Wednesday, January 5, 2011


If you have never eaten kale, you are missing out on one of the most robust and nutrient-dense vegetables that thrives in the Wisconsin climate. Kale is a member of the “cole” or cabbage family and can be grown as a summer or fall crop. Kale, which looks most like its wild cabbage ancestor, comes in many varieties. Popular types include pale green, purple (red), dinosaur/lacinato, and ornamental (often referred to as “ornamental cabbage”). Leaves can be curly, plain, or ragged. All are edible. Kale has a cabbage-like taste and is a bit chewier/tougher than spinach or lettuce.

Kale’s real appeal, though, emerges through the array of vitamins and minerals it contains. Consider this: one cup of chopped raw kale contains about 684% DV of Vitamin K, 134% DV of Vitamin C, 206% DV of Vitamin A, 9% DV of Calcium, and 6% DV of Iron. Kale is also rich in magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese and is believed to boost DNA repair and prevent the formation of cancer cells.

Kale withstands cold and frost extremely well and has traditionally been a key fresh food eaten during the “hunger gap,” the period in winter when there is a scarcity of fresh produce. In fact, I harvested some frozen kale from my garden plot in early December 2010. If anything the cold and frost improved the flavor. Kale can be eaten raw or cooked in a variety of dishes. My most popular cooking uses include: 1) sliced into ribbons and served in a slaw-type salad with toasted pumpkin seeds, radishes, and feta or goat cheese; 2) chopped and served in a salad with apple slices, raisins, edamame, and a citrus-soy dressing; 3) sliced into strips and used as “lettuce” on tacos; 4) sautéed with minced garlic and olive oil and served as a side with potatoes or meat; and 5) added to soups in place of spinach. To find more culinary uses for kale, visit or

Kale seedlings can be planted 1-2’ apart in late March or early April. To grow kale from seeds, plant seeds in the cold of early spring for a summer harvest and/or mid-summer for a fall harvest. Kale makes a great second planting after an early crop of beans or peas is harvested. Seeds can be planted ¼-½” deep and about ½” apart in soil that has good drainage. Some shade is tolerable. Keep plants well-watered and thin out when plants are 6” tall. Thinned out plants can also be eaten and are a tasty and nutritious addition to a salad of baby greens. I find that pests generally avoid kale in favor of other items in my garden. However, if flea beetles or other pests become a problem, consider placing floating row cover over them until the plants are 1’ tall. Begin harvesting the larger lower leaves when the plants are about 1’ tall and before the leaves become too large and tough.

To store kale, wrap unwashed leaves in a moist towel and place in a plastic bag. Kale can be kept in the refrigerator in this condition for about a week. Before eating kale, it is generally preferable to wash it and remove the center stems from the larger leaves. To keep kale’s nutritional benefits intact, avoid boiling it and opt instead for steaming, stir frying, or sautéing it.