Kale and collards have always been and will always be staples at Gathering Together Farm. Oregon’s frosty nights and wet climate produce sweet and tender greens when other more glamorous vegetables aren’t available. GTF grows ten varieties of kale and collards on two to three acres of ground annually, and the extended harvest is sold at farmers’ markets, to our restaurant and grocery store clients, and through our wholesale distributer.
Having a diverse variety list of kales and collards (as wells as most vegetables grown on the farm) allows GTF to offer distinctive tastes and looks to our customers. Often times, different varieties of the same crop will have slightly staggered maturity schedules, allowing for a longer and fuller harvest season. Additionally, if for some reason seed of one variety or another isn’t available for a year or is discontinued altogether, Joelene (GTF’s seed, greenhouse, and irrigation manager) won’t have to scramble to fill in with an unknown variety or seed source. A good majority of GTF’s kale and collard seed is produced on-farm by our partners at Wild Garden Seed, but we also buy seed from Johnny’s Selected Seed and Osborne Seed Company.
Lacinato kale (aka black kale, Tuscan kale, or dinosaur kale) is exceptionally flavorful and is the most sought after by our restaurant clients. Unfortunately, it is one of the lower-yielding varieties that we grow. It takes the longest growing period of the kales to reach maturity, and overwintered lacinato is the first variety to bolt in the spring, producing a nice raab and then dying off early.
White Russian kale is arguably the sweetest flavored kale that we grow. It’s also the most vigorous and cold hardy of our kale varieties, and overwintered white Russian kale produces an abundant spring flush of new growth. Both seasoned and novice gardeners would be well-served by growing this variety.
Much like white Russian, this red Russian-type kale is delicious and produces heavily in the spring.
Red Ursa kale is very showy and attractive with its signature frills. It is the last of the kale varieties to bolt in the spring, producing the last raab.
Winterbor kale is a favorite among the field crew because the leaves are so ruffled and dense that only a few of them make an entire bunch.
Confusingly, flowering kales are so named because of their ornamental leaves not because of any exceptional flowers. Gathering Together Farm grows flowering kales only in the fall because the varieties won’t transform into the vibrant shades of pink unless they’re chilled at night. Peacock kales are sold in bunches at the farmers’ markets and to restaurants, but much of it is cut at a young stage for salad mix.
For fall/winter-harvested kale and collards, Joelene seeds one planting in the greenhouse in late June that gets transplanted out about three weeks later. She seeds a second planting in the greenhouse in mid July that also gets transplanted out about three weeks later. She also direct seeds a third planting the first week in August. (Jolene recommends that home gardeners direct seed fall kale and collards in mid-July or the very beginning of August.) Johnny’s Selected Seeds advises spacing plants every 8″ in rows 18″-30″ apart.
The field crew begins harvesting kale (and collards) in mid-September, but the greens don’t reach their peak of flavor until they get consistent nighttime frosts. The plants will go dormant because of lack of light and heat in December and January, but the fall kale that doesn’t die off due to extreme cold will begin growing again in February. Depending on the variety, kales will begin to bolt in March or April, producing edible kale raabs (the bolting stems and buds on any plant in the brassica family–kale, turnips, broccoli, etc.).
Joelene seeds another batch of spring kale and collards in the greenhouse in late February that gets planted out three or four weeks later. The tender transplants spend the first few weeks outside growing under floating row cover. Around the time that the overwintered kales and kale raabs are winding down (early May), the field crew begins harvesting the new crop of spring kale. Though it will keep growing over the summer, its taste intensifies as its sugar content decreases with the warm weather, so spring kale is usually abandoned and eventually tilled under in late June or early July.
Kale has a mostly undeserved reputation of being tough and having a strong, unpleasant taste. That may be due to the fact that some folks are eating kale in the summer or in climates that don’t get frosty nighttime temperatures. The reality is that good kale is tender and sweet. It is easily prepared in a quick stir fry with a splash of soy sauce and a sautéed leek or in the recently trendy form of “kale chips”, but if you’re looking for some slightly more complex inspiration, check out these kale-centric recipes: