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Kale: A Fashion Statement

Cutting kale in my otherwise dormant garden -- New Year's Eve, 2014

Cutting kale in my otherwise dormant garden — New Year’s Eve, 2014

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a big fan of kale.  One of my first posts on this blog was about kale and includes a great kale soup recipe. The “KALE” sweatshirt that I’m sporting in the pic was a holiday gift from my daughter. I was a kale fan before it became trendy, and everyone in the world shouted its nutritional praises. While the nutrition is a great feature, that’s only part of the story.  Kale has more staying power than just about any vegetable in my central Connecticut Zone 5B garden.

The plants pictured here in my otherwise empty garden — next year I’ll get my season-extending tunnel covers in place — are Lacinato Kale, Brassica oleracea Lacinato — that I started indoors from seed late last winter and planted in the garden in late spring. They could have gone in much earlier; they are very cold tolerant and could have been direct seeded. I was late getting my garden going last year, but the extremely forgiving kale didn’t seem to mind. Despite begin cold tolerant — actually cold loving — kale grows happily all through the summer without bolting like spinach, arugula, and other lettuces will do. All summer long while I clip the outside leaves, the plant keeps growing taller and producing new leaves from the center.

I’m not the only creature that loves kale, so it’s always a constant challenge to keep away various types of caterpillars (especially cabbage loopers) and white flies. I launch multiple organic assaults on these pests including hand picking, Bacillus thuringiensis, and insecticidal soap, but this meets with only modest success. Mostly, I depend upon the established kale to produce so prolifically and there are enough greens for everyone.

Kale: A Survivor’s Story

Yes, “survivor” is the right word. As I pack in the rest of the garden and mulch it down with leaves, I just smile at the kale and know that it won’t give up for several more months. A frost or two won’t hurt it; nor will a snowfall unless it’s so heavy that it breaks the leaves or stem. The kale you see in the picture above has gone through a number of hard freezes. As long as you don’t cut it while it’s frozen but rather let the sun thaw it normally, it will survive well past the December holidays. I’ve been known to cut it in February.

Almost forgot to mention. If you don’t want to brave the cold weather, kale keeps well in your freezer! When it is at its peak in the summer, I’ll cut many of the leaves, trim away the center stem, chop, steam, submerge in ice water, spin dry and freeze. It will keep nicely in your freezer for about a year. Use as a side dish (see below) or for soup.

Kale: An Easy Side Dish

Kale chips and soup are very popular, but don’t forget one of the easiest kale presentations: steamed or sautéd. To prepare, wash the freshly cut leaves. Trim away the tough center stem, then chop into bite-sized pieces. Steam and serve as you would spinach, but about twice as long. Kale can be tough and needs to be cooked longer to soften it up. Drain well and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.

To  sauté, coat bottom of skillet with olive oil and heat until fragrant. Add a few tablespoons of pignolia nuts and heat until just browned. Remove from pan. Add prepared kale and  sauté until tender. Remove to serving dish and sprinkle with browned pignolia nuts. Note: nuts are optional. Also delicious with browned butter rather than olive oil.



it's not st. paddy's day, but at least the peas are in

According to my mother, my grandmother planted her peas on St. Paddy’s day. That was over a month ago, and I can assure you that there was nothing going into the earth here in Connecticut then. The only thing you could do that was remotely green, was drink green beer and look out the window at the dwindling snow piles.

like opening day, just no baseball

Finally, the snow is gone. It stuck around a long time, in part because there was so darn much of it this winter, but also because it’s been a very cold spring. Even today, which held promise for sunny and sixties, was not that warm and, frankly, not that sunny. But, never mind, I had my mind set on today being opening day at the garden.  Brendan, my “go-to” starter  when it comes to gardening, was here for a garden work day, and we were going to whip that sad heap of winter leaves into a real garden.

Joe DiMaggio said of baseball’s opening day, “You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.” That pretty well says it for opening day in the garden — after a long, cold winter, it’s like a party, except with dirt and seeds instead of cake and ice cream. And, unlike baseball, whose fortunes are tossed on whimsy, you can be sure that something wonderful does happen in your garden! You breathe some fresh air, hopefully enjoy a bit of sunshine, and savor the satisfaction of preparing that rich earth. Just that much can be good enough; now add to it the potential of little green shoots peeking out in a week or so — and the hope of fresh greens and other vegetables in the future.

or is it really spring training

spinach on right, planted last fall

spinach on right, planted last fall

As I explore this metaphor, it seems to me that the gardening that we do in March and April is really more like spring training — at least here in the northeast. We’re warming up our gardening muscles in preparation for the summer league, which is still more than a month away. We’re starting only the winter league vegetables now. Those cold-hearty, not-so-flashy, utility players like peas, spinach and other lettuces, potatoes, beets, and such. If you’ve been tending your winter garden under the cold frame, you may have some of these players already warmed up and practically ready to bat. Look at the picture of the spinach that I planted last fall in my cold frames. They had just sprouted before the weather turned too cold, and have been buried under several feet of snow all winter. It’s really amazing because the weight of the record-breaking snowfall shattered the glass lights.  The plants were not protected very well and some were pinned under the glass.

On the left side of the cold frame, I’ve planted arugula and salad bowl lettuce. Both of these seeds are very happy to germinate in cool weather. In the garden proper, we planted snow peas, two types of potatoes, garlic, beets, and radishes.

still in training

tomatoes in training -- getting a little fresh air

Memorial Day is really Opening Day in Connecticut. That’s when the summer garden stars like tomatoes, beans, corn, and peppers, will make their debut. They need warm soil, warm air, warm nights — you get the picture. Until then, they are still sitting on the bench. Here are some of the plants that I started from seed in January. I’ve repotted them several times, and some are quite tall. I’ve just started to condition them: taking them outside for short periods to get a little fresh air and sunshine — not too much of either. Like a pitcher’s arm, they need to warm up and get into condition before they can withstand a full day’s sunshine without sunburn or strain.

the log

Now’s the time to start the log for the year. Just like New Year’s resolutions, I vow to maintain and learn from my garden log each year. I’ll be depending upon all of you to keep me on task this season!

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