Monday Aug 02

gregor Lynn Gregor spent eight years organizing community gardens in Cleveland and working to bring fresh, local produce and market gardening into the inner-city.  She and her husband co-edited the book, A Place to Grow: Voices and Images of Urban Gardeners, published in 1998 by The Pilgrim Press.  They have presented numerous dramatic readings from the book and workshops on community gardening.  Lynn has worked in many aspects of horticulture since her first job in a retail greenhouse, though her true passion lies in the dynamic interaction of people, plants and the environment.  She has 2 young children and currently works part-time for the Countryside Conservancy, a local non-profit that works to support community-based food systems.


Can’t Say Enough About Kale by Lynn Gregor

LG1 Last year at this time I was delighted to find tiny kale seedlings sprouting in our garden.  The delicate, purple tinged leaves of Red Russian Kale, numbered perhaps fifty, sixty, seventy - a small army of seedlings descending on our late April, May garden!  The previous fall we had let just one or two plants go to seed and others ended up in our compost pile.  I don’t monitor my pile to know if it heats up enough to kill seeds or disease, and sure enough, as we spread our black gold throughout our garden we also spread kale seeds.

As I’ve learned from nearly every gardener I’ve had the pleasure to meet and the privilege to work with, gardeners are generous because GARDENS are generous!  We had enough Red Russian kale seedlings to share with our gardening friends, and to create a lovely, meandering row of them in our garden.  I am the brains behind our garden and my husband, a writer, is the work horse of our garden.  Though, in all fairness, he has some great ideas too and transplanted the seedlings to create this beautiful, meandering row of kale.  He also cooks up a mean kale dish which I’ll get to later.

If you’ve never seen Red Russian Kale you should check it out, it is a beautiful plant.  Its leaves are greenish-gray, with just a hint of blue in them and its stem and veins are tinged purple.  Rain drops cling to the leaves and LG2 sparkle in the sun like diamonds.  It grows about 2’ tall and 1-2’ wide and is tolerant of cool and hot weather alike.  All kale is actually considered a “cool weather” crop – in USDA Zone 5 you can plant it outdoors quite early.  I commonly harvest it after the first, second, or even third, snowfall (in northeast Ohio), though it can be harvested throughout the entire growing season.  In my garden Red Russian Kale has never had any major pest or disease problem except for two insects.  The green caterpillar of the cabbage worm looper, eating the leaves and making holes in them.  This does not affect the quality of the leaf or the plant but does affect the appearance.  My garden is small enough that I inspect the plants in the morning and hand pick the caterpillars (look under the leaves) and throw them in a bucket of soapy water which suffocates them.  My two young children enjoy hunting for the caterpillars too!  When the cooler weather of late summer and fall descends, aphids usually attack the growing tips by sucking the juices from the leaves and making them generally inedible for humans.  You can rinse these aphids from the leaves with a steady stream of water but usually need to do that on a daily basis to manage the problem.

The young leaves are tasty in salads and larger leaves can be cooked in a number of ways.  If you only want to grow kale as a salad green, harvest baby leaves and sow successive plantings during the year for a continuous harvest.  True lovers of greens munch it straight out of the garden (be sure it’s clean or wash it)!  Cooked or raw, its flavor is much milder than the traditional curly leaved kale, and has almost a sweet taste.  Laurel Robertson, author of The New Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook, considers kale to be a super green.  After eating it you will understand why – I know I feel energized and healthier.  When preparing kale from my garden, I usually put the leaves in cold water in my sink and then wash them by rinsing them once or twice.  Remove the leaves from the stem by pulling your fingers up the stem from bottom to top, the leaves will come off easily this way.

As I mentioned earlier, my husband cooks up a wonderful kale dish by first steaming, or cooking it in a small amount of water.  He flavors it with garlic, lemon, brown rice vinegar, tamari, toasted sesame oil and sometimes sautéed onions or even walnuts.  It is fairly quick and easy to eat this way or to chop it up and use it in stir fries.  Other tasty recipes I am familiar with that feature kale include Greens and Garlic Soup from Anna Thomas’ The New Vegetarian Epicure and Tofu-Kale Pie from Cynthia Lair’s Feed the Whole Family.  I have also recently tried making kale chips but need to alter the recipes a bit to suit my tastes (you can easily find recipes for this tasty, healthy snack on-line).  You only need a small patch of kale to provide enough for your kitchen because each plant produces a good number of leaves if you give it enough room to grow to full size.