November 3, 2014

Get to Know Your Greens: The Kale Edition - Photo by Kevin Fogle (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

The best fall and winter crops to grow in your urban plot are greens. They require little maintenance and produce bountiful harvests with almost no effort. In this series on the “Garden in Front” blog, we’ll explore some of the best greens and suggest some of my favorite unusual heirloom and conventional cultivars that I love to grow for both culinary use and their visual aesthetics.

One of the most talked about greens the last few years has been kale. This trendy green has appears in unexpected and strange products from kale shakes to kale granola. When I grow kale, I tend to use it in more traditional culinary ways, and I appreciate the varied colors and shapes of kale cultivars.

Choose Your Kale

My two go-to kale heirlooms are Lacinato (my favorite) and Red Russian.

Originating in Italy several hundred years ago, Lacinato kale is sought after for both its distinctive taste and its bumpy, steel-blue leaves. This vintage variety is often referred to as dinosaur kale because some gardeners think its texture resembles reptiles’ coarse skin. Lacinato is a great choice for small gardens because it works double-duty as an edible ornamental with its long narrow leaves than can reach nearly 2 feet long. A staple in Italian cuisine from soups and stews to pasta dishes, it’s packed with nutrition and perfect for most culinary uses. Unlike some of the more hardy kale cultivars, Lacinato can die back after a few very hard frosts.

Red Russian kale is another delectable heirloom. While it’s unclear where Red Russian kale originated, this visually stunning heirloom features purplish-red stems with frilly, dark-green leaves. This is perhaps the sweetest kale cultivar and is hardier than the Lacinato kale, which means that fall crops can often survive well into winter. The thin leaves of the red Russian kale make it a great choice for use in fresh salads or quick sauté dishes.

Grow Kale

Directly sow kale seeds eight to 10 weeks before the expected frost-free date in the spring or six to eight weeks before fall’s expected first frost. Plant seeds every 10 inches about 1/4 inch deep in rows spaced 2 feet apart in full sun or partial sun.

Kale grows quickly. Young leaves that can be harvested about 30 days after planting, and mature foliage about 60 days after planting. The flavor of kale will be greatly enhanced by cold weather, so wait to to harvest fall greens after the first frost.

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