The last two…

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Spring growth of kale and collards – it’s been so warm they are already trying to flower (their flower buds can be eaten like broccoli).

On to my last two library books I took out to scour for ideas…

The Book of Kale: the easy-to-grow superfood by Sharon Hanna is relevant to my kale growing ways so it will get added to my Christmas wish list. I may be an anomaly, but I really enjoy kale (and collards), especially in the late winter and early spring. Generally I saute it with a lot of garlic, occasionally I make kale chips which tend to get eaten as fast as I can make them. Other than occasional kale salads, that about all I do with kale – so some new ideas are welcome.

The author claims kale is “the stuff of legends and reportedly offering sustenance since the age of dinosaurs, kale is one of the earth’s most health-giving, nutrient-dense food.”

What I like about this book is that she goes into the history of kale, as there is always a convoluted story behind how certain plants came to be part of our diets which I find fascinating. Kale has been cultivated for more than 6000 years. This book starts with the ancient Egyptians who must have grown a very heat tolerant kale liking it so much to decorate the tombs of their pharaohs with kale carvings to wish them eternal good health.

From another direction, wandering Celts likely brought kale to Europe from Asia in roughly 600 BC. This green went on to flourish providing tasty nourishment that went in and out of fashion to today.

The book has an entire section on how to grow kale, which I skipped – I just plant the seeds in the spring then ignore them until the fall as I generally eat other greens over the summer (the kale does get watered). Because I’ve occasionally left kale in the ground long enough to set seeds, I tend to get random kales popping up all over the place. She suggests kale as a good plant for a kids garden as it grows so quickly.

Most of the book is recipes and they are diverse – kale smoothies, kale muffins, kale chips, kale gomasio, fermented kale, kale humous, kale fritters, kale caesar, kale soups, kale pastas ……. there are lots of tasty looking recipes to try.

My last book is Vertical Vegetable and Fruit: creative gardening techniques for growing up in small spaces by Rhonda Massingham Hart.

Venturing into the third dimension is one way to produce more in a small space that I’ve only dabbled in so far. I make bamboo teepees for beans and peas and have blackberries growing along a fence. And every year I stake my tomatoes, I blink, and they have grown well over the height of the stakes and flopped over, producing a mass of jumbled tomatoes. I always miss a few ripe ones inside the mass, only discovering after that they have rotten on the ground. So there is plenty of opportunity in my garden to take better advantage of growing vertical.

The author claims: “plants grown vertically have access to more air and light, pest management is easier, and you typically will increase your yield.” Sounds good to me, perhaps this year I’ll try cucumbers and melons on trellises. I’m still going to use bamboo as I like how it looks. In addition we have an old crib which is scheduled to be disassembled to provide plant support (probably for scarlet runner beans on the deck). Bamboo and wood supports have an additional benefit over wire mesh I’d never considered – the wire mesh would heat up on a sunny day, potentially burning plants (I don’t know how much of an issue this would be).

She suggests A-frames for the heavier vines like cucumbers and melons and has a tomato support system I’ll try (I can’t describe it, so I’ll take pictures after I build it). Then there is some advice for kids: “a teepee is a great way to get kids excited about growing food, because as the vines cover it, the teepee creates its own secret garden, complete with snacks!”

The author suggests malabar spinach, a perennial in warmer climates than mine, that is a heat-loving vine. It is already in my plan for this year. It is native to Africa and southern Asia and apparently produces a mild green for salads or for cooking. Apparently it is also a good looking plant – I can’t imagine it is prettier than chard, but I’ll take pictures. I’ll try growing it against the fence.

There is also some unconventional ideas such as window farming (eg www.windowfarms.org), window boxes and plants grown in bags attached to walls. There are plans for multi-level raised beds, pot sculptures and tater towers – but, since I have space to grow plenty horizontally, a lot of these ideas I won’t bother with (I think they’d be great for much smaller spaces). A living wall is something I might try as these can look fantastic (see some examples here). A modest living wall as a screen might be the solution I’m looking for to hide my compost bins.

Now I just need to remember to return these books to the library.