the lower leaves; clusters of small leaves will then sprout from the leaf axils in spring. We will see. The other cabbages I grew were Asturian Tree Cabbage; more like a kale than a cabbage, it doesn’t produce a head but you pick the leaves as you want them.

While my attempt at growing cabbages was a disaster this year, the kale has been reassuringly sturdy, withstanding gales & plummeting temperatures. I cleared all the large, damaged & unusable leaves in mid-late December. The weather here on the South Downs has been mild, in contrast to the last 2 years of deep & repeated snow falls & lower than usual temperatures. 2 years ago I had to strip all the kale plants of their main leaves as they had all frozen & subsequently collapsed into green slush. It wasnt until mid-January (14th/15th) that  temperatures started to plummet & the ground was frozen.

I grow a range of kale & there are a huge variety of leaf types, from thin, smooth & pale green to tightly curled, tinged with red. Below are pictures taken mid-January.

  • Red Ursa (a tightly furled variation of Ragged Jack) has survived pest damage well & there’s little waste from the leaves.
  • Sutherland Kale produces lots of lovely thin leaves, & cooks down quickly; the leaves can grow quite large before they’re too tough to eat.
  • True Siberian has been disappointing this year with a lot of pest damage to the leaves & even quite small leaves have been too tough to eat. I’m hoping the spring-flowering sprouts will make up for this.
  • I sowed some heritage kale seed last June; Madeley has been exceptionally productive, rivalling Sutherland for large, yet edible, leaves
  • Vate’s Blue Curled Kale was the other heritage variety I tried & it has withstood pests brilliantly; has tightly curled leaves with little or no pest or frost damage.
  • Asturian Tree Cabbage , once all the storm & pest damaged leaves had been stripped back , is also proving to be a productive crop. The leaves are very like Sutherland or Madeley, only larger & lime green; they also have a more cabbagy, yet still delicate, flavour
  • We also have a few Cavolo Nero, or Black Tuscan Kale; the outer leaves have suffered pest damage, but the new leaves are fine. I’ve chopped the tops off the plants to encourage new growth from the leaf axils. Black Tuscan produces wonderful flower sprouts in the spring to rival Sprouting Broccoli – you wont find these sprouts in the shops, either.We’re at least guaranteed a harvest of greens through until April/May. Then the flower sprouts will grow faster & flower before we  can pick the sprouts; yet, still amazingly productive. Do sow some kale seed this spring.

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