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All hail kale!

By Ralph E. Mitchell

I am going to have to repeat myself, but in addition to not liking red beets as a youth, I also did not like kale.  It was probably in the manner it was served, but my mother said that once I was grown up I would like kale!   Well, it did happen as predicted and I do like, if not crave this leafy green, to some degree.   I also like how they look as indeed kale is good in the diet and pleasing to the eye.  While locally collards may be favored over kale, this nutritious leafy vegetable has become a very popular over the past few years and is as easy to grow as collards.

Why should you like kale?  Well, it’s rich in iron, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K and grows so easily in the winter garden.  It is also one of those vegetables that you can pick over and over again as a new crop of leaves is regularly replenished.  I am eating mine now, but there is still time to get this green growing in your own yard.  Ready in seventy to eight days from seed, plant kale from September through February. You can also put in transplants and start harvesting in as early as fifty-five days.  I am presently growing ‘Red Russian’ which was ready for its first small harvest in about fifty days from seed.  I have also regularly grown ‘Blue Curled Scotch’ with great success, and even some ‘Tuscan’ (lacinato) kale with dark green, crinkled-textured leaves.  If planted too late, kale can have a tendency to bolt, or go to flower and set seed, as our weather becomes warmer.  Kale that bolts gets elongated and bitter.  Varieties you might find on the seed rack or seed catalog include ‘Dwarf Siberian,’ ‘Dwarf Green Curled Scotch,’ ‘Dwarf Blue Scotch,’ ‘Imperial Long Standing,’ ‘Siberian,’ ‘Spring,’ ‘Vates Dwarf Blue Curled’, ‘Winterbor’, and ‘Redbor’ .

The kale varieties mentioned above are attractive in their own ways, but there are types especially selected for color and ornamental splendor.  Ornamental kale does need some cool night temperatures of forty degrees to color-up.  As such, some transplants are actually pre-chilled in northern regions and then shipped to Florida for the winter bedding plant market.  I have grown them from seed locally with no problem in obtaining full coloration.  It is really just the colorful leaves that  make the display, not the true flowers.  Used in mass plantings or in containers, ornamental kale nicely complements cool season annuals.  There are many varieties to choose from including, ‘Pigeon Purple’ with wavy blue-green leaves and vibrant purple-red leaf veins, and ‘Glamour Red’ , noted for its excellent heat tolerance and purple-red frilly leaves. Seed catalogs generally have multiple cultivars to choose from, so feel free to expand your ornamental kale pallet.  While ornamental kale is still kale, it tends to be bitter, but does make an eye-popping garnish.

Kale is a double-purpose edible ornamental worth your time and attention.  For more information on all types of vegetables suitable for growing in our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf.  Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
Stephens, J.M. (2015) Kale—Brassica oleracea . The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions (2018) – Kale. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Park Brown, S. Treadwell, D., Stephens J. M., & Webb, S. (2016) Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

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