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Garden Journal

Dinosaur kale a very versatile and nutrient rich

By Paul Barbano | Aug 06, 2014

A lizard the size of an elephant? In 1841 Sir Richard Owen described the enormous lizard-like fossils then getting attention in science by combining the Greek deinos “terrible” and sauros “lizard” to give us “dinosaur.”

Now you can grow your own dinosaur in the the garden. The so-called Dinosaur Kale (Brassica oleracea) is better known by its Italian names Lacinato or Nero di Toscana (Tuscany black kale).

This Italian heirloom has huge, blue-tinted green, strap-like leaves that are three inches wide and up to 18 inches long. It is the wavy, heavily ribbed texture of the leaves that is said to resemble dinosaur skin. Lacinato kale is the original green added to minestrone soup. You can also steam the greens, bake them into lasagna and casseroles, or add them to salads.

Lacinato kale is a nutrition powerhouse with high levels of beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, and is rich in calcium. It contains a sulforaphane, a chemical thought to have strong anti-cancer properties.

You can plant kale in the spring, but it also makes a great fall vegetable that can be planted in August.

Lacinato kale does best in well-drained, fertile soil high in organic matter with a soil pH 6.0 to 7.5 grown as an annual.

Plant the seeds one-quarter to one-half inch deep, one inch apart in rows 18 to 30 inches apart. Once the seedlings are up, thin so the plants are about a foot apart. Water your kale plants regularly, but never let the soil become soggy.

To keep the harvest going, add a thick mulch after the first freeze and your plants will produce leaves throughout the year. Cool temperatures convert the starches to sugars, so your winter and fall crops of dinosaur kale will be even sweeter.

Seeds are available from local nurseries and garden centers or by mail from seed houses such as Seed Savers Exchange (www.Seedsavers.org) or High Mowing Seeds (802-472-6174.)

Unlike its relatives in the cabbage family, Lacinato kale isn’t bothered by insect pests. As with all garden plants, rotate your crops so you do not plant kale or any cabbage relatives in the same place more than once every four years.

It is a biennial that needs two years to form seeds. Since kale is insect pollinated, you will need to isolate it from other kale varieties by one-quarter mile in order to prevent cross pollination. Luckily, if you only grow one variety of kale you can easily save seeds from your own garden.

After the second year’s growth simply let your plants flower and set seed pods.

Be careful harvesting the seeds because the pods shatter easily. Your Lacinato kale seed stays viable for up to five years.

One of the newest ways to eat kale is by making your own kale chips, like potato chips, but healthier.

Cut the leaves off the stems, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes. Your home-baked kale chips will be a crunchy, very nutritious treat.

Invite dinosaurs into your garden and grow Lacinato kale. Eat it in soups and salads or make healthy chips.

Grow and use this vitamin powerhouse in a tradition going back centuries, and innovate and make your own kale chips. You will truly be a chip off the old block.

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