This year looks to be a better year for kale than last year, despite record drought and heat. Last year, the birds pecked and ate almost all of my seedlings soon after planting in August. I had very few spare plants for backup, so I had to start seed again and replant. It was the first of October before I got it replanted, and that was too late for it to make much growth. We did harvest a little this spring from some plants that made it through the winter. That was disappointing, because we really like kale.
This year, I got the plants in the ground on September 1st, and covered the whole bed with bird netting. Since we were leaving soon on vacation, I mulched the bed heavily with shredded paper, and watered the plants in well. When we returned from our trip 12 days later, the plants were thriving. It looks like 2010 may well be the Year Of Kale!
I had accumulated quite a bit of kale seed, and wound up starting five different varieties indoors under lights. This will be a good test of what produces well here, and what overwinters. First up is a long time favorite of mine: Red Russian. I love the look of this kale, and I know it tastes great and usually survives the winter.
Kale #2 is Red Winter, a variety from Hudson Valley Seed Library that is said to be a strain of Red Russian that is “tender and sweet throughout the growing season”. I don’t see much resemblance to the Red Russian, as our plants have no red coloration in either the leaves or the stems. That’s ok, because regardless of the color it’s a vigorous grower.
Kale #3 is the only hybrid in the assortment, a variety called Starbor. The plants are compact, with curly blue-green leaves. It’s been a good grower too. We will soon know how it tastes.
Kale #4 is another open-pollinated variety called Savoy Cross. It is a cross between Black Tuscan and Dwarf Scotch kale. The leaves are dark green and slightly ruffled. Nichols Garden Nursery says it is “exceptionally hardy”. We will see!
And Kale #5 is the beautiful Black Tuscan variety, also called Lacinato or “dinosaur kale”. These plants have been a bit slower growing, with dark blistered leaves on upright plants. I have found that this plant is not as hardy here as some of the other varieties, but we will give it some extra mulch and see how it does this year.
So far I haven’t harvested any of the kale. Since we have Swiss Chard and turnip greens to eat, I decided to wait for the kale to get frosted on, which will surely make it sweeter. Tonight they are calling for a heavy frost, with temps near 32F. I guess we may be harvesting kale any time now!