Growing All The Kale

So I know I said my next post would focus on ways I try to minimize food waste, but unfortunately, that topic is still percolating. I’ve been spending a lot of hours at the school library, covering for my fellow parent volunteer who went on holiday, plus, as per the title of this post, I’ve got a whole lotta black dino kale to blame.

I’m shamelessly borrowing a phrase from Sarah, who quipped this spring that she was going to grow all the tomatoes.

My immediate reaction upon reading her words?

YES! Me too! Let’s grow ALL the tomatoes!

While I did find out later that Sarah had thrown the words out there in a bit of a joking manner, I was still *totally* on board with the goal. Three years ago, despite being a newbie gardener, I very nearly did manage to grow all the tomatoes; I had enough, frozen in the freezer, to keep us flush with “cooking” tomatoes from the fall through to the following May. But although I’ve not yet been able to repeat that tomato success (and this year is turning out to be another tomatoey disappointment) the kale is another story.

I like using kale in soups, stir-fries, and lasagnas, and it’s a nice alternative to spinach. Although I can buy kale year-round at the grocery store it’s only the curly type which is available, not the milder black dino (lacinato) variety we prefer. It’s also, no doubt, shipped all the way from California, and well, we’re not anywhere near California. So last year I decided to try growing it myself. I somehow managed a bumper crop and ended up freezing 17 batches, which got us through the winter. It was really nice to be able to simply walk downstairs to the freezer and grab a batch of the most local kale ever. So, wanting a repeat of last year’s success, I put eight plants in the ground this spring, the same number I planted last year.

Although I’m convinced black dino kale is one of the easier leafy greens to grow, I did worry, early on this summer, that — due to my own neglect — we wouldn’t be getting any at all this year.

I’m a bit of a fair-weather gardener, and I have to admit that immediately after planting the garden this spring, I pretty much forgot all about it.

Watering? Nah, I’m sure it’ll rain soon.

Weeding? Um, no thanks … it’s too hot out there; later maybe …

Thinning the seedlings? Yeah, things have been over-crowded before, and it’s been fine; besides, don’t we want a bajillion cucumbers?

And then came the day I finally did go out there, and what did I see? Tiny green caterpillars making lacework out of the kale leaves.

Kale seems to be one resilient plant though, because after steeling myself (yes, I’m also not a particularly brave gardener) and shooing those wee beasties off with a popsicle stick, the plants recovered nicely.

So most mornings over the past couple of weeks I’ve been out in the garden, picking a bouquet of kale from each of the eight plants while leaving the bulk of the plant to continue growing. I (hopefully) shake off all the spiders (see paragraph above, with regards to bravery), and then I bring them in to process them.

I start by washing the leaves:

Then I remove the thick stems and chop the leaves:

The chopped leaves are put into a large pot outfitted with a steamer basket:

After three minutes of steaming, the kale looks like this:

It then gets plunged into cold water and spun dry:

And finally, the kale gets packed into lidded glass bowls or mason jars, and stored in the freezer:

So far I have 18 batches, which should take us through the winter, but there’s still quite a bit left in the garden to process:

Does anyone else have a garden that looks like ours?

(Is it wrong for me to be wishing for an early and heavy snowfall so I don’t have to deal with this overgrown mess? Or at the very least, a good hard frost so all the insects can just go away, please? Yesterday I went out to the garden to gather a bowl of cherry tomatoes and a wasp came into the house with me. I managed to get it out using the container and cardboard trick, but half an hour later, I was STILL shaking*).


* I’m such a wimp 😦 .

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17 thoughts on “Growing All The Kale

  1. I know I should be on board with kale, but I’m just not. Or any leafy greens, really. We grew lettuce and we had pretty good success with it, but much of it went uneaten. Because I have to make myself eat salad. I really wish donuts were good for us. And that there really was intelligent design and it would make us like kale as much as sugar.

    But–because I try to be a grown-up most days–I am interested in all of this kind of thing. What I’d like to know is: How did you learn how to process it for freezing? I think a stumbling block with me for gardening (aside from not yet having a separate freezer) is not knowing how to best freeze things. I don’t want to can; those pressure cookers scare me. (Talk about being a wimp. The prospect of exploding glass all over my kitchen is way worse than a wasp for me.) So, any good sources for learning about freezing fresh produce?

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    1. I think I too, would take a wasp over exploding glass … or botulism … In other words, I’m also a canning wimp. I will freeze anything, but I will never venture into canning. Which translates to mean I don’t know how one could do this without a deep-freeze; that’s a big stumbling block 😦

      My parents had a large vegetable garden, and although most of it was simply eaten off the vine (so to speak), my mom did process the beans for freezing, and I helped her do that. So from that experience, I knew that one had to “blanch” vegetables before freezing. That was the extent of my knowledge, though, so I turned to Google for help when we started our own garden after moving to this house. It turns out some vegetables don’t need blanching and can just be frozen whole or chopped (tomatoes and peppers, for example). I found out what to do with the kale here: http://www.pickyourown.org/freezing_greens.htm (it’s a strange site with a lot of empty space before the directions start (just in case you go there to take a look)). We’ve never had a bumper crop of anything else that’s “freezable” other than the kale and the tomatoes; we’ve grown cucumbers and zucchini aplenty, but have always just eaten or cooked/baked with them; the beans have been a dismal failure nearly every year; and the peas have never been so plentiful that it amounts to more than a meal at a time.

