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Giant Kale

 
R Ranson
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When I was young, I use to love the story of the giant kale. My father grew up in Wartime England and the rationing that followed, and I've always loved listening to what life was like back then. He lived in the country, not far from London, and remembers walking past the different crops on his way to school. Through the gaps in the hedgerow, he would see the Mangelwurzel and the fodder kale. Fodder kale, he told me as he tucked me in at night, was like being in a forest. Great stocks, sometimes up to 12 foot heigh, as thick as your leg, and big broad leaves. The kids played hide and seek among the kale, much to the farmer's dismay.

It is my dream to grow Giant Kale something like this:


image borrowed from here


What is Giant Kale? I'm not sure yet. I would like it to be about 6 foot tall by the first fall, and be delicious for feeding humans and animals during the winter. I imagine as the lower leaves are harvested, a forest of kale trunks, with a canopy of massive leaves above. Maybe between the kale, could grow some over-winter pulses or grain. In the spring, I chop the kale stocks for animal feed or to be chipped into mulch, and the grain or pulse can take off. The leaves of the kale are so high, the sun could still get at the plants beneath them, because our sun is so low in the sky during the winter. But maybe, having that canopy would slow the changes in temperature in the soil. That's what I imagine for Giant Kale.

Until I find my Giant Kale, let's call any kale that grows over 5 foot high in the first year and has large leaves, giant.

One day, while idly flipping through a Thomson & Morgan seed catalogue, I discovered Giant Jersey, or walking stick kale. The leaves from this kale were very tasty when young. The animals love it too. The fodder kale stocks use to be crushed for animal feed in the winter in England.

These also make the most amazing kale chips.

I saved some seeds from those plants. I think our weather was just a bit too dry in the summer and too wet in the winter for this variety of kale. It grew well enough, but it didn't thrive like I had hoped. But it was enough of a success to make me want to grow more. So I'm looking for a kale that grows tall, fast, and has sweet flat leaves that will feed both us and the livestock.

Here's a few varieties I've come across.

Richters SeedZoo
has a kale that looks promising, called Pilgrims Kale

This is a giant kale that came to the Americas from Spain centuries ago, presumably with early settlers. It became a family heirloom that is still passed on from generation to generation. It can get up to 5ft (1.5m) tall, and even taller when it flowers. SeedZoo contributor, Lorraine Collett, says that the leaves get so big they look like an elephants ear. Imagine leaves that get up to 20in/50cm long and 12in/30cm wide! The leaves can be used in soups, stews, stir-fries and can be used like cabbage leaves to make meat rolls. Hummingbirds love to visit the yellow flowers. If the flowers are allowed to set seeds, the plant will reseed itself where winters are mild. Easy to grow. Happily grows as a spring-planted annual where winters are more severe.


Baker Creak has three varieties that look promising: Forage Kale Proteor, Marrow Stem Kale, and Tronchuda Kale. They may or may not turn out to be Giant Kale, but they look like a good selections of genetics to start a breeding project with.


Does anyone out there have a giant kale they love? Anyone else growing the stuff? Do you have a seed source you could share?
 
David Livingston
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My grand mother had a walking stick made from Kale they were very common in the UK at one time grown on Jersey for the NHS in the thousands
 
R Ranson
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David Livingston wrote:My grand mother had a walking stick made from Kale they were very common in the UK at one time grown on Jersey for the NHS in the thousands


Walking sticks sound like a great idea. I've heard about it, but haven't seen one yet.

I imagine we could bend the kale as it grows, and make the woody stem into different useful shapes. I don't know much about dry kale stocks, but if they make walking sticks, maybe they are strong enough to use for other things as well?
 
William Bronson
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Wow,walking sticks? Could be great fuel for a rocket stove,also a support for bean or tomatoes, if either of these are compatible with kale.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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William Bronson wrote:Wow,walking sticks? Could be great fuel for a rocket stove,also a support for bean or tomatoes, if either of these are compatible with kale.

Not sure on tomato, but one reason I've been looking towards this crop is as a natural grown pole for winter [or ultra early spring] Chickpeas.
 
Roberta Wilkinson
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We grew "dwarf" Siberian in 2013 that no other kale has lived up to. Here's partner displaying a nice leaf, while kiddo flails a rib:



It was tender and sweet - even the ribs were good. We brought it in by the overflowing bucket load. I made big pots of saag and we filled the freezer. Other kales since have all been a bit of a disappointment.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Kyrt Ryder wrote:
William Bronson wrote:Wow,walking sticks? Could be great fuel for a rocket stove,also a support for bean or tomatoes, if either of these are compatible with kale.

