Kales of the unexpected…

Being keen on kale and partial to perennials, it won’t come as a shock to anyone that we are interested in growing perennial kale.

Kale seedlings

Kale seedlings – bottom left yellow-green is Asturian Tree Cabbage, top left with rounded leaves is Spis Bladene, most of those on the right are Daubenton. There are also a few purple sprouting broccoli around the edges, and tiny plants of Ragged Jack and Westphalian kale – sown at the same time but way behind the rest.

It proved quite hard to track down any for a while – on the rare occasions we managed to find a supplier it was out of stock, and once our move last year hove on to the horizon, we didn’t search too hard for a while. Of course the summer we finally got moving was also the year we got our first batch of perennial kale seed – Spis Bladene from the HSL, about which I’ve already written a couple of times because I’m so enamoured with it.

We left a number of plants behind in our garden and the new owner seemed keen to grow vegetables so I hope that she found them useful. It’s impossible to know and the subject didn’t really arise however (“OK Mrs Howse-Byer:  keys…stopcock…electricity meter…noteable brassicas” – come to think of it a page of useful, but not legally binding, information about the property should be an integral part of the houseselling process: think of all those things the garden it will take you a year or more to discover, along with “where to get bread and gin on a bank holiday Monday” and “which of the local pubs will fall least silent when you walk in to it”).

These days I don’t seem to be able to move without walking in to a perennial kale. Over the last year I’ve been involved in efforts to set up a local seed saving group; this has fizzled a bit, partly my fault, partly the weather dampening enthusiasm I think, but it is still hanging on and we hope to flourish next year. A number of the members successfully grow Daubenton kale and I’ve been fortunate enough to try some from one who grows it in his market garden, and has kindly offered to provide cuttings. I always expect perennial kale to be tough and perhaps an acquired taste/texture but this was very nice, not at all tough nor too strong.

I also managed to get some Daubenton seed, which is quite unusual, from the Heritage Seed Library this year. It is growing strongly and as to be expected the plants seem to be variable, which is very exciting. Alongside, I have some Asturian Tree Cabbage from Real Seeds – they don’t really tout this as a perennial but say it can last a couple of years so it is worth an experiment, and the leaves are a paler, almost yellowy green alongside the others.

I haven’t forsaken the annuals though. I’ve just about managed to resurrect some Ragged Jack which I saved from HSL seed a few years ago. Viability was very low which is probably a combination of the age of the seed and the fact that there were only one or two plants in my makeshift isolation cage (bamboo canes, net curtain and clothes pegs – I worry sometimes that most of my personal interests sound like a question on Mock the Week).  Of about 8 seedlings I’ve kept just two.

Finally there is one plant from 4 seeds of Westphalian kale sent to me by a friend. Neither of these varieties will be for saving, just for interest (and consumption!). If they make it through to next year and look like flowering we’ll harvest the flower heads for pasta – they are completely delicious and we like them best in a maraconi cheese where the mustardy bite is extremely useful.

Spis bladene cutting

Spis bladene cutting – growing well but suffereng from molluscs and caterpillars hence the moat!

Spis bladene remains with us in four guises; first, I’ve sown some more of the original seed allocation from 2011 (germination still excellent); second, at least two of our original plants from last year are resprouting; third, their main shoots have been struck as cuttings (thanks to @simiansuter for encouraging me to try these techniques), and fourth, I saved some seed from one of the plants that flowered (two plants flowered, one copiously and deliciously – I’ve saved seed from only this one, but hope for diversity’s sake it made the other’s acquaintance, nudge nudge wink wink). I don’t expect this to be very successful as you are supposed to have quite a group of brassicas to save seed from, but my experience with Ragged Jack shows that it’s worth a try, and who knows…I could have, in an unprepossessing brown paper bag in my airing cupboard, the key to kale’s future success in this sorry world of ours. Well, you have to have a dream, and there are worse dreams than those involving kale.

Now, back to Googling Taunton Dean…

Spis bladene reshooting from old stems

Spis bladene reshooting from old stems – these plants are now about 18 months old I think. The plant on the right is the one we allowed to flower and set seed so was cut back much later than the one on the left, and has only one shoot. The shoots are very vulnerable to snails when young, unfortunately.

Sources of Daubenton plants include Alison of Backyard Larder (http://twitter.com/BackyardLarder), Pennard Plants (http://www.pennardplants.com/products.php?cat=401) and Otter Farm (http://shop.otterfarm.co.uk/products/daubentons-kale). Or ask around; most gardeners like to share their plants and you may be able to arrange a swap.

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2 thoughts on “Kales of the unexpected…

  1. VP says:

    Fab post. I’ve yet to try Kale and NAH isn’t of the brassica persuasion. However, I am in possession of a Scandinavian cookbook which seems to specialise in kale recipes (including a couple of salad ones), so I’m hoping to lob a couple of them under the radar at some point 😉

  2. Bugs from Esculent Etc says:

    Thank you VP – that’s very kind. Some of our favourite ways to use kale are thickly shredded in stir fries, cooked dry in the oven (kale chips) or in bubble & squeak (which is probably too obvious a way!). It also goes OK in a curry (although most things do. Maybe not strawberries). Just after I made this post it came up on Eat the Seasons so you might get some more ideas there: http://eattheseasons.co.uk/Articles/kale.php – the great thing about kale if it winds up being only you eating it is that you can just cut/pull a few leaves for a serving at a time. And they are sooo pretty (and good small for the 52 Week Salad Challenge!)

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