It might not look like much but underneath the plastic is deep winter gold – baby kale.
Planted thick in early October, in a spot that gets the most sunlight during our very limited direct sunlight months, the kale grew well enough through the early winter to be picked in early January. What a delight to have fresh kale in our salad with temperatures fluctuating between 20F and 40F degrees.
Very cold nights were a challenge even in November as temperatures dropped as low as 8 degrees. To insulate the young plants against the very deep cold, bags of leaves were gathered in late September. The easiest way to do this is to drive around a city neighborhood where residents bag their leaves. Hop out and pitch them in a vehicle. When the timing is right, it’s easy to collect 30-40 bags. Many of the bags were placed around the raised bed to cut out the very cold winds. Whenever there is a big drop in temperature, the extra leaf bags were piled on the top of the raised bed. Maybe that extra insulation wasn’t necessary but I slept better at night knowing that the kale was keeping warm enough. Apart from keeping the plants protected from the severe weather, work on the bed was pretty easy. Just a little weeding here and there and no pests to pick off the leaves this time of the year. On a nice day with plenty of sunshine and temperatures moving to the low 50s, we can pull back the covering and admire our small treasure.
Finally, why kale? Well we like the taste but most of all it’s considered one of those superfoods that are so good for you. Along with red cabbage, garlic, sweet potatoes and arugula, it’s an antioxidant superstar. Research has shown that kale carries a punch as far as vitamins and minerals. It also helps to prevent cell damage by free radicals roaming through our bodies. Kale has been shown to be very helpful in the prevention of different cancers. While we grew just a small area (4’ X 8’ raised bed) we felt like we were maximizing out garden health benefit for the winter months. With sweet potatoes safely stored for the winter and fresh kale for the salad, we’re hoping to keep out the worst of this years flu strains from our household. So far so good . . . .
Spinach hopefully will be our next early harvest (maybe late February?). The spinach was planted a week after the kale in a trench near the raised bed. It’s looking healthy but growing much more slowly. It gets somewhat less direct sunlight due to its location 8” in the earth. The earthen walls are a great protection from the very cold nights. To keep the heat in for this crop we use an old storm window from Habitat ReStore. Again, just minimal weeding every now and then and no pests around. We are looking forward to a combination spinach/kale salad very soon.
–Marcelle St Germain, Big Ugly Community Center
[Note from husband Michael Tierney—I can indeed testify that overall Marcelle is sleeping better with the leaf bag covering our winter crop and that the moderate level of concern for the baby Kale has thus far minimized the conversation about the empty nest once our youngest headed to college.)