Steve Bender

This tasty veggie is so good it makes other greens see red.

In my early years at Southern Living, I lamented in a column how kale – my favorite cool-weather green I grew up with in Maryland – wasn’t available as plants at garden centers or veggies at supermarkets in my new home in north-central Alabama. Some folks didn’t appreciate my thoughts.

I got one letter that read, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you pack your bags and take your kale back with you to Yankeeland?”

My, how things have changed. Now everyone from Billy Bob to Earline to Joe Frank to Wilma Jean are crazy about kale. They call it the “wonder food,” because it contains so many vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and hallucinogens. (OK, I made that last one up.) People consume it in salads, soups, stir-fries, stews, as a side, and in smoothies. I haven’t seen kale beer, kale ice cream, kale upside-down cake, or kale cigars yet, but will report them when I do.

Now is the time to set out small plants from your garden center. Though it may be warm at the moment, these plants will thrive in the cool fall days ahead and grow sweeter after a few frosts. Kale is the hardiest of greens, easily surviving 10 degrees, and lower than that if insulated by snow, hay, or floating row covers. Here in USDA Zone 8A, I can start harvesting in fall and continue through the following spring, picking the outer leaves first and allowing new ones to grow from the center.

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Plants grow 14 to 30 inches tall. Space them 12 inches apart in fertile, well-drained soil that gets full to partial sun. You’ll need to add lime to very acid soil to raise its pH above 6.2. Feed them every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer. If you see white cabbage moths fluttering about, spray your plants according to label directions with organic insecticides like Dipel, Thuricide, or spinosad to kill any caterpillars munching the leaves.

Kale is more than just tasty and healthy. It can also be quite ornamental grown by itself or in combinations with other veggies or cool-weather flowers. It’s wonderful in mixed containers.

Let me recommend three outstanding kales for your dining and viewing pleasure. ‘Winterbor,’ up top, offers very frilly, blue-green leaves. ‘Redbor,’ below, is nearly identical in shape, but flaunts purple leaves and pink stems. This one is hard to miss!

Kate Gadsby/Getty Images

For something completely weird and different, try “dinosaur kale,” aka ‘Lacinato’ or ‘Toscano,’ shown below. It produces long, narrow, blue-gray leaves that are thick and puckered. Chefs prize them.

Michael Davis/Getty Images

Does my blatant promotion of kale still offend your regional pride? Feel free to nurse your wounded ego in silence.