Not sure on tomato, but one reason I've been looking towards this crop is as a natural grown pole for winter [or ultra early spring] Chickpeas.
And there I go dreaming without research, apparently Chickpeas don't require trellising. [Chickpeas hadn't actually been on my radar until last month when I read a thread on here about them being a cool weather crop.]

Still seems like an awesome living trellis, pole forms of common beans should work with it [I've never had trouble with Kale and bush beans intercropped before, the nutrient requirements should be close to the same between bush and pole.] Granted the kale was planted long after those bush beans, where here the pattern would be reversed.
 
R Ranson
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Widely spaced enough, I imagine this kale would make a great pairing with runner beans.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Think it might be able to handle small cucurbits [say pickle cucumbers or similar size summer squash]?
 
R Ranson
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Kyrt Ryder wrote:Think it might be able to handle small cucurbits [say pickle cucumbers or similar size summer squash]?


I think it is definitely worth a try. The ones I grew made stalks over two inches thick. Being top heavy, however, the winter winds bent some plants over.
 
leila hamaya
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i've been hunting for these types of kale too. it definitely on my most wanted list of seeds i am looking for. i did some reading trying to sort it out, but i dont know if i have it all straight...but theres several kinds of giant kales. the walking stick kale is the most well known, the one i am looking for i know only as portuguese kale, and its gigantic. it's also perennial....at least the one i am looking for is.

kales are always sort of perennial for me, short lived perennials, but i have had some for a few years. i always grow tons and tons of kale =) usually ragged jack red kale types....and some more standard curly greens. i am currently growing dinosaur kale, lacinato, its just starting out and small still even though i planted it last summer, but we will see how it is. the red kales have been well enjoyed this winter, eaten down to just sticks! but are already coming back in with fresh tiny leaves.

but i have wondered if walking stick the same subspecies/variety as the old portuguese/spain types?
 
leila hamaya
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well, you inspired me to get some seeds of galega kale
and do a bit more research.

i think that the one i am looking for is this one ---portuguese perennial kale - thousand head kale and/or the above galega kale. apparently it gets 9 feet tall!!!

i think theres very fuzzy lines between all the varieties, especially since brassicas cross so easily and freely. so its hard to pin down exact varieties.

it seems people have also squished together walking stick kale, and the very tall portuguese types, but seems they are very different.
 
Dave de Basque
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I planted an apparently very rare variety called East Friesian Palm Kale from Real Seeds in the UK (here - seems to be out of stock till 2017 at the moment ) that is supposed to grow very, very tall. It hasn't yet for me, but I planted it way too late in the season and the small, slow-growing seedlings quickly got shaded out by a couple of voracious cukes. The plants seem to be recovering from their ordeals now that their overbearing neighbors are gone and are slowly increasing in height, so that I really can believe that if I'd given them half a chance they would be tall and palm-like now. We'll see with next year's crop. Anyway, for anyone interested, there's at least one place it should be possible to get seed, even if it is potentially in a couple of years! I would love to know sources of seed of the giant leaf in the photo and also any kale you can make a walking stick from! All self-saved or have you got a commercial source?

Re staking kales, I'm beginning to think that's a good idea for even the medium plants. We do get a few days of high winds sprinkied around the year where I am, and the last little bout snapped off quite a number of frilly branches, especially on my red siberian plants. Even though there only maybe 50cm high. Not sure whether staking the main stalk would have kept leaves/branches from breaking off, but I'll probably give it a go next season and see if it helps.
 
R Ranson
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I found an inspiring thread about breeding perennial brassica that might interest some of you.

There is also something called Tree Collard which might make a good source of genetics for our giant kale. Or it might already be a giant kale. I'm still learning more about it.
 
leila hamaya
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this reference has a lot of interesting types separated out by species and variety names....

http://www.wellness.com/reference/herb/cabbage-broccoli-cauliflower-collard-kale-brussels-sprouts-kohlrabi
 
Sarah Joubert
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To Dave Forest:
Jersey Kale is the original walking stick kale and is available from various places in the UK-www.victoriananursery.co.uk. http://www.chilternseeds.co.uk/item_1360c_jersey_kale_seeds Ebay has both Jersey and the portuguese kale
 
Ken W Wilson
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Are there any US sources for these Kale seeds?
 
Alice Tagloff
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http://www.anniesannuals.com/plants/view/?id=3600
Has a 'Richmond’s Pride’, a purple 'tree collard' that grows to 6-10' and 3' wide.
There's seeds and varieties on Amazon and ebay of course.
http://www.seedman.com/giant.htm
Has Jersey Walking Stick listed, but I can't verify them as a company, they seems to be using stock photos from Amazon, and the same photos I've seen on UK sites.
 
