Many local gardeners had their worst year ever in 2012, with the near-constant rain washing away soil, waterlogging roots and washing the pollen from the flowers that should have become berries and fruits. We had high garden beds that drained our soil, but we still saw an explosion of enthusiastic slugs that ate most of our celery and cabbage. The kale, however, did fine.
Last weekend I took last year’s compost, now rotted to earth again, and spread it over the garden beds, so I had to take out all the vegetables. Most of them are at the end of their lives, anyway – we had some beetroots that were ready to become borscht, leeks that needed to become soup, and onions crying to be uprooted before they became goo. I left the kale, though – it was doing just fine.
Kale remains one of our hardiest crops, perhaps closest to the original seaside crop that gave rise to the whole cabbage family, from which gardeners bred cruciferous vegetables for their bus (Brussels sprouts), their heads (cabbage and bok choi), their roots (kohlrabi) and their flowers (broccoli, cauliflower).
One of the most nutritious of vegetables overall, 100 grams carries 50 calories but has 308 per cent of the day’s needed Vitamin A, 200 per cent of the needed Vitamin C and 1021 per cent of one’s daily needs of Vitamin K. It has high levels of calcium, iron, manganese and potassium.
Kale is also useful for when it appears; it can be grown and eaten year-round in our climate, but is especially productive when greens are needed, in the fall and winter. It’s even good fodder for the animals, too; the Irish Farmers’ Journal reported last year that more growers turned to kale as a feed crop, one that could be grazed from October until March and yields eight to 12 tonnes of dry matter per acre.
Kale can be sown from April to June – we put ours in small seed trays and keep them inside, and put them in the ground four to six weeks after they germinate. They need well-fertilised soil with a great deal of manure or compost added, but also need it to drain well. They are less prone to disease than the more heavily inbred cabbage varieties, but still shouldn’t be put in a bed where you have had cruciferous vegetables in the previous few years.
You can cook kale in many ways – as a simply boiled vegetable, sautéed like spinach, and even kale crisps instead of potato crisps. We often put it in bean soup – first we take dried beans and leave them in water for a day or two, and then boil them in water for an hour until the liquid is thick and reduced and the beans soft all the way through. While that’s boiling I dice and sautee a few onions in a pot, stir in other vegetables in season like celery, carrots, turnips, swedes, potatoes – all diced and then sautéed until slightly soft – and then add heaping quantities of washed and chopped kale. Finally, I add the beans and let them all cook together, until they are soft without being overcooked.
My favourite is probably the sweet-and-sour kale we make in our house. First lightly oil a pan and peel and dice a large onion. Toss the onion bits in and sautee them until they are yellow. Wash and chop about as much kale as will fit in a small pot – it will cook down, and the amounts don’t have to be precise --- and toss it in as well. Add a pinch of salt and stir frequently to make sure nothing sticks to the metal.
After the kale has shrunk and gone soft, drizzle it with several tablespoons of cider vinegar, and a tablespoon of honey, and stir it in. I like to add a bit of concentrated stock and cayenne pepper, or you can use balsamic vinegar to make it sweeter. These are general recipe outlines, of course -- see what formula you like best.