Friday, May 5, 2017

More Brassicas - Kale and Beira Tronchuda


It's been overcast, cool and rainy for the past week with only one day of sunshine.  I've done plenty of sowing and transplanting but with the cool temperatures, growth in the garden is fairly slow.

Earlier this month, a couple of the brassicas were transplanted into the garden, namely the kohlrabi and rapini (both of which I spoke about in a previous post).  Kale and Beira Tronchuda were also supposed to be transplanted at that time but I forgot to add them to the hardening off tray, so they didn't end up in the ground until a couple of weeks ago.

Baby Beira Tronchuda

Baby Kale

Last year, I grew 4 different varieties of kale:  Red Russian, White Russian, Red Ursa and Starbor.



This is when keeping records comes in handy.  My overall impression was that the kale did so-so but when I look back at the numbers from 2015, the 2016 harvest was significantly better.  How much better, you ask?  Well, in 2015 I grew both White and Red Russian and harvested 121 grams and 233 grams per sq. ft. respectively, so we are talking about a four-fold increase.

In fact, my largest ever harvest of kale was 824 grams/sq. foot in 2014 from an unidentified kale variety (dubbed NCK - "Not Curly Kale" - as it was a different variety than what was stated on the seed packet).  This year, both White Russian and Red Ursa beat it out, so I would say that's a big success.  Did I mention that they were also delicious?  No point in growing a lot of a particular variety if it doesn't taste good, now is there.

But I’m not celebrating quite yet as I’m certain that the total yield could have been much better.  Several factors reduced the overall harvest:  (1) the heat coupled with insufficient watering until the drip irrigation was installed in mid-July, (2) the kale was near the back of the bed and somewhat shaded by taller crops for a good part of the summer and lastly (3) I didn’t pick it as often as I should have and many leaves were chucked into the compost as they were too old (my bad!).


I also learned another valuable lesson in 2016:  Keep that netting on the bed from the beginning of the season straight to the end.  Last year, I took the netting off the bed in late September and, within a couple of days, I noticed several cabbage whites fluttering about.  I put the netting back on but it was too late – I was picking cabbage worms out of the kale for the rest of the season, especially on the curly Starbor…those sneaky buggers know a good hiding spot when they see it!

This year, I’ve decided to stick with the same 4 varieties.  Starbor was a new addition last year and, other than the cabbage worm issue, I also found it to be a bit tough, but I decided to give it another go as I do enjoy curly kale in salad and it's toughness may have been from lack of water.

I’m hopeful that the kale harvest this year will be significantly improved.  Although I can’t do much about the weather, the drip irrigation will be running, the kale will be in a sunnier spot and I’ll be upping my harvest game.

While kale did well last year, the Beira Tronchuda – a kale/collard type green – was a total flop…as in a zero harvest.  Why?  Because the seedlings were right at the back of the bed and shaded by the kale on one side and a spruce tree on the other.  I placed them there as I thought that they would grow more or less at the same pace as the kale and then, as they do get rather tall, surpass it.  Well, that’s obviously not what happened.

You can see the pale, yellowing leaves of the Beira Tronchuda on the upper left corner
- and it never grew much bigger than that

Trial and error is the name of the game when it comes to growing a variety of crops in a single bed so that they all play nicely together.   This year, I’ve changed the Tronchuda's position so we’ll see how they do.

I grow Beira Tronchuda primarily for use in the traditional Portuguese soup, Caldo Verde, so I'm only growing a couple of plants.  That may not sound like a lot but in my best year, I was able to harvest 2.5 lbs (1.1 kg) of leaves from one plant...it's one seriously productive crop given the right conditions.  With their new, sunnier position in the bed, I'm hopeful that we will have a bountiful year - it won't take much to beat last years harvest, that's for sure!

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

21 comments:

  1. Good luck! I am trying to learn to like kale. I planted a small amount and enjoying the smaller leaves in a salad. Need to get a little more planted. Nancy

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    1. Hi Nancy-I even got my hubby--a total kale hater--to eat it. Bacon, onions, garlic and a bit of chicken broth. YUM!
      Try it.

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    2. Sounds like a winning recipe to me - everything tastes better with bacon!

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  2. I'm growing Tronchuda again this year, but like you only a couple of plants. I use it much like I would any kale or collard green, including soup. I planted 6 or 8 plants one year and we were struggling to deal with it all. Trial and error is definitely the name of the game!

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    1. That's true - sometimes it's hard to hold back at the beginning of the season when you're planting tiny seeds in tiny pots. Greens are so deceiving - it's incredible how much you can harvest from one little plant.

