Documents: Special Interest: What we grow to eat:

Gardening from Southern California

...Kale or flowering cabbage
by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

November 3, 2002

scfloweringcabbagenovember.jpg (45495 bytes)We don’t eat flowering cabbage and kale—we grow them for their interesting colors in the cool weather of fall, winter and early spring. I suppose you could eat them but they’re much prettier in the garden than on the dinner table, in my view.

These variants of vegetable staples have been around for many years and some years their popularity waned and you never saw them offered as started plants. Most seed catalogs continued to list one or two every year, and a few years ago several new selections became available, and once again they were popular.

Like their siblings that we serve for dinner, flowering cabbage and kale need cool weather. The hot summers of the inland valleys and low desert don’t make for good growing of these colorful plants, but seed or plants started in the fall will grow well, start to color up nicely as the rosette of leaves gets about three to eight inches wide, and as the plant gets bigger the colors get better.

The plants are compact and uniform, spreading to about a foot at maturity, and seldom getting taller than ten inches. The cabbage has smooth leaves, kale has curly leaves. Both show several colors, including pink, rose, red, ivory, and purple. And, short of freezing, although they’ll live through freezing weather, the colors improve as the weather cools.

Good nurseries and garden centers will have started plants this fall, mostly in four-inch pots, sometimes small plants in a six pack. Park Seed Co. lists its own mixture of cabbage, called Color Up Hybrids, and two varieties of kale, Nagoya, and Peacock Hybrid Mixed. Thompson and Morgan lists a mixture of both called Northern Lights. Some seed racks may have one or two varieties.

Seed should be started no later than the end of this month, plants can be set in until February. Plant flowering cabbage and kale in full sun everywhere with a little afternoon shade in the hottest valleys and the low desert. Both kale and cabbage require adequate water, and grow best in good soil. Fertilize two or three times during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer. Watch for aphids on growing plants.


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