You will find this
useful source of winter and spring greens listed
in all the catalogues as kale or borecole, but
you will not find it in all gardens. In fact only
a small minority of gardeners in the southern
counties bother with it, and this Cinderella status
seems surprising when you consider its advantages.
The hardiness of kale is unexcelled by any other
vegetable – there is none of the heartache
of seeing all one’s hard work destroyed
by a sharp and prolonged frost. Unlike other brassicas
it will tolerate poor soil conditions and is rarely
troubled by those dreaded enemies of the cabbage
family – pigeons, club root and cabbage
root fly. Despite all these good points it is
generally rejected, and the reason is the bitter
taste of the end product. Some of the old varieties
were more suited to feeding cattle than the family
and the average gardener picks the leaves and
shoots when they are far too large. Choose a good
variety and pick the greenstuff when it is young
and tender – cook it properly and you will
soon lose your prejudice against this underrated
Expected germination time: 7-12 days
Approximate number per ounce: 8000
Expected yield per plant: 2lb (1kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 4 years.
Approximate time between sowing and cutting: 30-35
Ease of cultivation: Easy – but there is
the chore of transplanting
· Kale is much more accommodating than
the other brassicas, such as cabbage, cauliflower
and brussels sprouts. It will grow in nearly all
soils provided that the drainage is satisfactory.
· Pick a reasonably sunny spot for the
site where the plants are to grow. As the seedlings
are not transplanted until June or July, it is
usual to use land which has recently been vacated
by peas, early potatoes or other early summer
crops. Do not dig – merely consolidate the
ground, remove any weeds and rake in a little
fertilizer. Lime if the land is acid. The ground
should not be loose nor spongy at planting time
– that is the only rule.
Sowing and Planting
· Sow very thinly ½ in (1cm) deep
in rows that are 6in (15in) apart. Cover with
· Thin the seedlings to prevent them from
becoming weak and spindly. They should be about
3in (7cm) apart in the rows.
· The seedlings are ready for transplanting
when they are 4-6in (10-15cm) high. Water the
rows the day before moving the transplants to
their permanent quarters. Plant firmly, setting
the seedlings with their lowest leaves just above
the soil surface. Leave 18in (45cm) between them
– water after planting.
· Rape kale varieties are sown where they
will grow to maturity. Make the seed drills 18in
(45cm) apart and thin in stages to leave 18in
(45cm) between the plants.
· If you want greens before Christmas,
sow a variety of Curly-leaves kale in April. For
later cropping sow Leaf and Spear or Plain-leaved
kale in May. The correct time for transplanting
is governed by the height of seedlings rather
than the date, but usually mid June to early August.
· Thin in stages to leave 18in (45cm) between
· Rape kale is sown in late June. For later
management of the crop see Sowing and Planting
Cutting time: usually December to early April;
can extend from November to early May.
Looking after the crop
· Hoe regularly and tread firmly around
the stems to prevent them from rocking in the
wind. Water the young plants in dry weather.
· Pick off yellowing leaves. As autumn
approaches earth up around the stems to protect
the roots from frost and wind rock. Stake tall
varieties if growing on an exposed site.
· In winter the plants may look a sorry
sight – don’t worry, in early spring
there will be a crop of fresh side shoots. Feed
with a liquid fertilizer in March to encourage
· There is more skill involved in harvesting
kale than growing it. With curly kale start at
the crown of the plant from November onwards,
removing a few young leaves each time you pick.
Use a sharp knife or a sharp downwards tug. Do
not gather mature or yellowing leaves for kitchen
· This stripping of the crown will stimulate
the development of succulent side shoots. These
are gathered between February and May from all
varieties, breaking them off or using a sharp
knife for their removal. They should be 4-5in
(10-12cm) long and young – mature shoots
are bitter when cooked.
These ‘Scotch’ kale s dominate the
seed catalogues and are much more popular than
the other types. Each leaf has an extremely frilled
and curled edge, giving a parsley-like appearance.
Dwarf Green Curled: The usual choice for the small
plot – the 1 ½ -2ft (45-60cm) plants
do not require staking and the leaf flavour is
as good as any.
Tall Green Curled: The grown-up version of Dwarf
Green Curled – sometimes listed as Tall
Scotch Curled. Suitable for freezing, as are all
the curly-leaved varieties listed here.
Frosty: The baby of the group, growing only 1ft
(30cm) tall. Very reliable – an excellent
choice where space is limited.
Westland Autumn: Another dwarf which will provide
leaves from November to February. No kale has
Spurt: One of the new varieties which seems to
cross the neat boundaries between the various
types of kale. It has a curly leaf but it can
be grown without transplanting, like rape kale.
It is ready for its first picking within two months
of sowing. Dwarf and quick-maturing – kale
has come a long way in recent years!
These tall kales tend to be coarser than the curly-leaved
varieties, but they are extremely hardy and prolific,
and they are easier to keep pest-free. Eat the
young shoots in early spring – not the autumn
Thousand-Headed Kale: Quite widely sold by seed
houses, which sing the praises of the side shoots
for picking and cooking from February onwards.
You would do better with Pentland Brig.
Cottagers: The plants are quite tall – 3
½ ft (105cm) high with leaves which turn
bright purple in winter. Once again it is the
early spring shoots which are eaten.
Rape Kale varieties
These kales provide young tender shoots between
March and May, and are not grown like other varieties.
They are sown where they will mature, as they
Hungry Gap: A late cropper, like all rape kales.
Robust and reliable, producing shoots which are
suitable for freezing.
Asparagus Kale: The rape kale variety to grow
where space is limited. You will find this variety
in the textbooks, but you won’t find it
in many seed catalogues.
Leaf and Spear varieties
There is just one variety – a cross between
a curly-leaved kale and a plain-leaved one. Its
arrival was heralded as a new era for the lowly
kale – if you can grow only one variety,
pick this one.
Pentland Brig: Plants grow about 2ft (60cm) tall,
and their kitchen use differs from other kales.
Pick young leaves from the crown beginning in
November – they are fringed but less so
than a curly-leaved kale. In early spring harvest
the leafy side shoots and later gather the immature
flower heads (‘spears’) which should
be cooked like broccoli. A versatile vegetable,
Kale is remarkably resistant to most major problems
such as cabbage root fly and club root, but mealy
aphid, whitefly and cabbage caterpillar can be
a nuisance. Spray with Crop Saver at the first
sign of attack. Also see Brassicas.