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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.



spring, really?

Christmas present -- today's garden

Christmas present — today’s garden

Yes, the calendar declared that spring had arrived two days ago. The day before that, we got several inches of snow along with sleet, freezing rain, and an abundance of grouchiness. If we’re really lucky today, the mercury will climb to 40 degrees, but then we’ll dip into the teens. The next several weeks don’t promise much of an improvement. My grandmother always put out her peas on St. Paddy’s Day. That wasn’t about to happen this year, as you can see from the “Christmas Present” picture! For gardeners, this is the “dark night of the soil.” What can you do? Read on…

Christmas past -- or better, Christmas future

Christmas past — or better, Christmas future

take solace in seeds

Despite the blanket of white that covers my garden, I must believe that there is hope packed in my newly acquired seed packets along with my future heirloom Pink Brandywines. The instructions say “Start indoors in a well-lighted area 6–8 weeks before planting outdoors.”

If I can believe those resources that track weather and frost dates, I should feel confident that my tomatoes will need to be ready to face the world in late May. And that means, dust off the seed starting trays, clear the south-facing window, get your seed-starting soil, and launch the gardening season!

why start from seeds?

While I can’t pretend that growing your veggies from seeds is more economical than buying your plants, it does have its benefits:

  • More variety — just look at any seed catalog. The options are many for almost any vegetable, but when you look at the tomato pages, the options are mind-numbing! Whatever you want — slicing, sauce, salad — early, mid-, late-season — heirloom, hybrid — organic, conventional — red, yellow, pink, purple, streaked — it’s available.
  • More control — there is great comfort in knowing where your plants have been and if they’ve been exposed to some nasty virus or fungus while traveling across country
  • More fun — maybe not for everyone, but for me, watching the seed germinate and then grow is the perfect elixir for the late-winter blues.

so let’s start some seeds

You can make this as complicated as you want with germination mats, custom plant boxes,  fancy grow lights and such, but the seed starting page give you a basic (less-daunting) guide to getting your hope springing. The important thing to remember is to have fun doing this. If this is your first foray, start small and simple. Don’t be tempted or guilted into buying more “stuff” than you need.

and now there’s hope

these seeds have just popped!

these seeds have just popped!

these seeds have their plastic cover during germination. The legend tells me which plants are in which cells -- very helpful!

these seeds have their plastic cover during germination. The legend tells me which plants are in which cells — very helpful!

a reprieve from the shop lights, these guys got to enjoy a few days of "real" sun

a reprieve from the shop lights, these guys got to enjoy a few days of “real” sun

these seedlings are over a month old and just ready to graduate to a slightly larger pot

these seedlings are over a month old and just ready to graduate to a slightly larger pot

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