The Many Benefits of Kale

KaleOkay, beets may have won the “Vegetable of the Year” honor in 2012 — at least, in Duluth — but in our book, er, garden journal, the benefits of kale make it the repeat winner. Why? It’s one of the easiest vegetables to grow and it’s packed with nutrition. We stir-fry it with pancetta to make a fancy pasta, with bacon when we’re not being so fancy, and with grated cheese (and sometimes an egg) when we’re cooking vegetarian. But we like it best simple, lightly steamed and drizzled with a little olive oil or lemon juice.

We’ve grown kale in various seasons and places: near the cold Pacific on the wet and cloudy Olympic Peninsula where harvests came year-round with the help of a cold frame, in the middle of winter near the beach in Southern California (no cold frame required), and summers in Montana where we were able to pick it early in spring from well-mulched plants held over from the previous season as well as late (late!) into December with the help of a little plastic and — sometimes — a snow shovel. With kale, it seems the more difficult the growing conditions, the better it tastes.

But there are reasons to eat kale other than its utility in the kitchen and its tasty green flavor. It’s good for you. Kale is loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, and super-loaded with vitamin K, a sometimes overlooked nutrient that studies show significantly reduce the risk of cancer. Noted dietician Kathleen M. Zelman calls kale “the queen of greens” when it comes to nutrition. Kale is also high in health-promoting phytonutrients, carotenoids, and flavonoids as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, two compounds known to encourage eye health. And it’s a natural cholesterol reducer.

Kale is easy to grow. You can plant as early as two months before the last frost for summer crops — a little mulch helps protect new plants — and as late as August for fall crops, much later, of course, in mild climates (but expect slow growth as temperatures drop and daily sunlight decreases). The same pests that go after your cabbage crops — white moths, cabbage loopers, aphids, harlequin bugs — might get interested in your kale. But for some reason, they usually avoid kale.

For more information on kale’s nutritional benefits, click here. Specific info on growing kale can be found here. For more information on growing kale over winter, try this article from the Washington Post.

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