Kale is a classic in West Coast gardens.

COLUMN: Kale reigns supreme in West Coast gardens

In Tofino and Ucluelet, kale is a classic.


Special to the Westerly

Scrappy Pacific Northwest gardeners reliably turn to one vegetable which has little flash but lots of brash to provide them with year-round harvests. In our region, unassuming kale is a classic and reigns supreme.

Easy to manage, it is tolerant of new gardener’s neglect; aloof to the variegates of Vancouver Island weather; easy for seed saving; and, is recognized as a nutritional power-house.

Local avid home gardeners may gift you some of their treasured kale seeds, but don’t be in a rush, for assuredly they will also share their seeds’ back story.

In fact, woven into the chronicles of towns across Vancouver Island are small plot growers saving kale seeds, season after season, for decades.

Connie Kuramoto knows kale well and shares her kale’s seeds story:

It was Mrs. Matterson, in 1974 who introduced me to the joys of Red Russian Kale for which I will be forever grateful. I was 22 and didn’t even know kale existed.

That all changed when I got my first gardening job.

Mrs. Matterson was the wife of Ucluelet’s first Mayor. Spry, despite her years, she had a charming home and garden plot in downtown Ucluelet.

Needing extra help with her vegetable garden she offered me a small section for myself and would also pay me to tend her garden area. I jumped at the chance!

As an experienced Eastern gardener, I soon learned that gardening on the West Coast is a whole other story. In my site, plants were not flourishing save for one group of plants showing triumphant vigor – Mrs. Matterson’s kale. The kale seeds she had given me to plant were thriving.

The kale I grew that year is the ancestor of the kale I have been growing in my garden ever since.

For over 46 years I have grown this kale in Ucluelet, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, and now in Qualicum Beach.

Saving the seeds from the most energetic and pest resistant plants, my Red Russian kale continues to perform well and is rarely bothered by either cabbage moths or woolly aphids.

This varietal of kale is nothing like the tough kale you might find in the store or on a restaurant plate. It is tender and delicious, and its tenderness is probably why you rarely see it in stores.

It wilts very quickly after harvest. As tender as it is to eat, it is not at all tender when it comes to surviving winter temperatures.

In general, many diverse types of Kale grow well in our climate.

You can start seeds now – indoors under bright lights and planted out once the plants are showing true leaves – or direct sow into the soil once the ground is warm.

Like other brassicas plants, kale tastes best when cooler temperatures arrive.

Therefore, sowing kale again in late July provides for winter crops.

Kale helps build confidence in new gardeners and rewards adept gardeners with endless returns.

Jeanne Keith-Ferris is the president of the Ucluelet Local Food Society.

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