Cool-season kale sweeter than cabbage

Kale, one of the most nutritious vegetables, has unjustly been left out of most discussions about salad greens, probably because it's long been linked with its collards cousins as a tough, leafy vegetable for braising.

But slowly kale is moving into mainstream gardening and high-profile recipes as more suppliers introduce broader seed selections that yield plants with mild flavors and deep colors.

Once gardeners experience kale's versatility in the kitchen, they're hooked and never are without it in the garden.

Kale thrives during our cool winter months and is said to develop sweeter taste after a hard frost stimulates increased sugar development. Sweetness is relative, though, just enough to separate it from related cole crops and encourage us to eat it fresh, chopped in salads, or lightly cooked in soups, stir-fry dishes, or as a side dish saut?d like spinach.

Whether we use baby greens or more mature leaves, all varieties improve our diets with beta-carotene, vitamins A and C? and other nutritive properties.

If you don't have kale in your garden now, plant seed or purchase seedlings in very early spring for harvest through June, then plant again in August or September for a winter crop.

Like other cabbage relatives, enrich your soil before planting and allow plenty of space between plants. Sprouts and young shoots are rather slender but as soon as they hit their stride, central stalks put out a broad bouquet of leaves. Kale plants benefit from a side dressing of additional compost or organic fertilizer such as blood meal and become quite robust.

If you don't use them fast enough, put older leaves in your compost and use the more tender, sweeter young ones continuously produced at stem tops.

I've found a considerable difference between taste and texture among plants that grew from the same seed packet and simply focused on one or two and composted the others. That's a great thing about compost -- nothing is ever wasted but goes back into the soil.

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