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Steve's Kale, still flourishing 12 months after planting

Kale forever

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Editor STEVE PAYNE begins a series of blogs sharing the successes, failures and surprises from his home garden.

Like many gardeners, the state of my patch varies depending on the time of year, and how much time and energy I have to devote to it. I’ve learnt as I go, but never taken any lessons or workshops, or had a grandparent or parent to show me how.

Early on as editor of OG, I wrote an editorial about my gardening woes. Our block of land in the little village of The Channon, in subtropical Northern NSW, nestled between Lismore, Nimbin and Byron Bay, is a difficult one to garden on. We have a two-storey house and the backyard is lined with massive rainforest trees that have advanced in height and girth enormously over the years. But even when we first moved to this house around nine years ago, the house and trees made it almost impossible to find a spot that had enough sun to grow vegies. I actually set a patch up in the very bottom corner of the backyard, which required a very long hose from the water tank, and a trek to get there. Even then the sun was not really enough (you really need four to six hours of sun to grow healthy vegies).

Eventually I faced the fact that I would have to plonk the vegies out the front – on the street verge for all to see. Years down the track now, with numerous modifications, I’ve still got a patch out the front and it does well enough not to embarrass me. In true permaculture style, it’s always under observation because I pass it on the way to pick up the paper and mail, and when walking my daughter to school. Last autumn, a gardening friend brought in some nice matured horse manure for the raised beds and the garden has been powering with occasional top ups of compost and soil conditioners.

I thought I’d include this photo of my Tuscan kale. It has been growing since last autumn and I expected it to have given up by now, but it keeps going and we are still harvesting from it for fetta and kale pie, to name one dish. I have four plants, more than enough for a family (in fact, to feed all the neighbours as well).

Like most gardeners, I grow kale as an annual (i.e. plant new crops each year), but it is actually a biennial plant, which means it completes its life cycle within two years. I’m told that if you keep feeding and watering it, you should continue to get a harvest for a good 18 months or so.

Two of my kale plants have keeled over and the stalks are flat on the ground, but the plants are doing well regardless and still look strikingly ornamental in their low-to-the-ground position. Perhaps they just needed a rest as they head into old age. If you are looking for a long-producing crop, this is a goer. I wonder what is the longest these plants have lasted for?

I’ve also noticed in recent weeks that the mature plants are sprouting from the base and along the main stalk, offering more tender leaves to harvest. Apparently these little side shoots are quite common on mature Tuscan kale plants. Most of the growth energy in the plant is concentrated at the top, so the side shoots never really get a decent go-on unless you chop it back – which I’m told is not a bad idea when the plants get too tall – then all the plant energy goes into these shoots sending them into a flurry of growth.

Until next week!