Food & Drink, Vegetable Garden

Kale … a very hardy veg … and not just for the livestock

November 30, 2010
Kale - A Hardy Vegetable and Not Just for the Livestock

Curly Kale – August

Since we first started growing vegetables we’ve grown kale.  Usually the curly variety but last year we tried a rape kale variety too – namely Ragged Jack.

I was therefore slightly bemused when talking to some pig farming friends about veg and they looked horrified when I said we grew and loved to eat kale “mam used to grow that for the pigs years ago, can’t imagine eating it”….

Well I’m delighted to say that you can! And it comes into its own at this time of the year.

It’s extremely hardy, surviving harsh conditions that send Brussels sprouts gooey and broccoli limp, and like parsnips it tastes better for a good frost.  We’ve been picking leaves from this year’s crop since August, and all being well expect to right through to April or May.

30 November 2010

Kale is in the Brassica family and you’ll sometimes see it referred to as Borecole.

One of our daughter’s hates it, preferring Calabrese, the other loves it, hating Calabrese so we have all angles covered if we grow both.

It’s hard to describe the flavour… it has a stronger flavour than Calabrese – more cabbagey.  My hubby describes it as “a veg you know is doing you good when you eat it – irony without the bitterness”.  I guess that’s because it’s full of vitamins – especially vitamin C and iron.

So how do you prepare it for the table?

First of all don’t just grow one plant, grow several and pick a few leaves off all the plants rather than stripping one bare. Cut the centre of each plant first to encourage fresh side-shoots.

On a day-to-day basis I just strip the leaves from the harder stalk, steam the chopped stalks first before adding the leaves for about 15 minutes.  Kale can be stir fried too, or added to curries.

Alternatively, the smaller, more delicate leaves can be eaten raw and added to a crisp winter salad, but it’s more usual to cook them.

Colcannon Recipe

Colcannon (sometimes known as Kailkenny) is a Celtic dish that traditionally uses kale, although many people now substitute it for cabbage.  It’s delicious served with roast or grilled meat dishes. To make it you’ll need the following:

approx 400g kale
1 chopped onion
150ml milk
approx 400g mashed potato
50g melted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Strip the leaves from the stalk

Shred the leaves from the stalk (the midrib) and wash in cold, running water. (In the late summer/autumn months take special care to wash out any hidden caterpillars).  Steam the leaves in a steamer for about 15 minutes, or if you don’t have one, place them in a pan of boiling water and cook for a similar time, adding salt to taste.

Drain thoroughly then chop the kale finely with a sharp knife.

Whilst the kale is cooking, place the chopped onion in a pan with the milk, boil then remove from the heat, cover and infuse until the kale has finished cooking.

Blend the mashed potatoes and kale together in a pan over gentle heat and add enough of the milk and onion mixture to give the consistency of creamy potatoes.

Seed bed

So how do you grow it?

It’s very easy to grow… just sow the seeds directly into well-drained alkaline soil that was manured for a previous crop. For Kale sow in April and Rape Kale in July.

The easiest way is to sow the seeds where they’re to grow, spacing them about 60cm (2ft) apart, sowing a few extra in case slugs eat some of the seedlings.  Alternatively sow them in a seed bed 5cm apart and transplant them to their final place once there’s space.

Hoe often to keep weeds down and protect from slugs and caterpillars, which are their main pests along with cabbage root fly.

When the plants start to flower, pull them up and compost them.


  • Reply Margaret November 30, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    I first 'discovered' kale last year when I bought some young plants from a plant stall. They did really well,much better than the brussels sprouts. I found them a really useful vegetable. I stir fried them and used in soups.
    I grew my own from seed this year and tried a different variety which is doing well.

  • Reply Greenside Up November 30, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    It's great to hear we're not the only Kale eaters Margaret! I haven't saved the seed yet but may leave some to go to seed this year and give it a go.

  • Reply Mr. H. December 1, 2010 at 2:41 am

    I first discovered kale about 12 years ago, never even heard of it before that. Now, like you, we are avid growers of any brassica that we can grow…especially kale. I think your Ragged Jack is what we call Russian kale and it is perhaps my favorite variety of kale. I will have to try your Colcannon recipe, it sounds like something we would really enjoy.

    Being half Irish, I am always curious about crops that were grown in Ireland in days gone by. Do you know whether or not kale is something that was commonly grow in Ireland in the past or is it a newer crop?

  • Reply Greenside Up December 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Hi Mr H. You're right about Ragged Jack – I've heard it referred to as Russian kale and Black Russion too. I wasn't sure about the history of Kale in Ireland so I googled it and found a book you might be interested in:

    A New History of Ireland: Prehistoric and early Ireland By Theodore William Moody, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Francis X. Martin, Francis John Byrne

    In particular the following link in the book about growing vegetables here (hope this works, you can probably cut and paste if not):

    I was especially interested to read that Kale has been grown here since at least c.800 and heading cabbage not until the 17th century! Charlock was very popular too and in the neolithic diet! Perhaps that's why it grows so well for us!

  • Reply Mr. H. December 2, 2010 at 1:42 am

    Thanks so much for the link it was very interesting and I was surprised to hear that they might have also grown broad beans as well. It looks as though I can read the whole book online and I look forward to reading more about early Ireland.

  • Reply Greenside Up December 2, 2010 at 1:59 am

    Glad you liked it :o)

  • Reply 14 vegetables to grow in a small gardenGreenside Up October 31, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    […] – there are many types of kale from scarlet to Russian, curly green to Tuscany. If you harvest a few leaves off each plant, rather than stripping the plant bare, it will grow more […]

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