Is it possible for a vegetable to reach celebrity status? Tuscan kale has seemingly reached a kind of stardom with both ornamental and vegetable gardeners.
Brassica oleracea var. acephala, aka Italian lacinato, Nero Toscano, black kale, dinosaur kale. I grow very few vegetables, but when I read Deborah Silver considered this kale a star of her 2010 ornamental containers, that was the push I needed to sow just a few for my mom’s vegetable garden last fall. Most brassicas are an effortless winter crop for our zone 10, and the kale was every inch as splendid as Deborah’s words and pictures described, so I sowed more for myself early this spring. By this time, though, I decided I wanted to eat them. Occasionally, with cannelini beans and parmesan, but also in soups, even raw in salads. These were from the fall-sown plants, some leaves harvested in early April.
Obviously, my life is lived through blogs these days. After admiring these handsome plants all winter in my mom’s garden, I finally got around to a taste test when Noel Kingsbury blogged that this kale was in reality too tough for eating. (“I once grew â€˜Nero de Toscanaâ€™ kale, now a very trendy plant amongst heritage veg growers. Its tough leathery leaves were greatly inferior to any other kale Iâ€™ve ever grown, old or new.”) I respectfully disagree and want to eat lots more. (Roll the leaves into a cigar, chopping into half-inch pieces. Leaving the stems on or de-stemming is up to personal preference.)
But where to plant them? It would have to be containers. Call me an effete, a sissy, but I don’t want to start a practice of growing vegetables in black plastic nursery containers next to the tetrapanax and arundo. I may eventually get there, but not this summer. And I wanted to keep the veggies segregated, growing the kale with two other good-looking vegetables, the purple climbing bean â€˜Trionfo Violettoâ€™ and a climbing squash ‘Trombetta di Albenga.’ Ideally, the beans and squash would climb up the grapevines planted in the garden behind the terrace. This is a lot to ask of a very small space, so I’d need a deep container.
Finally, I decided these air vents from the building supply giant we’ve nicknamed Home Despot were an inexpensive solution I could live with.
I moved out a little table and chairs from the terrace and placed the vents bottomless on the brick-and-sand paving. Filled half with potting soil, half with a good, chunky compost.
The grapevine, strictly ornamental and not for eating, clambers up these chains, which I’ve hung the past couple years to replace a trellis that obscured too much of the garden in winter. The back garden curves like a horseshoe around this little terrace. It’s much easier to reach through the curtain of vines, even in high summer, to attend to the plants growing in the border behind the grapes.
May 1. The grapes are well up the chains, the soil has not run out the bottom of the vents, and the plants are flourishing.
By June 7 the squash’s massive leaves are weaving up the grapevines, lush and free from insect damage so far.
The beans have reached the top of the pergola, and I found a purple pod about 5 inches long yesterday.
But this may ultimately be far too crowded for healthy, productive growth. Fun, yes. Practical? Possibly not.
I’ll know by the end of summer. I’d be happy just to harvest a few squash.
I’ve pulled all the fall-sown kale at my mom’s vegetable garden and planted our tomatoes.
Kale is not a summer crop for zone 10, but I’m going to leave this plant in the vents to watch it run to seed.*
*Pulled the aphis-infested kale 6/14/11. Insect-free fall/winter/early spring crop for zone 10.