Kale was one of a very few fresh vegetables available in the winter months. Perhaps for this reason, alongside the fact that many kales can be pretty tough and bitter once vegetables could be imported it fell heavily out of fashion.
Thankfully in the 90’s the River Café, one of the best Italian restaurants in the UK reintroduced to kale in the form of Cavolo Nero. When the craze for “Superfoods” started, brassica’s especially kale suddenly became trendy again and kale smoothness all the rage.
Whilst Cavolo Nero is still my favourite for eating because of it’s deep greed glossy leaves and rich taste, whitefly find it irresistible and it’s bobbly underside leaves offering a bit of shelter become infested. For that reason I’m always on the look out for good alternatives. Red Russian is shaping up to be a viable option.
I usually do an early march sowing of kales, in pots and plant out in April and find that they continue producing right through until the end of April. If you want baby leaves for salad or you soil is poor you might want to do another June sowing. Plants should be 50 cm apart and protected from birds and butterflies with netting. I find planting African marigolds under brassicas helps keep whitefly off because they attract hoverflies and their smell seems to discombobulate aphids. They are also pretty and a good covering helps keep down weeds.
In the kitchen
Although not the same deep, glossy loveliness it’s soft green uncurled leaves are tender to cope with minimal cooking and it has good flavour. it’s purple ribs provide a pretty contrast so it looks good on the plate and the plot. Leaves and stalks can be used in smoothies. If cooking you might want to remove the tougher end of the stalk.
Yield and plant health
Plants are healthy, a little slug and caterpillar damage. very little aphids compared to Nero and any that there are can be easily washed off. Four plants will provide enough for all but the most avid of kale eaters. If you are trying to be completely self sufficient in vegetables over winter then you will need more and may also need to cover them to keep them growing through very cold snaps.
You can start kale in pots in a green house or outdoors. Sow in Spring from March all the way up to early summer, 1cm deep. In pots sow 1-3 seeds in a 3 inch pot. Outdoors sow thinly in rows 15cm apart. Thin seedlings to one every 7cm or 1 per 3 inch pot. Water lightly until it is time to plant out.
Brassicas can fall victim to cabbage white butterfly or birds. Kale seems a bit less preferred but if you are netting other brassicas then it might be better to shelter your kale too.
In April/May once the plants have several true leaves plant out in final positions. Kale are not too fussy about where they go but they do need a firm soil so you might struggle with a very sandy soil. They will appreciate a feed of blood fish and bone or another organic fertiliser in the spring and a mulch to conserve water.
Pot grown plants will need a period of a week being moved outdoors during the day and brought inside at night to harden off. Plant 40 – 50 cm apart, firming in well to stop the plants rocking in high winds water in well and make sure that they are well watered until established. After this water only if it has been dry for several weeks.