Years ago I tried to grow kale in the kitchen garden, and ended up with a butterfly farm. Well actually it was more like a cabbage white caterpillar infestation, but my youngest son had just learned that caterpillars turn into butterflies so he was truly thrilled at our new pets. I was less thrilled, and the whole project ended with all the cabbages and kale being thrown onto the compost. My youngest son protested wildly, until I convinced him the heat of the compost would make the process quicker and that we would have more different coloured butterflies if the pupas were tucked up nice and warm... The lies we tell our children... I still feel guilty about that one. Luckily, as we did have an abundance of butterflies that summer, at least it left no lasting trauma.
This year I decided to try again.
The spring was cold and late, so it was around mid-May that I filled up seed trays with compost and planted the seeds. I don't have a greenhouse so I decided to start the seeds indoors in front of the large windows at Humlegård, and as I was quite unsure if it would work at all I thought more is more and went a bit overboard with the amount of seeds I planted. With hindsight I realise I had perfectly well made do with half the amount, but I figured not all would succeed as I am a novice at this. Sometimes we get lucky!
The most important thing about planting seeds is to ensure the soil is adequately moist. If it is too wet the seeds rot, and if it is too dry they die. The first week until they had properly germinated I kept them covered with layers of plastic foil with small breathing holes pin pricked in them. Again, the air needs to flow but it also needs to be warm and moist.
I was a bit too pessimistic in my prognosis so I planted way too many seeds per plug. I had figured not all would germinate, and lo and behold my surprise when most of them did! This led to me replanting seedlings in bigger pots, four per pot, and then nervously waiting to see if they would survive. Mercifully, they did! But it was an excruciating wait and my friends got tired with me saying I can't go to parties because I have to watch my babies.
Apparently seedlings need to be hardened out to the cool spring weather, so for a few weeks I carried the trays out in the morning and back in in the evening. Then I bought some fleece and covered them up, left the seed trays outside and crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Again I was lucky, and by June I could plant them all outside in the garden.
I bought special planting compost and made little holes in the ground where I planted my darling seedlings, and then I rigged up frames for fleece covers to prevent a new cabbage caterpillar infestation. I also used sawdust from the chicken litter and grass cuttings to mulch around the plants after I had watered the soil thoroughly.
Three weeks later I could start picking leaves from the kale, and six weeks later the cauliflowers are beginning to make little heads. Suddenly I am drowning in produce! At least I know my darling vegan daughter will not starve this summer!
The varieties I'm growing are palm kale Nero di Toscana, cauliflower Premiere, redkale Roter Grunkohl, Napa cabbage Granaat and Mangold Five Colours, all from Runobergs fröer.