R Ranson
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Anyone come across Canadian sources for giant kale of tree kale?

It seems like there is a big focus on dwarf varieties lately.
 
Roy Hinkley
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Out of stock here:
http://www.brothernature.ca

But I ordered some here
www.nicholsgardennursery.com
 
Nicole Alderman
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Ran across another place (in Corvallis, Oregon) that sells the seeds: http://peaceseedslive.blogspot.co.id.

Here's what they say:

Brassica oleracea Walking Stick Giant Kale 50/4.00
Growing to 12', a European heirloom with thick stems that twist and turn as the plant grows seeking support and when dried making distinctive canes.
 
R Ranson
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I'm bumping this up because there is some exceptionally good brassica based discussions going on in the perennial plant-based diet thread. Hopefully, this thread can catch some of that momentum.

Even though they are not technically a perennial, can giant kale be grown as one if we simply keep nipping off the flowers? Would tree collards achieve the same goals I hope for in my giant kale? If either of these worked, it would reduce the need to dig the soil. I could have my 'forest' of collards, then grow clover and mangelwurzels in the understory.

This needs further investigation and experimentation.
 
Eric Chen
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Luke Perkins
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I recently started a website dedicated to spreading plant material and information about purple tree collards. They can reach over ten feet tall and are hardy down to around 20° F (-7° C). Depending on how you pruned it I think you could definitely get a walking stick out of one. I will try to take some photos of the trunks on one of our older tree collards tomorrow. They are probably over two inches in diameter. Our crop of dino kale that we planted last summer overwintered and was about three to five feet tall before going to seed last month.

In the photo you should be able to see an arbor in the background with an orange lantern swinging in it. At one point we had a tree collard growing about a foot higher than the arbor. We tend to prune them at about six feet to keep them bushier like they are in this photo. On the left you can see the dino kale, most of which had already fallen over at this point from the weight of their flowers.

(Edit: in case it isn't apparent for those who are unfamiliar with tree collards- the tree collards are the large bushy green plants in the middle of the garden just beyond the leaks and in front of the bamboo bean pole structure in the background. As you can see, they are very productive. In my opinion they are worth growing as an annual in cold climates.)
IMG_4642.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_4642.JPG]
Tree collards in the garden in March
 
R Ranson
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Luke Perkins wrote:I recently started a website dedicated to spreading plant material and information about purple tree collards. They can reach over ten feet tall and are hardy down to around 20° F (-7° C). Depending on how you pruned it I think you could definitely get a walking stick out of one. I will try to take some photos of the trunks on one of our older tree collards tomorrow. They are probably over two inches in diameter. Our crop of dino kale that we planted last summer overwintered and was about three to five feet tall before going to seed last month.

In the photo you should be able to see an arbor in the background with an orange lantern swinging in it. At one point we had a tree collard growing about a foot higher than the arbor. We tend to prune them at about six feet to keep them bushier like they are in this photo. On the left you can see the dino kale, most of which had already fallen over at this point from the weight of their flowers.

(Edit: in case it isn't apparent for those who are unfamiliar with tree collards- the tree collards are the large bushy green plants in the middle of the garden just beyond the leaks and in front of the bamboo bean pole structure in the background. As you can see, they are very productive. In my opinion they are worth growing as an annual in cold climates.)


Those look fantastic. I'm really enjoying the website, lots of good information. I especially like the pruning video.

It would be fantastic to grow some of tree collards. I couldn't see... what country are you shipping from? I hope it's Canada as getting live plant matter across the border is a bit tricky, but the video said you were in California...



 
Luke Perkins
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Unfortunately we don't have a way to get them into Canada yet. If we find a way, I'll be sure to let you know. I was able to take a couple more photos of our tree collards today. Our two year old plants have 'trunks' that are around 2" in diameter- approx. 6" circumference. There are definitely some long stalks that could be used as a walking stick.
Diameter of tree collard stalk.JPG
[Thumbnail for Diameter of tree collard stalk.JPG]
 
William Bronson
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Roberta Wilkinson wrote:We grew "dwarf" Siberian in 2013 that no other kale has lived up to. Here's partner displaying a nice leaf, while kiddo flails a rib:



It was tender and sweet - even the ribs were good. We brought it in by the overflowing bucket load. I made big pots of saag and we filled the freezer. Other kales since have all been a bit of a disappointment.

If I could get a good saag recipie, my wife would be overjoyed, an chance you could share?
 
Roberta Wilkinson
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With pleasure!

