Kales (Brassica oleracea) have a reputation for being really hardy, but in reality there are many perennial vegetables that are far more hardy. I mean, kales don’t really make much effort to protect themselves, remaining green all winter and in a normal winter here all my kales would die. However, in areas with mild winters, they are useful as they can be harvested all winter outside. Most perennials die back to the roots and reshoot in spring. Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is one example of this and is thus easier to overwinter. A dream of the perennial kale breeder is a variety that is capable of reshooting from the roots or at least from low down on the plant. The last couple of winters have been very mild with hardly any frost all winter and almost all my kales have survived (the exception being less hardy Tree collards from California). This winter has been significantly colder and the air temperature has only been above zero C since New Year for a short period. I was prepared for this and spread a thick layer of leaves around the roots to stop the soil freezing around the roots with either jute, spruce branches or planks over to stop the leaves blowing away in winter storms. In addition, I always take cuttings which I overwinter in a cold room in the house. Almost 100% of cuttings are successful.
I registered 3 great tit (kjøttmeis) territories and 1 blue tit (blåmeis) pair in the garden this year and both have raised young. One of the young great tits has been picking off diamond back moth (kålmøll) larvae on flowering radish plants on the balcony as you can see in the video:
The perennial kales overwintered well the last two winters and are looking good. I showed a video of one I got from Walsall Allotments in Birmingham, UK a few years ago here last week: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=25787 The first below is one of Chris Homanics’ perennial crosses (I lost track of which cross this is). It has large dark glossy leaves (a bit reminiscent of Glazed collards) and hasn’t flowered, concentrating instead its energy into producing leaves! This is a keeper. This is followed by non-flowering offspring of my Daubenton cross with Purple Sprouting Broccoli in 2012 and still alive https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?page_id=1632. These have inherited the daubenton genes but one is taller and has bigger leaves. I’m still playing with the offspring on the broccoli side, but they are less perennial but some have survived for 5 years but the broccolis are smaller than the father, but still useful. Finally is a current picture of Daubenton variegated. AND Diamond back moth (kålmøll) is now here in large numbers (over 100) and will have almost no impact on these kales, nor will other pests!
1. Homanics Norway perennial kale
2. Daubenton like (from Daubenton x Late Purple Broccoli cross)
I’m more and more convinced that perennial kales are the way forward. After two mild winters I’ve had good overwintering of most varieties except Tree Collards from California.
The film below shows a kale which I call “Walsall Allotments” which I found growing at Walsall Allotments in Birmingham (see https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?page_id=2868) on the allotment of a Kenyan man. I never managed to find out where he got these kale from, but Kenya is the only country was the only country where perennial kales were still grown commercially at the time I was researching my book. At the end of the video we see another perennial Brassicaceae, sea kale (strandkål) Crambe maritima. Note that the variety Lily White flowers significantly earlier than my other varieties.
A few days ago the plague of Brassica growers, diamond back moth (kålmøll) arrived in significant numbers here and I see on various FB groups that folk are using floating mulch and enviromesh to protect their crops. I had done the same for years, but decided that I wanted to grow vegetables without non-sustainable oil based products like Agryl fleece which is no doubt also a major source of plastic fibres in nature. Agryl is also used to bring on annual crops earlier. However, there is an alternative plastic free and sustainable alternative using perennials. As you can see, my kales having grown for two and a half months are large and have been providing kale leaves since early spring. Their main growth period is now over but will be resumed in autumn. Although diamond back moths and other butterflies lay their eggs on these kales damage isn’t significant. Therefore I am totally unworried by this invasion of moths!
Of course there are problems with perennial kales too, such as cold hardiness, deer and woodpigeons (rådyr / ringduer) in the winter and lack of diversity, but breeding projects by amateurs such as Chris Homanics in Oregon are changing all that!
To celebrate my 65th we made indian pakora with 65 (or so) different perennial vegetables. Going for a new title, this time EPM (Extreme Pakora Man)! Any better? The whole list is under the pictures! Just wish I’d had broad / fava bean (bondebønner) flour available for the pakoras rather than gram flour (chick peas)…next time I hope :)
Sea kale Crambe maritima is sometimes referred to as the King of the Vegetables (Queen is perhaps more fitting!) . This is partly due to the fact that it was in the past cultivated in heated greenhouses for nobility in the UK for Christmas! Maybe not the King, it is certainly an aristocrat and the easiest perennial brassica in cold climates (along wtih even hardier Crambe cordifolia) as it is hardier than perennial kales as it resprouts from the roots every spring and can easily be covered by a mulch of leaves or suchlike in colder climates. I do this every autumn just in case we have a very cold winter (I have experienced plants to resprout from deep roots when the surface roots have been killed in winter). I would normally take off the leaf mulch early April, but this winter it’s been so mild I removed it a few days ago and the plant had already put out delicious sprouts…I’ve been snacking on them! My oldest sea kale is approaching 40 years old, but hasn’t appeared yet (oldies sleep longer I guess!). Much more about Sea Kale in my book Around the World in 80 plants or by searching here: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?s=sea+kale
They are also beautiful. The pictures show the cultivar Lily White which is only about 8 years old.
My youngest seakale Crambe maritima “Lily White” which isn’t that young longer (17 years old), is in full flower a couple of weeks earlier than my other plants and its looking better than ever this year! In the winter, I dug a trench along the “ex-driveway”, now path to the house, to stop tree roots invading and drying up the shallow soiled beds in this part of the garden.
Since I first blogged about an invasion of diamondback moths (kålmøll) two days ago, reports have been coming in across Scandinavia of the enormity of this invasion, even reaching the farthest north parts of the Norwegian mainland in Finnmark, the arctic city of Tromsø and Northern Sweden. In some places, it’s been too cold to start planting out vegetables!
There were more than a thousand moths in my garden yesterday and they were observed swarming over my perennial kales (Brassica oleracea), sea kale (Crambe maritima) and common wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris), none of which are likely to be severely affected.
There’s been a major arrival of diamondback moths (kålmøll) here since yesterday and there are hundreds of this major Brassica pest in the garden today! I am thankfully only growing perennial kales (Brassica oleracea) and resistent sea kale (Crambe maritima) this year, both of which are already close to maximum yield and unlikely to be severely affected by the moth. This also means I don’t need to use any form of protection (horticultural fleece / fiberduk) which is probably a major source of agricultural microplastics. Problem solved!
I was blown away by the edible and medicinal gardens at the Janas Ecovillage (Ecoaldeia de Janas) during my stay there. Part of my course there was a tour of the gardens and when I enthused about the Portuguese perennial kale growing well in the gardens somebody quipped “Must be the holy grail of veggies!”. Well, not far from it, I’d tried to find it on previous work trip to Portugal having read João Silva Dias’ paper about it (see the last slide for the reference). I had contacted Dias (at the Technical University of Lisbon) to ask if he would share cuttings, but sadly he wasn’t willing. Imagine my surprise then seeing a woody plant that resembled the pictures in his paper. It was confirmed to be called Couve de Estaca (which I think means cabbage propagated by cuttings) in the ecovillage garden. The oldest plant was about 4 years and there was a newer two year old bed planted closely from cuttings! It didn’t flower!
So, here are a few pictures of the holy grail kale :)
Perennial vegetables, Edimentals (plants that are edible and ornamental) and other goings on in The Edible Garden