Pender Gardener: Versatile kale an easy-to-grow vegetable


The deeply wrinkled leaves of Toscano kale also have earned it the names, lacinato and dinosaur kale.

Charlotte Glen/Special to The Topsail Advertiser
Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 01:14 PM.

I may not be holding true to my southern roots to admit it, but I greatly prefer kale to collards. In fact, kale is my favorite cool weather vegetable. And what’s not to love? Kale is easy to grow, productive, versatile, and an antioxidant rich super food. Whether you want to grow kale to harvest baby leaves for salads or to harvest mature leaves for soups and sautéing, now is the time to get started, especially if you plan to grow your own plants from seed.


When most people think of kale they picture plants with curly edged, blue-green leaves. These standard types, which include ‘winterbor’ and ‘dwarf blue curled vates’, are the most cold hardy varieties, capable of surviving outside without protection all winter in our region. They are also the types most often found for sale at garden centers as young plants to set out in your garden in September. While I think every fall garden should include some of these extra hardy types, there are other varieties of kale that are tastier and tenderer.

One of my favorite is ‘red Russian’ kale, an heirloom variety with purple stems. The blue-green leaves of ‘red Russian’ kale are smoother than other types, with deeply toothed edges and an extra tender texture. The plants tolerate light to moderate frost but young leaves can be burned when temperatures fall below the mid twenties. You can cover plants with frost protection cloth or a blanket to prevent this, but even if you don’t the plants will recover in a few days. I rarely cover ‘red Russian’ kale in my garden in Burgaw, where it survives all winter with little care.  

 ‘Toscano’ is another excellent heirloom kale that thrives in fall and winter gardens. Coming to us from Italy , this variety is also known as lacinato, Tuscan or dinosaur kale.  Bearing deeply wrinkled, blue leaves with smooth edges, ‘Toscano’ kale is my absolute favorite for flavor and texture. It is the least hardy of the kales I have grown and is damaged by cold more often than ‘red Russian’ in my garden. I try to cover these plants whenever temperatures dip below the mid 20s. When I forget, the leaves get burned but the plants always recover. 

Growing kale

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