Every spring I dutifully set eight kale seedlings, four blue-green ‘Winterbor' and four ‘Redbor', into the well-enriched earth of one of our vegetable beds. Then, for the rest of the season—and well into winter—my partner and I enjoy the sight of their splendid crinkled foliage.
Highly decorative, kale is also extremely cold-hardy, a vegetable that can freeze solid, thaw out and remain perfectly edible; added to its virtues are ease of growth and a concentration of nutrients second to none. The flavour of this primitive cabbage cousin is robust; the trick is to find ways of cooking kale that make you want to eat it—rather than feeling that you ought to because it's so darn good for you.
Kale's botanical name, Brassica oleracea var. acephala, means "cabbage of the vegetable garden without a head." Close to its wild roots, it's an adaptable plant that makes the best of neglect but responds to organically enriched soil and steady moisture with vigorous growth. As testament to its hardiness, kale is usually the only vegetable still standing and edible by Christmas.
To enjoy a dish of this nutritious green in December—and before then, too—start with three or four seeds sown in 10-centimetre pots (a half-dozen may be enough) about a month before your region's average frost-free date. Place seedlings in a sunny windowor under grow lights, thinning eventually to one specimen per pot. During the week before transplanting, set the young plants outdoors for a few hours daily to acclimatize them.
Kale grows wide and tall, so space plants 40 to 45 centimetres apart, set a little deeper in the ground than they were growing in the pots; make sure they're firmed up, then water. Their roots revel in loamy soil well fortified with compost and/or dark, crumbly manure—a half-bucket of either (or a mix of both) for each plant is not too much.
To the organic matter add a palmful of blood- and bonemeal or other granular fertilizer formulated for vegetables, along with a handful of lime. Stirred into the ground, the ingredients create a zone of fertility for each transplant.