      I do hear you on the whole “having to make myself eat salad”. I’m not what you’d call a foodie, and although I do cook and eat healthy food (and ensure my family does the same) I have to say my motivation for it is perhaps slightly different than a lot of people’s. A family member had a major health scare many years ago, and after doing some research I came to the conclusion that poor nutrition might have had a role to play, and that by extension, good nutrition might actually provide some hope. In other words, I’m not freezing all this kale because I love love love it (I do have to say I actually do LIKE it, but I’m not going to claim I’d choose kale over a donut!); I’m doing it because it feels a bit like a form of insurance. (Or a boxing match: Kale vs. bad genetics, if you will 😉 ).

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      1. I’m so glad you chimed in here, ‘Becca! I had wondered if the kale would turn out ok if I just froze it without steaming it first. I went the blanching route without checking too thoroughly into other possibilities, partly because of storage space (the steamed kale shrinks down so much, so takes up less freezer room), and also because one of my favourite recipes calls for the kale to be steamed on its own, before adding it to the rest of the ingredients (the recipe author said the flavour would be too strong otherwise), so I figured that pre-steaming the kale before freezing it would make suppertime easier. (Which it did!). But now I know I don’t necessarily need to steam ALL of it, and given that I STILL have kale in the garden, that’s very good news! 🙂

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  2. *gasp* I love kale! We eat it once or twice a week, at least. Usually I feel that Rita and I are simpatico on all things, but I have to part ways here. Kale is delicious. Even deliciouser if you put it in some twice baked potatoes with sausage. (Note to self, do that soon. http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2014/12/twice-baked-potatoes-with-kale/) I usually just saute it with garlic and toss in soups or over whatever starch we are having.

    I really want a bountiful garden in our backyard. No, wait, I really want a gardener to produce bountiful produce in my backyard. I have zero desire to do any actual gardening. I am a basil serial killer. I can’t keep that stuff alive no matter what I do.

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    1. Is it ALL types of kale you like, Lisa? I feel like most people who say they hate/dislike kale must have only ever tried the more common curly kale (and yes, this is a completely biased, non-scientific, non-tested hypothesis I’m offering, based on the fact that I’m most decidedly not a fan of the curly stuff). IMHO the black dino kale is a whole other ball game: less tough, and with a much milder flavour. I second the deliciousness of kale with potatoes: my all-time favourite soup is kale and potato with cannellini beans.

      I would LOVE to be able to hire a gardener! The only reason I garden is because I want the resulting produce, and this fact is brought home to me each and every time I reach into a thicket-of-a-tomato/cucumber/zucchini plant: I can actually feel myself tensing, hoping against hope that I’m not going to inadvertently grab a spider or some other creepy crawly. *cough*wimp*cough*

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      1. You know, the stores around here only seem to sell curly kale, so I haven’t had a wide variety. I will say that I prefer my kale cooked, rather than in a salad. Raw kale seems kind of bitter, and entails a lot of chewing. But, I will eat just about any variety of cooked greens. I even put it on my pizza.

        You can’t go wrong sauteing greens with garlic, especially over rice or potatoes. Cannelini beans with spinach over rice is one of my favorite meals. I like to make a huge batch early in the week for dinner, and then eat the leftovers for lunch for a few days.

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      2. I would be willing to bet that if you love curly kale, Lisa, you would LOVE the black dino variety. I don’t like curly kale raw, in a salad, but the black dino (chopped very thinly) makes a very good salad, especially if allowed to “marinate” in its dressing for several hours. And kale on pizza? YES! That’s how I make our pizza as well … red onion, broccoli, kale, peppers and fresh tomato slices — Yum! 🙂

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  3. Oh, I love this post! And thanks for the shout-out! 🙂 We, too, aim to grow ALL THE KALE, and are generally more successful at it than tomatoes. Dino/lacinato kale is my favorite, too. Not just my favorite kale, maybe even my favorite veg. I might even choose it over a donut, from time to time. Dino kale is available in the stores here, but so much more convenient to just wander back to our kale forest (not exaggerating, my garden looks just as exuberant as yours, as you know) and pick our own! In our climate, it overwinters, so we just leave it there until it starts to flower in the spring — then I harvest/process/freeze what remains.

    I actually really love a raw kale salad (if the leaves are sliced up thinly). One of my favorite quick dinners, for grownups at least, is kale sauteed with garlic and chili flakes, served over garlic-rubbed toast with poached eggs and shredded parmesan. And it’s great subbed for spinach in Japanese salad with sesame dressing (goma-ae). I’ve never used it in stir-fries though — just sauteed it on its own — but I’m curious about your method for doing that (what other veg/protein you combine it with, seasonings, etc.).

