All hail kale! This ‘super green’ can be grown in Alaska gardens

Thursday, June 13, 2019 - 10:54
  • Kale salad with chickpeas. (Anchorage Daily News file photo / Julia O’Malley)

Kale is a super green that grows well in our cool soils and is gaining in popularity. Historically, kale is thought to have originated in Asia Minor and was brought to Europe around 600 B.C. by groups of Celtic wanderers. Ancient Rome saw kale as an important vegetable of the peasant class. English settlers brought this vegetable to America in the 17th century.

Kale is known as borecole, which means “farmer’s cabbage” in Dutch and is a member of the brassica family along with cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. This popular green is not only nutritious and easy to grow, it is a beautiful vegetable in the garden.

Fiercely favorable, kale is used in smoothies, steamed and baked into chips. I like to eat it raw in a salad. There are many varieties that are available, with the most popular being Scotch kale, which has a frilly, tightly curled leaf. Lacinato, also known as dinosaur kale or Tuscan kale, has very pretty blue-ish leaves that make an excellent addition to your garden’s edible landscaping. The leaves of this variety have bumpy ridges and look like dinosaur skin. Red Russian kale has purple stems and green spiky leaves. Dwarf blue curled Scotch kale makes a delicious crunchy chip and is very good if picked when the leaves are small and tender. The larger the leaves the tougher kale becomes. At our house, we like the Siberian kale variety, which is tender and sweet. Kale also can be blanched and freezes well.

When growing kale, it is best to direct sow by seed. Kale grows quickly and germinates in 7-10 days. An ideal pH for Kale is 6-6.8 in a good soil rich with compost. Small leaves can be ready to eat in 20 to 30 days and full-size kale in 50 to 60 days. Preferring cool temps, kale grows sweeter in cool weather and becomes bitter in warm weather. This vegetable prefers full sun to grow well. When planting grown starts in the garden, space the plants 12-18 inches apart for optimal growth.

Kale reigns as a champion when it comes to nutritional goodness. A super food, kale has twice the vitamin C of an orange ounce for ounce. One cup of kale has over 1,000% more vitamin C than spinach. Kale boosts 133% of the vitamin A daily requirement. Kale beats milk for calcium content also. Some possible other health benefits include improving blood glucose in diabetics, lowering blood pressure, improving bone health and lowering the risk of cancer. This is a pretty significant resume, folks.

When harvesting, choose the lower leaves as this keeps the main plant growing and producing more leaves from the center of the plant. Younger, smaller leaves are great for salads; use the larger leaves in cooking by sauteing or steaming. The stems can be tough, and I generally cut them out.

Kale benefits from regular applications of a liquid fertilizer that’s higher in nitrogen during the growing season. An application of good compost keeps the soil moisture in and keeps the plant from drying out.

When growing vegetables from the brassica family, it is important to use crop rotation by not growing in the same place the next year to avoid soil-borne diseases and pests such as cabbage moths, aphids, snails and slugs.

Kale is definitely an acquired taste and while not everyone has experienced Kale, I hope this information has been helpful to you and has encouraged you to try this rock star of vegetables.

Chris Wood is a master gardener from Eagle River. Write to her at [email protected].

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