Heirloom Seeds: How To Grow Kale

Article spotlights heirloom varieties include Red Russian Kale as well as how to grow kale and cooking kale.

| July/August 2015

  • Russian Red Kale
    The distinctive purple stem heralds the great-tasting Russian Red or Ragged Jack kale.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; www.RareSeeds.com
  • Fringed Kale
    Ornamental Fringed Kale resembles a frilly flower. Good as a garnish, this fall plant is perfect for cooking.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; www.RareSeeds.com
  • Scarlet Kale
    Nutritious Scarlet Kale can handle cold temps.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; www.RareSeeds.com
  • Nero Di Toscana Kale
    Nero Di Toscana Kale is an Italian favorite.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; www.RareSeeds.com
  • Red Russian Kale
    Red Russian kale is a tender yet hardy variety.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange; www.SeedSavers.org

  • Russian Red Kale
  • Fringed Kale
  • Scarlet Kale
  • Nero Di Toscana Kale
  • Red Russian Kale

Recently kale has become the vegetable poster child for eating healthy. Without a doubt, it deserves approbation for being a great source of vitamins, minerals and fiber, and for containing anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. Its beauty, ease of cultivation, hardiness and good taste make it an essential vegetable for the kitchen garden and the table. 

I don’t remember why I decided to plant my first crop of kale. I direct-sowed the seed in late spring, and most of the seedlings outgrew the assault of flea beetles. After thinning, I left the plants to expand their bouquets of blue-green frilly edged leaves. By late summer, I decided to try a few of the older leaves at the bottom of the stem and steamed them. They were pretty tough and leathery. I wasn’t too sure about the merits of this plant. Fortunately, I persisted, steamed up some delicate younger leaves, and today kale graces my garden every year. If I could grow only one vegetable, kale would be that singular plant.

Kale belongs to the family Brassicaceae and is characterized by its four-petal flowers, often yellow or white, arranged in the shape of a cross. This family includes such edibles as arugula, broccoli, cabbage, horseradish, mustard, radish, rutabaga and turnip

It is a member of the species known by its Latin binomial as Brassica oleracea, which includes five or six different forms or groups. Those groups are further divided into subgroups, all of which are collectively known as cole crops.



In the Beginning

Wild Brassica oleracea is a short-lived perennial originating on rocky limestone cliffs in coastal northwestern Spain, western France, and southern and southwest Britain. A number of closely related species capable of interbreeding occur in southern Europe and northern Africa. 

Cultivated kale is a biennial, flowering in its second year after a cold period. Plants may persist for a number of years, especially if their flowers are repeatedly removed in the spring.






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