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  3. Everything looks so wimpy and sad when it first goes in, doesn't it? And yet, you can't keep a good Kale down!
    Best of luck this year. I'm wishing for rains, perfectly spaced every three days a half inch. And lots of sun, but not too much heat. You know--PERFECT!
    Ha. I'm delusional!
    Have a terrific weekend in the garden!
    :)

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    1. So true - every green looks so tiny and sad when it goes in the ground, but then it starts to pick up speed and next thing you know you can't keep up with the harvest!

      Yes - rain every 3 days, for a couple of hours preferably in the morning. Then sunshine and no humidity. Like THAT will ever happen! We can dream, though, can't we :)

      I hope you have a better weekend in the garden than us - rain and very cool temps here for the next few days, unfortunately. But then, it's full "spring" ahead :)

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  4. If I ask Mick to pick some veggies up for me from the greengrocers, he always comes home with kale, he loves it so it's something I use often. Netting is a real requirement when growing brassicas, isn't it? It's not just the butterflies here that attack the crop, pigeons are only too happy to share the bounty.

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    1. We love it too - even my daughter who has always been rather picky when it comes to greens doesn't blink when I put it in soups or salads now...a real veggie victory!

      Pigeons aren't really an issue around here - the only time we see them is when we go to Toronto. From the damage they can do to crops, I'm hoping it stays that way!

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  5. I have heard of Tronchuda but grow all the others. Cavolo Nero is my favourite (and the pigeons) but I've been offered some Daubenton's Kale which is a perennial. Could be interesting. I always grow my brassicas in pots until there's room to plant them out after the broad beans. That way I seem to miss the butterfly egg laying season but I think I'll net the plants anyway this year. I always wash the leaves in water with vinegar added, it always washes off any pests that might be lurking.

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    1. You know, Cavolo Nero was on my list this year but it ended up slipping through the cracks when I put in my seed orders. I've been on the lookout whenever I come across a seed rack in a store but no luck so far. Perennial kale - now that would be something! I am very intrigued but some googling revealed that it may be difficult to source in North America. I'm looking forward seeing how you do it.

      Around here, cabbage whites are out all season long, unfortunately, so there really is no safe time to take that netting off (which I found out the hard way!).

      And thanks for the vinegar/water idea - my mom has always done that when cleaning store bought kale (for "disinfecting") but it never occurred to me that it would be a useful practice when dealing with buggy greens - I'll have to give it a try :)

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  6. It looks like your kale produced really well last year. All my kale starts died this year, but it looks like you harvested kale all summer so I'll go ahead and get more started.

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    1. I have yet to have kale bolt on me - as far as I can remember, anyhow - probably because it's not in ground long enough. Considering we do have rather hot weather for 2-3 months over the summer, I would say that it would be worth giving it a shot. Worst that can happen is they all bolt on you but the upside is you may find out that you can grow kale during part or all of the summer - a good thing to know going forward!

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  7. We keep our brassicas covered too but with enviromesh to try and keep the whitefly at bay too. As soon as the mesh is removed they seem to home in and they are very difficult to get rid of once they become established.

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    1. We don't seem to have much of an issue with whitefly, thank goodness - of course, now that I've said that I'll likely find some in the garden this year (which is what happened last year with tomato hornworms!)

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  8. I finally figured out that 2 Tronchuda Beira plants is plenty and the same goes for kale. It's difficult to have too much broccoli though. I've got 4 plants producing side shoots at the moment and 4 new plants coming along. Cabbage worms tend to not be a big problem for me but aphids are a year round challenge and are the reason I don't grow curly kales anymore - those curly leaves are just perfect places for aphids to proliferate.

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    1. I'm trying only 6 broccoli plants this year, but I'm only growing my favourite Arcadia this time round as the other varieties I've tried just don't seem to produce very well in comparison. I'm also spacing them out a bit more - those that had a bit more space last year seemed to have higher yields so I wanted to test out that theory this season.

      Aphids are such a pest, aren't they? I've not grown Mei Quing in a couple of years specifically because the aphids found them much too delectable. So far no aphid problems with kale, but we all know that you never say never!

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  9. With our recent weather (I swear it just snowed for a few minutes), this might be a great brassica year with the cool weather! But still ... those darn cabbage moths.

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    1. Snow!! Yikes! We have a frost advisory on for tonight, which is, of course, at the WORST possible time as both my plum and nectarine trees are in full bloom - ugh!!

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  10. Well, we live and learn. Sounds like you'll have plenty of kale regardless. That second green I've never heard of. Sounds exotic.

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    1. Beira Tronchuda may be of Portuguese origin - it's sort of a mix between kale/collard.

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