Most recently, Steele introduced me to a vegetable curiosity known as tree kale. As anyone who is health conscious and eats probably knows, kale is the latest superfood. Its cultivation goes back to the fourth century B.C. in ancient Greece where it was known both for its culinary and medicinal properties, just as it is today. Simply put, there is no vegetable more packed with vitamins and anti-oxidants than kale. As if this were not enough of a recommendation, it is also laced with Omega-3 and reduces the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Robert Steele, who maintains a thriving vegetable garden in West Covina, always has something new to teach, especially in the area of pest control, a trade in which he worked professionally for many years. Thanks to him, I learned that control of soft-bodied insects — aphids, mealybugs, and whiteflies, for example — can be achieved by spraying whole milk on the offending critters. This remedy is especially appropriate at the beginning of spring, when aphids are plentiful in the garden. You may have to spray every other day until the insects succumb, at which point their remains can be washed off with water.
To control ants, which may feed on the so-called honeydew excretion of aphids (sometimes called ant cows for this reason), he uses powdered Borax mixed in a solution of corn syrup, popularly available in products found at terro.com., including bait station stakes that can be inserted directly into the soil around your plants. In Steele’s words, it’s “a sweet bait which the ants can’t resist. They take it back to the nest and it will kill the colony. It is a great non-toxic pesticide that is safe for use in my vegetable gardens. The crystalline structure of the powdered borate kills the ants as it blocks their breathing apparatus which is located on their legs. It also works on termites in the powdered form, but not in a corn syrup bait.”
You probably think of kale as a leafy vegetable that you grow on an annual basis like lettuce and cabbage. Kale, in fact, is an ancestor of cabbage. Cabbage was considered to be an improvement over kale since it grew in compact heads consisting of many leaves that could be harvested simultaneously, as opposed to leafy cabbage predecessors, such as kale and collard greens, whose leaves were plucked one by one and would have varying qualities, depending on the age of each leaf.
Yet there are also perennial tree kales, and perennial tree collard greens as well, for that matter, that can live for up to twenty years and may eventually reach twenty feet in height! Steele’s own tree kale is 3 years old and stands at 7 feet tall. Tree kale is sometimes called “walking stick cabbage” due to the fact that its trunk, over time, becomes sufficiently hardened so that, after the plant dies, the trunk is strong enough so that it may be cut down and used as a large stick for hiking.
Note: Anyone interested in visiting 6 gardens on the Palos Verdes Peninsula can do so on April 22nd. The garden tour fee is $40, includes lunch, and will raise funds for the Sisterhood of Temple Beth El in San Pedro. For more information, call: 310 377 3043
Tip of the Week: Kale and collard greens are closely related and both are recommended for fall planting because of their winter hardiness; they are even capable of surviving after being covered with snow. Kale can grow in any season except summer but collard greens are more heat tolerant and may be planted this time of year, too. You can order ready-to-plant tree collard cuttings on eBay for a few dollars each.