Our winter gardens amaze me—lush chard, spicy arugula, colorful radishes—all thanks to our simple homemade low tunnels. Granted, the lettuce is a little limp right now due to some extremely cold nights, but the rest of the garden is right on track.
And the kale is a show stopper.
Isn't it pretty?
Like most mothers, I'm constantly battling our children's taste buds. I try to feed them healthfully—we obviously grow enough organic produce to ensure their nutrition—but actually getting the food down their throats is another matter.
Admittedly, I grew up as the world's pickiest eater. As the fourth of four children—and a surprise addition--my parents never forced me to eat my peas. Or carrots. Mom and Dad were too tired to sit at the dinner table with me until 9 p.m., as they often did with my siblings (or so I've been told.)
So, although I'm determined to get the kids to eat more veggies, I'm also a realist. I look for ways to trick them into eating veggies.
Like kale chips.
Salty, oily, crunchy—it's the perfect snack alternative to Pringles.
Plus, if kids help grow the produce, they're more likely to eat it.
It's true. I've seen it.
(Just not, necessarily, with our children.)
So if you, like me, resolved on January 1 to feed your children—or yourself—more veggies, adding kale to your garden and your menu is simple.
Kale is a cool season crop whose flavor improves when exposed to frost. It's a hardy biennial, meaning that it takes two years to flower and complete its life-cycle. Most of us, though, grow kale as an annual. In our zone 7b garden, it thrives throughout the winter.
Kale prefers loamy, well-drained, moist (but not soggy) soil of average fertility, with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8.
Plant kale in early spring, four weeks before the last frost, in full sun. You can also plant kale in partial shade in hot climates. In mild climates, kale can be grown year-round. I planted ours in October.
Space plants six inches apart. Side dress throughout growing season with organic liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion. Keep kale evenly watered.
Kale flourishes with companion plants such as beets, celery, herbs, onions and potatoes, but it does not enjoy beans, strawberries or tomatoes. Aromatic plants, like chamomile, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and wormwood, repel cabbage fly and cabbage worm. (Note: mint can be invasive and take over your garden! Plant in pots near the kale to help prevent unruliness and keep pests away.)
If you'd rather grow kale from seed, start the seeds five to seven weeks before the last expected frost. If you’re direct sowing, plant the seeds outside two to four weeks before the last frost in spring or anytime at least 10 weeks before the first frost in fall. Whichever season you choose, the soil temperature must be at least 40 degrees or higher for good germination. Kale germinates best in soil that is approximately 70 degrees.
Begin harvesting kale approximately eight weeks after sowing. Small, tender leaves are great for salads. For cooking, harvest six-inch outer leaves, leaving the center leaves to continue growing.
Hot weather produces bitter, tough kale. You don't want to use this fresh--instead, you can add it to dishes and soups, cut into small pieces.
Kale can be braised, sautéed, or eaten raw. It's also delicious in soups. I may try kale potato soup next. I think I saw a recipe in one of my Alice Waters cookbooks. Hmmm.
Kale chips are extremely easy to prepare. The most time-consuming task is washing and drying the kale.
10 large kale leaves, washed and completely dried.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Wash kale leaves, drying completely. I used both a salad spinner and paper towels to dry the kale. Make certain that the kale is thoroughly dry, because any remaining moisture will produce steam in the oven, resulting in limp kale chips.
- Tear kale into bite-size pieces. Remove the tough stem.
- Place kale in single layer on a baking sheet.
- Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the kale. Massage the oil into the kale with your fingers to thoroughly coat the leaves.
- Sprinkle sea salt over kale. You can experiment with other spices, like garlic salt, cumin, or red pepper flakes, but I needed to keep it basic for my kiddos' palates.
- Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes or until crispy.
- Cool and serve.
The crispy, curly edges of the kale literally melted in my mouth.
While I liked the kale chips, the big test awaited the arrival of the school bus.
(I didn't get a photo of Mikey trying his kale chip. This was his reaction when I asked him to try it one more time.)
Honestly, what am I going to do with these children?
Do you--or your kids--eat kale chips? Do you force feed your loved ones veggies, or do you hide them in things like chocolate brownies?
Back to the drawing board...and garden. There must be something besides cucumbers and corn that these kids will eat.
Julie, the highly frustrated organic veggie grower