Kale. It’s everywhere. The preferred leafy green. The darling of the local food movement. The inspiration for “Eat More Kale” bumper stickers. I grow kale — six plants, started in February, planted out in early March, eaten as salad greens in April and for dinner in June. It is a lovely plant, until mid- July, when it attracts every aphid in a six mile radius. Then, the leaves curl up on themselves, warp, and wither. For years, I tried to kill off the aphids. I used the always recommended spray of water (big-time failure - Aphids do not wash off), soapy water (pain in the neck with intricate leaves), ladybugs (they flew off), and cayenne pepper. The aphids remained. When I asked Shepard Smith, our local compost tea guru, why I had so many aphids, he allowed that the plants had a weak aura that attracted pests, and that compost tea was the solution. I pulled the plants in early July and tossed them into the chicken run. Chickens don’t like plants covered in aphids, either.
The next year, I was reading the Territorial Seed catalog, one of my favorite January breakfast rituals. Their seeds are all tested about seventy miles from my house, so they grow in the Pacific Northwest. Collards. My partner Mark grew up in the south. He loved collards, especially cooked with a ham hock. I was prejudiced against the plants myself. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the collard patch rustles around the kids when they are sneaking up on Boo Radley’s house. Who would want to eat a leafy green that rustles loudly? But, for two fifty a packet, I added them to the list. An experiment. I started them inside in early April, with the chard and vines, and planted them out about a month later. I’m a convert.
No aphids in July. These plants stand up to hot weather and do not send out distress signals when the temperature rises above 80.
Winter hardy. My collards made it through this winter, which was bitter cold (zero to ten degrees Fahrenheit for a week). I had to trim away to dead leaves, but the plants survived. The kale did not.
Nutrient dense, especially when grown in organic soils.
Tasty. And flexible. It can be a tender young salad green or two huge leaves, chopped fine and sautéed in olive oil with garlic and a shot of vinegar, can be dinner. It is really good with black eyed peas.
Does not rustle.
Beautiful plant … the leaves are greeny grey, like most brasiccas, but they grow upward and curve inward, like hands at prayer, protecting the heart of the plant.
I still grow a few kale plants. I love them in the early spring, before the other greens are growing. The chickens consider their tougher, not buggy, leaves a treat. And, now that I am not trying to rescue them from aphids, they are doing better. I turn off the water in their raised bed by late July, when I’ve harvested everything. Some years, they hang out, tired and weepy, until late September, when the rains begin, and then put on new growth. And, until that happens, we always have collards.
To read more about the Twenty First Street Urban Homestead, check out my blog at http://21ststreeturbanhomestead.blogspot.com. To see more of Julia Lont’s amazing artwork, go to www.julialont.com and www.bluecamaspress.com.