Get growing with kale, related plants

An odd-shaped vegetable, kohlrabi features leafy stems sprouting from an above-ground ball. Like kale, it is part of the cabbage family.

If you can’t wait to get started planting vegetables, grab a packet of kale seeds.

Unexpected cold snaps pose no threat to kale; it’s one of the hardiest plants that you can grow. It’s also one of the most healthful, as well as ornamental.

No garden space? Kale thrives in a pot, which will become an advantage when the weather turns hot this summer. In July and August, simply move the pot where it will be shaded in the afternoon and keep on picking kale leaves.

My current favorite kale isn’t a new variety. Rather, it’s an Italian heirloom called Lacinato. I grew it last year for the first time but certainly not the last. I love Lacinato’s blue-green color, sweet flavor and ability to thrive in either hot or cold weather.

Sometimes referred to as dinosaur kale, Lacinato has heavily blistered leaves, which give it a somewhat primeval appearance. The plants are smaller than many other kale varieties, too, making it perfect for planting in a pot. Lacinato also is a good variety for making kale chips.

Not much patience is required. Grown from seed, baby kale leaves are ready for salads in just 25 to 30 days, mature leaves in about two months.

Now also is a good time to plant seeds of some of kale’s relatives, the other members of the cabbage (Brassica) family. Kohlrabi, for example. This odd-shaped vegetable looks like an alien spaceship with leafy stems sprouting from an above-ground ball. Once obscure, kohlrabi is moving into the mainstream. A spokesman at Johnny’s Selected Seeds confirms that kohlrabi, like kale, is catching on; even kids are eating it.

Two-inch kohlrabi balls are ready for harvest just 45 days after you plant seeds. If you plant an extra-early variety like Quickstar, you could be eating garden-fresh kohlrabi even sooner. I think kohlrabi is at its best served raw with dip.

Cabbage also earns space in my vegetable garden, but not just any cabbage. I like varieties that make mini or baby heads. The size is ideal for a single meal. They take less garden space. And a mixture of red and green varieties is eye-catching.

Turnips are traditionally planted in August in the Midwest, to mature in autumn’s cool weather. Not so the Japanese baby turnips that have become one of my favorite spring vegetables. Sweet and crisp globes ready to eat just 30 days after sowing seeds, they’re out of the garden before hot weather arrives.

Cabbage worms attack any of the Brassicas, although cabbage and broccoli are their favorites. Cover plants with netting or spray a Bt product such as Dipel every 10 days. Just be careful of drifting spray, which could harm desirable butterflies.

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