Friday, September 5, 2014

perennial greens, the kale experiment

i read a book a while back called, Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener's Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles by eric toensmeier and it turned me on to perennial brassicas (kales, collards, etc.) which i didn't know existed---most brassicas are biennials.  i've since acquired some perennial bush kale plants from a seed company i use regularly and a couple of tree collards that i bought as cuttings on ebay (i love ebay for interesting plant material). 

tree collards started from cuttings

perennial bush kale, 'kosmic' kale

i read somewhere that biennial kales could be propagated from cuttings so i thought it would be fun to try this year in addition to starting new plants from seed as i usually do.
i've got a few kale plants ('lacinato' and 'russian red') out in the orchard garden that i planted last year so i took some cuttings from them this morning.

last year's planting of kales---this year's mother plants

potting kale cuttings in pumice

i had good luck getting my ebay tree collard cuttings to root in pots of pumice under glass cloches that hold in the humidity so i'm using the same method for the kale cuttings.

we'll see how they do.
i'm wondering if the kales in the garden will perennialize---i've read that it's possible.  some of them have already bolted and set seed but they're still putting out new vegetative growth and showing no signs of wanting to bolt again or die.  they're really tough plants and they're getting some thick woody stalks on them.

hefty kale stalk

i particularly like 'lacinato' kale, sometimes called dinosaur kale, it's a beautiful plant, tasty, nutritious, cold and heat tolerant, and stands up to a lot of pest pressure.  

'lacinato' kale in kitchen garden

aphids are the major pest for kale and other brassicas.  my plants have withstood several major aphid infestations (one is currently underway) and they've come through just fine.  occasionally i'll give them a blast with the hose to knock a fair amount of the aphids off but other than that i don't give them any help.

we probably end up eating more aphids than the average american

we've recently had a visit from several cabbage white butterflies so i've been hand picking caterpillars off the kales, collards, and my fall greens seedlings.

the caterpillars don't go to waste...

i've purposely left a caterpillar here and there on large, well established plants that can handle the damage.  i figure the cabbage whites have as much right to keep there genes flowing forward as the rest of us.  

caterpillar damage to tree collard leaf
it'll be interesting and fun to see how things grow and evolve---will my cuttings take?  will the biennials perennialize?  how big will the tree collards get?  there's always something to learn and new discoveries to be made in the garden---keeps life interesting.