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    1. Thanks Sarah! 🙂

      I find I’m torn between wishing for a milder climate so we too could have kale in the garden all through the winter, and knowing that that milder climate might just come with a lot more insects 😉

      I really like the dino kale in salad as well. We have a favourite summertime dressing (made with a fresh tomato, lemon juice, EVOO, garlic, some chopped green onion and a bit of basil and salt and pepper) which is fantastic on the kale, and is maybe even better the next day, when the kale has had a good long time to marinate.

      The stir-fry… I use a recipe from The Clueless Vegetarian cookbook. I usually use red onion, mushrooms, carrots, celery, garlic, broccoli, and a sweet pepper, and half a block of extra-firm tofu (sliced thinly and then “cubed”). I also usually throw in some frozen shelled edamame, and sometimes, when I can find them, sugar snap peas. It’s all cooked in the usual stir-fry manner, and there’s a sauce that’s added about mid-way through (2 cups vegetable broth, 2 tbsp corn starch, 3 tbsp soy sauce). The original recipe called for only one cup of the mixture, but we like our stir-fry to be very saucy. (The original sauce recipe is actually 1 cup broth, 1 tbsp corn starch, 3 tbsp soy sauce; I didn’t double the soy sauce quantity because of salt concerns. I also tried, once, using water instead of broth, but the result wasn’t as flavourful). I add the kale last, and pop a lid over so it steams for a few minutes, and then it’s served with short grain brown rice.

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  4. My garden right now is an overgrown mess of weeds and a pumpkin vine. We tried beans, cukes, carrots, potatoes, radishes, onions, and the before mentioned pumpkin. I ended up with zero cucumbers or onions (I think they were lost to the weeds). The beans and potatoes were wonderful. The carrots iffy. The radishes okay. I ended up with two beautiful pie pumpkins and quite a few delicious pumpkin flowers (we had some yard work done this year and the man in charge of it told me to chop them up and make a cheese quesadilla with them. SO GOOD.) I stayed away from greens because I’m a bigger wimp than you and the idea of worms (which from my understanding love anything green and leafy) just give me the heebie jeebies. I might have done better if we had done a better job weeding.

    Now it’s just a big mess of weeds that I need to cut down. I’m thinking of putting black tarp over it so that when spring comes it cooks the weeds below and I can start fresh. I’m also going to redo some of the layout. I inherited this slightly raised bed of 15×8 (using old railway ties) but it’s a pain to get in and weed so I’m going to make smaller boxes with a path in between to make it easier to weed.

    And I’m definitely doing tomatoes next year as those are my absolute FAVORITE thing in the world to eat.

    But I’ll skip the kale. Blech.

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    1. If I recall correctly, this was your first year doing a vegetable garden? If so, it sounds like you had some successes with some things, and are not so discouraged by the things that didn’t work that you’re not going to try again next year — in my book, that’s a definite win 🙂 .

      I think the smaller beds (no more than 4 feet wide) ARE easier to maintain. We had a large area that we converted to raised beds last year, and it definitely was easier to access for planting and weeding, plus apparently the soil is also healthier if you’re not walking all over it and compacting it. I’ve never tried the black tarp method; I’d be interested to hear how that turns out, if you actually decide to do it. We have used cardboard to kill lawn/weeds, but we’ve not then tried to plant veggies over top of it (although if the cardboard decomposed over the winter, one probably could).

      And YES, definitely do tomatoes next year! They don’t seem to be difficult plants to grow, it’s just that sometimes the yields are a bit iffy. I think perhaps I should be fertilizing them, or doing something other than topping the soil up with compost in the spring. Hmmm, something to research over the winter, I think …

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      1. Good memory! It was my first year attempting to plant anything vegetable at all. Violet showed interest in weeding my flower beds so I thought it’d be fun for us all to try a veggie garden (especially since we had inherited the raised bed), but sure enough her interest in weeding waned as the summer went on and I have no patience for it at all. (I’ve just never been one of those people who LIKE getting my hands in the dirt. I WANT to be, but I’m just not.) I think with smaller beds it’ll be a bit quicker and easier with less stooping and it IS exciting to have things come in that you planted yourself. Though I am grateful that when my onions don’t come in I can head to the farmer’s market or the grocery store. I can’t imagine trying to sustain ourselves through winter on my gardening abilities!!

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      2. When we lived in Minnesota, our kids begged us, year after year, for a veggie garden. (Now that I’ve typed that, it seems like a somewhat strange thing for kids to beg for, but there you have it). We put them off, year after year, because it was complicated there: deer constantly traipsing through the yard meant we’d have to fence off the garden, make sure it was high enough to stop them leaping over, and figure out a gate … it just seemed like way too much effort. When we moved here, I told them, Hey, we can finally have our veggie garden! But you know, I don’t think any one of them has planted a single seed or pulled a single weed! I’m very lucky though: my husband is a great sport and is totally on board with all of it, and actually doesn’t seem to mind weeding! The truth is I’m just like you, Kate: I WANT to be one of those people who actually likes to get their hands dirty, but that’s not really who I am. I do the work because I want the results, but I would much rather be inside knitting 🙂

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