Kale, Black Tuscan

Kale, Borecole or Colwort,  Brassica oleracea var. acephala
Cruciferae [Brassicaceae] commonly known as the mustard family

A Lacinated kale also referred to as Nero di Toscano, Cavolo Nero, palm or dinosaur kale. This is one of my all time favourite winter greens and to my mind one of the best winter greens you can grow. A hardy plant that, like most Kales, produces lush leaves during the cooler months, growing sweeter after frosts. The leaves of this variety are long and blistered, with the crinkled edges turning inward. The leaves are a dark green that get darker, almost black, the colder it gets.

Nero di Toscana Precoce in December sun 2009

Origin Kales are non heading cabbages and one of the oldest forms of cultivated brassica. It is often described as primitive possibly because it is little changed and most closely related to the wild brassica ancestor whose origins appear to be the eastern Mediterranean regions. It is thought to have been used as a food crop as early as 2000 B.C and known to have been cultivated in Europe, by the early Greeks and later Romans, and then spread to other parts of the World. Today Kales represent a species of leafy greens with a great deal of diversity. This variety is from Italy where it was developed in Tuscany, probably during the 18th century. Vilmorin in 1885 describes the Italian Cavolo Nero as being similar if not the same as a variety known as Chou Palmier (palm cabbage) grown in France at that time, but described as tall and not going to flower until its third year.
Propagation Sow in a seed bed in mid to late spring and plant out in summer 6-8 weeks later. Choose a cloudy or rainy day or provide temporary shade for the first week, if the weather is hot, to give the young plants a chance to settle. Plant deeply right up to the first leaves to provide good support. Plant in rows or blocks at a spacing of 30-45cm apart for large plants or 20cm for smaller ones. Care hoe between plants and provide ground cover with an organic mulch to retain moisture and liquid feed in spring to encourage fresh growth. Note I’ve grown this Kale here for the last 5 years and some years it performs much better than others probably to do with the dry heat but it is most badly affected by delaying planting out (I’ve sometimes delayed  more than a whole month waiting for a dull day to transplant but I think it is better to plant out even when conditions are not good and provide shade and moisture than delay and leave it in the seedbed too long, this years Kale did not get planted until mid September and it is pretty stunted). I would generally aim to get winter brassicas planted in July and certainly before mid August. For those in cooler climates this kale should do very well.

Crop These kales are hardy up to at least minus 10c (15F) and stand a long time ready to crop, over 5 months in my garden, from late Autumn right through heavy winters to early spring. Harvestingdiscard any older yellowing leaves (these won’t taste good) and pick leaves as needed by pulling downwards against the  stem. Flower spikes are sent up in spring and, if caught at the right moment, make delicious spring sprouting-broccoli-like greens.

In the Kitchen
Absolutely delicious simply steamed, pan fried with garlic, or boiled then seasoned with butter. It is a versatile green and can be added to soups such as Ribollita or cooked in sauces such as Indonesian pepper sauce. People often advocate eating this kale raw, but personally I don’t like it. I think its flavour is enhanced by brief cooking, as little as 3 minutes in a wok or pan of hot water makes all the difference, just until the green intensifies.

Further Reading
Kale: The Phytonutrient Master

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  1. #1 by Dirty Girl Gardening on February 9, 2010 - 19:29

    I love that kale, too! It’s so hardy and easy to grow… nice pictures.

  2. #2 by Matron on February 9, 2010 - 22:40

    I adore the taste of kale, but sadly I don’t really grow many brassicas. Not enough space to set aside land for such a long period, and I just despair with all the critters that want to munch their way through all along!

  3. #3 by Christina on February 10, 2010 - 05:08

    Cavalo Nero is my absolute favorite kind of kale too, and this year I think I’ve finally decided that when I put in my fall vegetables again, Cavalo Nero is the only kale I’ll grow. The others are never as tender or sweet, and I love the way this looks growing in my vegetable garden.

    For dinner tonight, I added ribbons of it to a hearty soup of mushrooms and root veggies. I like it stirfried with preserved lemon slivers and garlic, or spiced up with chili, or steamed or any hundreds of ways. It’s so yummy. And you’re right: the flower spikes are delicious.

  4. #4 by Laura on February 11, 2010 - 10:27

    UM preserved lemons sounds good. I usually just do chilli and garlic but that’s a great idea Christina. I know what you mean matron but I am crazy about dark green brassicas so I have a winter bed which follows broadbeans or peas for the brassicas and when I’ve run out of space there (which I always do) I plant them between 1 stem cordon tomatoes it seems to work quite well they get protection for too much summer sun then when the tomatoes are pulled out late October they get the room to do their thing. The bugs are a problem I work on the principle that the bugs that devistate the brassicas (I only grow brasscias for the winter and early spring months) will have been killed off by the cold by the time the plants are putting out to harvest.

  5. #5 by Michelle on February 11, 2010 - 10:46

    Laura, do you guys have a problem with white cabbage moths on your kale??? Mine have been destroyed….any tips for combatting the little nasties?

    • #6 by Laura on February 11, 2010 - 12:11

      Yes they are a real pest – I check the underside of the leaves of all the brassicas (i grow a lot of different types for winter and early spring harvest) as I am going round the garden watering, weeding, harvesting or whatever and rub off the eggs that have been laid. If you can catch them at that stage life is much easier so I try to keep on top of it as soon as I see the cabbage whites flying around (I thought it was a butterfly is it a moth?). If i miss a patch of eggs and they hatch, they are often hidden quite cleverly but I’ll know pretty quickly because you can really smell the cabbagy smelling excretions – a big give away to a well hidden caterpillar munching away :-). I pull the caterpillars off and crush them, which I feel bad about but I just think that is my dinner you are eating. If we had chickens it would a much better ecology because they love eating them.

  6. #7 by Heiko on February 16, 2010 - 14:45

    Learned something new there. I obviously grow cavolo nero, living practically in it’s homeland and always likened them to kale, but didn’t know they were classified as such.

    For all my brassica I suffer a different pest though, large re and black beetles that can
    devestate my crops during the summer months. I’ve been spraying with a garlic soap mixture, which only keeps them off for a short while. The only way around it seems for me is buying ready grown plants in autumn and eat my cavolo before the summer, when these pests come crawling and flying out of the woodwork.

    • #8 by Laura on February 16, 2010 - 15:56

      That seems such a shame Heiko. We too get beetles that go for the brassicas they are not always red and black sometimes, later in the season, they are also yellow and black or cream and black. I don’t know what they are but they make a real mess of the brassicas. I do have a rather dastardly method of dealing with them (look away now if you like bugs and don’t want to read details of their annihilation) I get an empty metal coffee tin with a flexible plastic lid I go round the brassicas and knock these bugs off into it (they are often slow moving and you get them two at a time their rear ends joined) when I have enough I remove the lid put the tin on the ground and blast the inside of the tin with my mini torch (the sort used for small soldering jobs or creme brulée, I also use it for weeds in the walls and for these bugs), alternatively pour something combustible like lighter fluid in and quickly drop a match in. That’s the end of the bugs. Do you know what the bugs are?

  7. #9 by Heiko on February 16, 2010 - 16:17

    No, I don’t know what they. I simply pick them off and squash them between finger and thumb, but late in the season there are simply too many to cope.

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