Growing Perennial Kale for the Hungry Gap
I’m growing two types of perennial kale this year and they make an excellent complement to the annuals. They are especially useful in the hungry gap, when annual kale is exhausted or going to seed the perennials are in their youthful resurgence and growing strong. That lasts well into the time when the annuals are in their prime again. They are both easy to propagate from cuttings too, see later!
The first variety is Taunton Deane kale (Brassica oleracea var Acephala) an old variety of perennial kale that keeps growing for years giving a tasty supply of greens all year round. It grow’s tall and has the appearance of a tree Kale, my largest ‘tree’ is two metres tall and very hardy, provided it’s well supported. Being a perennial it withstand pests very well (although they are not immune to them), survives all kinds of weather and has a flourish of new growth each spring and summer. It is extremely nutritious and lovely steamed. Taunton Deane plants do slow down after about 5 years, so it is worth making cuttings every now and again to produce new stock.
We also grow another perennial kale called Daubenton’s (Brassica oleracea var Ramosa) which has much more of a horizontal habit and doesn’t grow as large as the Taunton Deane. It’s leaves are even more tender and smaller, for me it competes with the annual kales, which is saying something! Just like Taunton Deane it is wonderful in the hungry gap. I find it gets a bit straggly by autumn though so I tend to cut it back in late summer, it’s back to full strength by the time I need it!
You can make new plants really easily by pinching off side shoots that have knobbly ridges on the stem. After trimming the stems put into a pot of compost, remove any larger leaves leaving the growing tips. Within a week or two the plant will have perked up and will start forming roots within about a month. You can also put cuttings straight into the ground with two thirds of the stem below the surface of the soil. These plants are truly amazing, the cuttings seem to have some special properties producing roots really quickly. We make cuttings from October through to May – these are fantastic plants to add to your veg garden to give you another green leafy vegetable to eat without any work at all.
When we have a surplus of potential cuttings due to wind damage we often just dump them all in a bucket of water, after a week or so the ones that still look strong get planted in compost and the rest go to make compost.