Saag Recipe
 
Jan Cooper
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My friend gave us several branches of Purple Tree Collards. It was like the beans in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. She said plant them in the ground, keep them wet and they will grow. They did. She said, keep 7 plants and you can feed a family of 4 by them! She is correct in her every assessment. It is important to know that the midvein is tough. The way to prepare them for cooking is removing the mid vein and cooking the leaves. When temperatures are cold/cool, they taste like a sweet, toothsome, nutty Kale. They are over my head at about 7-8 feet trained up on a post. Really a wonderful vegetable!
 
Deb Rebel
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Dwarf Curly Scotch Kale, tried three different plantings with seed harvested 2014. I have one plant out of about 150 start/attempts.

Here I'm 6b and going to try Tree Collards but. They are at least a zone 8 so I have to deal with taking them in for the winter (cuttings cuttings cuttings!) Zone 8 line is about 120 miles from here, and they have tornados a LOT (no thank you). I hope to coldframe cap some this fall and see if I can get them to winter outside else it will be in and out with those too.... wish me luck?

Walking stick is a different kale than some of the others, I think it's Jersey for the walking stick. I am also going to be trying to overwinter some of the ornamental kales as well, just when they get to looking good they freeze.... who doesn't want a little color on their plate in late or early season?

 
John Weiland
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@Deb R: "....tried three different plantings with seed harvested 2014. I have one plant out of about 150 start/attempts."

Strange similarity recently, but some observations that may be relevant to your location, Deb. Planted Scotch curled, Russian Red, and Lacinato kale several weeks ago. These are always planted in double-rows. All emerged well except for one of the two rows of Scotch curled, so I figured I must have missed seeding it in the planting frenzy. I've now re-seeded twice and still have very poor emergence, but more importantly, what is emerging is badly flea beetle damaged. I've read that flea beetle larvae can go after the root system, and between volunteer arugula, mustards, and pak choi, the population of flea beetles has become rather high, even as the now more-adult kale, including the Scotch curled, seems quite immune to their presence. Should I just try it again or wait until the beetles cycle through? Maybe try a Bt drench at the time of planting?
 
R Ranson
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If I'm planting kale (or chard) during flea beetle season, I'll usually start them in a flat - not sure what it's actually called, but basically, it's a wooden box, about four inches deep, 1 foot wide, and a bit longer. I fill it with sifted soil and maybe some aged compost. Water it, then let it dry out - the weeds and bugs grow, then die off. Then I plant my seeds. Once the plants are big enough to withstand the beetles, I plant them in the main garden.

I'm actually thinking of stopping this step and allow my kale to self-select for bug resistance. If it can withstand the bugs, then it gets to make happy little kale seeds.
 
Deb Rebel
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I'd use some BT definitely.

And either go early (cold frame assist) or late season to avoid the flea beetles.

I just found that my dwarf scotch was pbbht for germ. I did find a second one, of fourteen sites seeded for the third attempt. So two out of 150!
 
R Ranson
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I'm not sure what BT is, but google says it's something we buy. I'm far too miserly to pay money for something in the garden when there are other (and possibly easier) solutions. I'm also loath to depend on anything I have to buy when it comes to food production.

Most of the time, I plant my kale seeds months before the flea beetles wake up. The first year or so with bought seed, the germination is sparse, but after two or three generations, the germination is near enough 100% even in cold weather. If I wanted to plant later in the year... which I'm considering as a possibility in future, then I think, for me, breeding plants that were bug resistant would be the path to go.

I have a lettuce that seems to repel bugs. I've often tried to grow lettuce, but bugs, slugs, and caterpillars thought I shouldn't. One year, I had three plants survive but I forgot about them, so they went to seed. Many of the seeds were lost, and this year I have a whole host of volunteer lettuces... none of which are being eaten by bugs, slugs, or caterpillars. I can't imagine it would be too difficult to select for bug tolerance in kale - that way we wouldn't need to spend time and effort applying bug repellent.
 
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Thanks for responses,....I replanted with seed that was packaged for 2016 in case older seed was the problem, simply overseeding the same row as before. We will see if some emerge and survive and what the extent of additional flea beetle damage might be. This may be the year to save 'survivors' of various pests and pathogens in the garden. Interestingly, it's hard to find any data on Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) efficacy on cruciferous flea beetles and one commentary on a blog suggested that standard preparations are not effective against them. Would be curious if anyone else here has the same observation. At any rate, as a back-up, I will replant some seeds indoors and transplant them when they have a bit of size.
 
Luke Perkins
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R Ranson- we are now selling purple tree collard seeds internationally. A chap is growing some of our seeds down in Australia and seems to be having good luck. You can see updates from him in this post on our Facebook Page
Tree-collard-seedlings-Chris-Lopez.jpg
[Thumbnail for Tree-collard-seedlings-Chris-Lopez.jpg]
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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