Step 1: Raise Kale
One of the hardiest vegetables, kale leaves look beautiful and can be harvested throughout winter and early spring, when productive pots are in short supply. Seed is best sown from mid- to late spring in trays, and seedlings planted into final pots in early summer; young plants are also available at this time of year. Sow 3/4-inch deep and space young plants at least six inches apart in large containers. Kale has a long growing season, requires space to mature and needs a sunny situation to thrive.
Aftercare and Harvesting
Water crops regularly, especially while young plants are becoming established, and watch out for cabbage white butterfly caterpillars from mid- to late summer. Pick the lowest leaves on the stems and plants will remain productive for many months. An occasional liquid feed with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer is beneficial, particularly in early spring. Also remove and compost any lower leaves that turn yellow and fall.
Raise kale by sowing seed in trays and transplanting seedlings carefully into modules (known as “pricking out”). Or buy young plants and plant in their final pots.
Black Tuscan kale is a large decorative form with blistered, dark green leaves. Like all kales, it is vulnerable to bird and caterpillar attacks; protect with fine netting to prevent damage.
Step 2: Raise Endive and Chicory
Late spring to midsummer sowings of endive and chicory produce crisp leaves that add a bitter note to salads from midsummer until winter. Endive has relatively flat heads of curly leaves that can be blanched before harvest. Sow in trays and plant out 10 inches apart in a good-sized pot. Set in light shade during summer.
Witloof chicory is forced to produce pale hearts of leaves, known as “chicons.” Sow in seed trays and then plant in deep pots, about eight inches apart, to allow the long roots to develop. Radicchio is a form of leafy chicory, and produces small hearts of red leaves. Sow seed thinly in a large pot and thin plants to six inches apart.
Aftercare and Harvesting
Keep both crops moist in summer. Blanch endive by covering the central leaves when they are dry with a plate. Leave for 12 days and cut the whole head. Harvest radicchio between summer and late fall, and blanch Witloof chicory in winter.
To force Witloof chicory, cut back leaves to 1 1/2 inches above the roots, exclude light with a pot, and set indoors. The blanched “chicons” will be ready in a few weeks.
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Large planters offer scope for mingling flowers with vegetables to create a tiny kitchen garden or “potager.”