As I’m enjoying eating my garden kale, it struck me that I have never seen Kale bloom. Of course it must flower, but it never makes it that far in my garden. Flowering is called “bolting”, and generally calls a halt to eating that particular green. Bolting means a plant is getting ready to flower and make seeds, resulting in bitter greens. Bolting is frowned upon, but next year I plan to let my kale do just that.
It seems kale flowers are tasty! Who knew? The flowers are cut and sauteed in a little olive oil and supposedly taste quite good and sweet. One must be patient, however. Kale is biennial, meaning it will not flower until its second year. In Ohio, it will need some protection from the worst of the winter to produce these flowers the following spring.
Kale is a crop people need to learn to plant. As our food security, or even food stamp security, lessens in the United States, the need to become proficient in basic gardening skills grows. Kale is EASY to grow. Scatter a few seeds in a flower bed and lightly scratch them into the soil. They germinate quickly, and in a surprisingly few weeks one will be able to pick a few leaves from the new plants. They will continue to produce more leaves for further harvests. Unlike lettuce and spinach, kale leaves wash easily, too. A very good plant for a novice or too-busy-to-garden gardener.
Kale is nicely cold tolerant, and grows best during the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. In fact, plant a few seeds in late fall. Protect the emerging seedlings with a straw cover and prepare to enjoy an early kale harvest in very early spring. This was an important idea, back in the days before grocery stores. As the root cellar emptied over the course of winter dinners and spring gardens were still several weeks away, people experienced a “hunger gap”. Nutritious early greens like kale played an important part in tiding hungry people over until the garden was back up to speed.
Kale is an extremely nutritious food. It contains cancer-fighting and cholesterol-lowering compounds as well as many vitamins, minerals, and fiber. We purchase vitamin pills because why? Kale is a food people need to learn to eat. It can be sauteed like its flowers, steamed, simmered in soups, featured in smoothies, raw in salads, or baked as those fancy little kale chips. Most foods lose a little nutrition when cooked, but kale is such a superfood that the little vitamin A and C lost in cooking still leaves us with more than we need for the day. Even oiled and roasted kale chips are still very healthy snacks.
A food dehydrator can turn kale into raw kale chips as available in a grocery store for just a little preparation and a much lower cost. There are many recipes out there, but a sprinkling of sea salt on the leaves is enough to create a great snack. The dehydrator will make prettier, greener chips, but many people have had success dehydrating raw kale chips in their regular oven.
Regardless how it is prepared, kale is a plant to learn to grow. It is an easy care plant, and when you grow it yourself you know what pesticides, if any, go into its production and lessen the chance it is contaminated along the food industry chain. The money savings are also nice. Perhaps the most empowering thing is the ability to step, just a little bit, out of commercial food marketing and grocery store dependence.