All hail mighty kale!

Zahra Ali thinks you should start growing the super-vegetable right away, especially if you're in Karachi!

Having originated by the Mediterranean, kale gained popularity as a widely consumed leafy green of Europe by the end of the Middle Ages. Russian traders introduced the red curly Russian kale to Canada and then the United States in the 19th century. During the trying times of World War II, the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign on the Allied home front introduced this highly nutritious cruciferous vegetable in the UK and encouraged home growers to plant kale at home to supplement wartime supplies of food.

I’m about to ask you to do the same, but before that, let’s see what makes kale so special. In nutritional terms, 1 cup of cooked kale consists of 1180% of the daily recommended value  of Vitamin K, 98%  of Vitamin A and 71 % of Vitamin C. Besides being an excellent source of these essential vitamins, it is also a great source of manganese, copper, vitamin B, calcium, potassium, vitamin E and much more.

Kale takes particularly well to Karachi's conditions

That’s what the hype is all about: vitamins and good stuff!

So how can you go about growing this 2,000-year-old Mediterranean superhero of vegetables in your very own garden?

The only challenge in growing kale is sourcing a good heirloom seed. The problem can be solved easily if you travel to other countries, have a friend or relative who can carry seeds for you, a credit card that makes online payments or a local grower who is willing to share seeds.

Red Russian kale

I love converting spinach-based desi meals into kale-based ones. Daal Kale or Kale Paneer makes a deliciously healthy lunch

We have been growing it at home for the last 4 years and it has been a effortless crop that keeps on producing throughout the year.  The best part is that this green vegetable performs exceptionally well in Karachi and plants started from seeds will keep producing for at least the next two years. I have some that are almost three years old now.

Kale exists in diverse forms all around the world but here are some recommended varieties that will not let you down…

Lacinato or Dinasorus: which has an earthy, nutty flavor and dark blue-green leaves.

Red Russian: which has green flat leaves with fringed edges and red or purple stems. There’s a slight pepper-ish tinge to it.

Curly kale: which has bright or dark green tightly ruffled leaves – and a bitter and peppery taste.

Always buy heirloom, non-GMO and preferably non-hybrid seeds if you want to experience true flavours and the pleasure of seed saving.

Lacinato kale

When to plant it in Karachi?

You can start your seeds outdoors any time of the year except for the peak summer days.  Since the plant produces for several years, you need to start your seeds only once in a year or two.  My kale seedlings that I planted two weeks back are growing fast and look healthy even in this heat. The older batch that I started in the early winters is lush with growth.

Sowing, Transplant and Aftercare

This super vegetable, like other green vegetables, loves a generous supply of organic feed or fertiliser.  You can either sow seeds in a container or on the ground directly. Or you can start your seedlings and transplant.

In case you’re starting seedlings, sow seeds 1/4 inch deep and cover with sieved manure or fine compost. You can also use seedling trays and in that case use coco peat mixed with compost. Water gently and cover with a newspaper. Keep moist until the seedlings emerge and grow 4 pairs of leaves. Then it’s time to transplant them into bigger pots or plot. Each plant needs 12 inches of space to grow. Make sure the pot is also at least 12 inches deep. Adding a thin layer of organic fertiliser every month will help in keeping plants healthy.

Harvesting and storing

You can start picking outer leaves when they are 5 inches long or you can let them grow bigger. Kale is easiest to cook while it is fresh. Remove the stems, chop the leaves and use immediately or blanch and freeze. The stems can be cooked too, or sent to the compost bin… or even fed to the hens!

I love converting spinach-based desi meals into kale based ones.  Daal Kale or Kale Paneer makes a deliciously healthy lunch while a Kale-banana-and-berry smoothie is simply divine as a breakfast. Kale quiche made with homegrown kale and eggs is a perfect way to share the blessings of organic food.  For dinners try topping up your whole wheat pizza with kale. A warm cup of clear soup with kale goodness will be very comforting, if that’s what you’re looking for.

There are so many ways in which you can incorporate this super vegetable into your diet. All you need to do is grow a few pots of kale at home!

Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at Send in questions about gardening to