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KALE

Love it or hate it (is there no room for ambivalence anymore?), the feelings you harbour for kale seem to hinge on how long you’ve known it, the relationship you’ve shared, or how much you enjoy butter and garlic. I grew up knowing it by a much sexier alias, cavolo nero, and that may very well explain my fondness. If you have lived in the UK and tried your hand at allotment gardening, for example, you’d know that kale is about the only thing that survives during the winter. In these cases, it may trigger memories of cold and wet semi-darkness, infused with the scent of boiled kale seasoned with silent tears. Or so we imagine.

For many of us, however, kale probably emerged on the scene along with acai and goji berries, riding a superfood wave of adoration straight to our hearts. Whatever your experience, there is no denying its abundance of nutrients, reliability and hardiness. Kale is a productive winter staple.

As a member of the brassica family, it is especially hungry for nitrogen, so try to plant in a site previously occupied by beans or peas. Similarly watch out for the white cabbage moth and consider netting plants early in the season when the moths are active laying their larvae.

PLANTING

Propagate seeds in a seed tray and then transplant to the garden once seedlings are approximately 10-15cm tall. Feed with fish fertiliser immediately after planting and the cover with fine insect netting.

WATERING

In ground: Water daily for the first 4 weeks and 3-4 times a week in the absence of rainfall thereafter. More frequent watering may be required during the warmer times of the year.

In Pots: Water daily while establishing and for the entirety of the warm season, otherwise every second day – after they are 4 weeks old – if growing during the cooler times of the year.

MAINTENANCE

Transplant into the patch on a day that is not too hot and space out at half of that required for mature plants. Net the plants to prevent damage from white cabbage moth.

After a month thin out the seedlings to required spacing and mulch with pea straw, lucerne hay or sugar cane to a depth of 3–5cm.

Begin to harvest leaf by leaf in moderation around 10 weeks, ensuring you leave enough foliage on the plant so it can reproduce. If conditions are now suitably cold, netting can be removed as the white cabbage moth won’t be as active.

After 16 weeks, production is usually in full swing – continue to take leaf by leaf but on a more regular basis. Plants can be picked for over a year and will grow long and tall stems that become bare through picking. Aphids and other sucking pests, as well as the moths, will eventually return to decimate the crop, signalling its end.

HARVESTING

Time until first harvest: About 10 weeks.

How to harvest: Snip individual leaves, selecting the outer, more mature leaves first.

TIP

Net your kale during the peak times of the cabbage moth, that being late spring and early autumn. Failing this you can use fake cabbage moth sticks to deter the territorial moths, or dipel to get rid of the caterpillars.

WHEN TO PLANT

Cool/Mountainous: March - May + September - December
Temperate: March - June + August - December
Subtropical: March - December
Tropical: April - September

BEST GROWN FROM

Seed – propagate in trays and transplant into the patch

POSITION

Full sun but will benefit from shading in warm weather

DEPTH

1 cm

SPACING

50 cm

IDEAL PH LEVEL

5.5–7.0

SOIL

Ensure your soil is nutrient rich so prepare it with fresh manure and compost a fortnight before planting. Integrate good levels of organic matter to increase its water holding ability.

BEST SUITED TO

Pots, in-ground

GROWING IN POTS?

<30cm

POLLINATION

Not required

CHILL FACTOR

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