Fall Finery: Grow and Cook Kale and Spinach

Grow and cook a bunch of different fall cooking greens, like kale and spinach, and use them in these tasty leafy green recipes.

| October/November 2014

  • Try growing spinach and kale in your fall garden to see why many gardeners and cooks consider fall the best season for leafy greens.
    Photo by Barbara Damrosch
  • Cut spinach leaf by leaf, taking just a few leaves from each plant to keep the crop producing. Keep beds tidy.
    Photo by Barbara Damrosch
  • Use quick hoops to make a simple shelter to protect and grow greens all winter.
    Photo by Barbara Damrosch

Leaves may be falling from the trees now, but if you’ve planned well, abundant fresh ones currently color your garden green. Leafy green vegetables love fall, and their flavor improves in cooler weather — especially if grown without synthetic, high-nitrogen fertilizers. For kale and spinach, whose sugar content rises as the temperature falls, this is the best season of the year.

Our approach to greens has changed since the days of long boiling in a pot, the obligatory dab of creamed spinach next to a steak, and the generic iceberg lettuce salad. You can grow many different kinds of greens in your garden, and the distinction between salad greens and cooking greens has all but vanished as cooks gain finesse and become attuned to the flavors and textures of this nutritious fare.

Growing Kale and Spinach

Sow kale and spinach as late in summer as you can get away with, typically in late July or August, so they reach maturity before a hard frost. Both will tolerate a freeze, but their growth will slow, even with the cold-tolerant spinach varieties, such as ‘Space’ and ‘Winter Bloomsdale,’ and the hardiest kales, such as ‘Winterbor.’ Even more indomitable are the stemless kales, such as ‘Dwarf Siberian,’ which hunker down for warmth rather than growing tall. (For more detailed guidance on which varieties to choose, see Winter Gardening Tips: Best Winter Crops and Cold-Hardy Varieties.)

Both greens will bolt when spring comes, but by then you may have a new crop of each coming along. In areas with harsh summers, both kale and spinach will take a break during the hottest months, but here on the cool Maine coast, we can eat them year-round. We have three methods of protecting both crops in winter: growing in a cold frame, growing beneath quick hoops (also known as low tunnels) covered with plastic or fabric row cover, or growing under a layer of row cover inside a small, simple plastic greenhouse. In mild regions, you may be able to get away with a covering of hay or straw — or nothing at all. (You’ll find more guidance for growing kale and spinach in our Crops at a Glance Guide.)

Harvesting Leafy Greens

Kale’s large, upright leaves make cutting it a snap, while harvesting spinach takes a little longer. Try picking spinach with a small, sharp knife in one hand as your other hand collects cut leaves and drops them into a nearby bucket or basket. Note how both plants keep growing by sending up small new leaves from the center. The more regularly you pick, the more new leaves they will produce. Cut large leaves for cooking, smaller ones for salads. Always leave at least a few leaves on the plant so it can continue to grow. You must also keep the beds tidy, not only by weeding but also by removing any yellowed or otherwise unusable leaves, as well as any long stems left after picking. This keeps the plants healthier, nicer to look at and easier to harvest.

9/30/2014 5:16:32 AM

The cabbage worms get my kale every year now, and I try to pick off the white eggs and squish the worms, but I never seem to win out here. I cover the plants with Reemay, but I guess I don't get it done soon enough, and I lose most of my crucifers to these darned worms. Again this year I have 2 foot tall Kale and they are lacy and inedible.



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