Margaret Lauterbach

Get the most out of your kale and collards

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

Last year I grew 15 different varieties of kale, looking for the best-tasting type. Now that we’re well into winter, I’m rethinking kale preference, preferring those that best survive winter. Tuscan kale is looking sad, but oddly a very similar kale, “Dazzling Blue,” is looking fine. Leaves are shaped very similar to those of Tuscan kale. Best survivors, though, are the curly kales and the large smooth-leaved kales, such as Galega de Folhas Lisas and Beira Tronchuda.

Vendors vary about whether the Tronchuda is a kale, a collards or a unique genus, but my first exposure to it was via Redwood City Seeds, and they said it was a Portuguese gourmet kale. I tend to believe them, since that year they featured several different Portuguese kales. Also Renee Shepherd (Renee’s Seeds, formerly Shepherd’s) is very knowledgeable and very picky about varieties of food crops, and she refers to it as a Portuguese kale.

My experience with kales and collards, though, tends to lean toward growing a second plant for overwintering rather than depending on one plant’s surviving the entire year. If you want those greens in winter, start new plants from seed in July, to set out when they have some true leaves.

I have some problem with curly kale as a salad, having trouble eating all of the leaves because tiny bits conceal themselves here and there in my mouth. Cooked and smooth-leafed versions don’t break up in that manner. The Galega de Folhas Lisas, with large smooth leaves, is said by some to be the best-tasting kale. Perhaps it is, but the prettiest is curly scarlet kale, and Boise North End resident Stella Schneider claims it’s the best flavored.

If you haven’t started kale, collards or other brassicas from seed, now’s the time to do that. You’ll be ready to transplant them in late March. Those of us raised in Northern states are not as familiar with collards as those folks from the American South, but collards are very usable, delicious and durable if you think of them as loose-leaf cabbages. The flat leaves are large and easily washed. Most cooks remove the large center rib, and roll the sides, slicing the rolled leaves into ribbons, then sauteing them in garlicky olive oil.

Many gardeners (including me) hate to devote 4 square feet to one head of cabbage, but there now are good-sized heads of cabbage that can be planted more closely together. I grew Charmant cabbage last year, and was very impressed with the production and flavor of that variety. I spaced transplants about 12 to14 inches apart, and harvested heads about 6 inches in diameter. Territorial Seed Co. carries this variety that matures in about 66 days, and another that matures even earlier: Katarina. The latter is an All-America selection that produces 4-inch-diameter heads in about 45 days. It may be spaced 8 to 12 inches apart at transplant.

▪  If you’re new to gardening, I’d urge you to learn how to save seeds of many plants that you can grow here. One of the best and easy-to-use references I’ve found is Suzanne Ashworth’s “Seed to Seed.” She’s also knowledgeable about needs for spacing similar plants for seed-saving purposes, as well as telling you what can cross pollinate what. This gets to be crucial if you’re growing beans, crowder peas, lentils, etc., since you can grow several different legumes in the same bed without cross pollination.

A similar problem exists with squashes. All squashes are members of the genus Cucurbita, and they are separated into six species: maxima, mixta, moschata, pepo, ficifolia and foetidissima. Each species has defining leaf, stem, flower and seed characteristics, and they do not cross-pollinate one another. However, the first four named species encompass many of our most popular squashes, and the varieties do cross-pollinate one another. Cross pollination does not affect the present “fruit,” just the seeds. C. pepo, for instance, includes acorn, zucchini, crooknecks and scallops.

▪  This is the time to prune fruit trees and grape vines. NEON (North End Organic Nursery) is holding a pruning class on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 1 p.m. The class will cover all aspects of care for fruit trees and canes. Call 208-389-4769 to register for this free class.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.