Gentle Reader. It has been awhile. So. I think we need to have a chat about growing kale, don’t you?
But first. Look at what I’ve been busy with. 🙂
So many of my gardening dreams have come true in this hoop house that we built four years ago. There is no heat in there, except for solar heat on sunny days. I have experimented this year in pushing the seasonal growing envelope in new ways. For instance, see the pansies and violas in the hooped frame above? I planted those last September! It was just an experiment. But it actually worked out very well. They sailed through our winter (admittedly, a very mild one) with just a couple of pieces of plastic tossed over them when it got especially cold.
I’ve been picking edible flowers and selling them to restaurants in the city for nearly two years now, and with those fall-planted pansies and violas, I can now say that I grow–and harvest!–edible flowers twelve months out of the year. In the likes of Nebraska, mind you! This is a fun discovery for me. You know, of course, that I enjoy growing things very much indeed. 🙂
Every year–every season, even!–is a big experiment, which is part of what I love so much about gardening. You don’t ever have every puzzle figured out. Well . . . I don’t. What works well one year may fail miserably and humiliatingly the next. This keeps gardening from getting boring or predictable. It gives me something to ponder, when I wake up in the middle of the night! It keeps me from getting arrogant or know-it-all-y, too.
Gardening . . . it is that boy in high school, the one that you can’t figure out if he likes you or not, so you can’t stop thinking about him. Will he turn your way, give you a winning smile, and then ask you out on a bonafide date? Or will he turn his back and go the other way, slipping his arm around that saucy blond cheerleader? (I’ll admit it’s a bit of a stretch, but if you think about it long enough it might make sense!*cough*)
Edible flowers aren’t the only crops that are very happy in my hoop house in this early spring, getting to the point of this post (with a sheepish *wince*).
Here comes the point in this post where I need to give a bit of credit-where-credit-is-due. I feel a little squeamish taking the credit for these fabulous cool-weather greens that are growing so beautifully in my hoop house. I had planted spinach and a few other experimental greens in plug trays in January, but then we dived into Melodrama Season, and I knew that gardening would take the back burner to this:
. . . for most of January and February (happily, but still).
Our annual melodrama is a delicious black hole that sucks me in–it always is a bit of a surprise, but shouldn’t be!–and then spits me out, dazed, exhausted, and amnesiac, afterwards.
My mentor Gene sent me a note in early January. I’m pretty sure he knew that my brain was lost in Melodrama LaLa Land, but that I would also rue the day, in early spring, when all the set pieces were stowed away and the stage make-up and costumes were packed back up into the attic, that I didn’t have any early spring greens ready to plant. His note was: I’m planting a few varieties of kale in plug trays. Want me to plant you some?
Gosh, how could I refuse? Well, that’s simple. I couldn’t. I don’t refuse any plants that I am offered! That’s why this place is such a busy jungle.
So in late February, when Gene gave me the dear little plugs of kale, he also gave me a few lettuces and some endive and a few other lovelies to trial. I was happy for a reason to get down in the dirt in my hoop house and plant, exhausted (post-melodrama) and brain-dead as I was. I wasn’t sure how happy all these little plants would be during the winter months, but just in case, I put hoops over the beds, and pulled plastic over them at night (and during the day, when the temperature dropped).
The combination of a mild winter and the protection from the hoop-and-plastic coverings inside my hoop house combined for (it seems) pretty ideal growing conditions for these cool weather crops.
And now in early April, I have a lush supply of greens, to sell to the restaurants that we do business with in the city, but also to bring in to my kitchen. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Yum. Every single blessed day.
(The kids: “Salad for dinner . . . again!???“)
Okay. Now to the crux of the matter, and the raison d’etre of this post!
Here it is:
If you like to grow kale in your garden, try growing baby kale this year. There are so many reasons for doing this!
- Baby kale is tender and sweet, compared to the stiffer and more bitter mature kale. You can toss it, as-is, into your salads and stir-fries and soups.
- Bugs that are such a pain with cole crops are not as much of a problem when you pick the leaves when they are still small. Also this is true when you grow early in the season, before the bugs have gotten a foothold.
- You can use baby leaves in any recipe that you use the mature leaves in, and you don’t need to massage them! (My dad calls mature kale “Scotchbrite.” By the way. I thought you’d enjoy that.)
- Baby kale is ready to pick and eat much earlier than mature kale.
- You can pick and pick and pick (and pick!) baby kale. It just keeps putting out those tender little leaves. Until . . until . . . until . . . why, I don’t even know how long it will do so!
I plan to grow the mature kale in my garden this year, too, (because of that massaged salad recipe above!) but I am totally captivated with these baby leaves. I have been buying them in big clamshells at the supermarket for some time now. I was very happy to discover how easy it is to grow them!
And I just knew that you would be, too!
Want to try your hand at growing baby kale? It’s soooo easy: I just know that you’re going to want to make space in your garden this spring for both baby and mature kale!
Here’s how you do it:
- Early in the season, plant the kale seeds in plug trays or pots, inside. (You can also plant seeds in your garden, a couple of weeks before your frost-free date. One variety of kale is fine, but if you like, plant several varieties (see the picture above for the reason: so pretty, eh?).
- When the weather is appropriate for your area, and the baby plants are ready to transplant (like the ones in the photo above) plant the plugs about 4-5″ apart in a prepared garden bed. (I really like to make raised beds, if possible.)
- Water and protect the little plants as necessary. (When the temps outside dipped below 40 degrees F, I would toss a sheet of plastic over my little baby plants. Otherwise, they were On Their Own. That was in my hoop house, which is more protected, of course, than an open garden bed.)
- When the kale leaves are about as big as your palm, begin to harvest. Harvest the outer leaves, leaving the inner leaves to grow.
- The kale plants will continue to grow, putting out those tender little leaves, with the center stem growing taller and taller.
Now, if you come back and check here in a few days, I’m going to post my very favorite kale salad recipe: a recipe so good (it came originally from my sis-in-law, Paula) that you will crave it like crazy, once you taste it. Craving kale? Now that may be a new experience for some!
Thanks for popping in, chickie. And hey. I do have a giveaway going on right now, so if you haven’t entered, you may want to! It is for some of the most beautiful glass jars that you’ve ever seen! Check over here for the particulars.