By Stephanie Cavanaugh
I JUST PLANTED flowering kale seeds in my upper window boxes, the ones that have a couple of inches of stray dirt near the windows—not that you’d notice looking up. They look lush from the street.
These patches of soil get a dribble of sun, are pretty much guaranteed regular watering (the sweet-potato vines droop so dramatically when dry that it can’t be avoided) and are far from the trample of postal persons, residents tipsying out of their car doors of a late evening and dogs with their scratching and peeing and so forth. Even with little fences, seedlings can’t be guarded against such. They are doomed before they sprout.
But upstairs, there’s a chance. The seeds, from David’s Garden Seeds ($4.45), arrived yesterday and I am already too late for planting them for this fall, or maybe I‘m not. David does a tap dance on his package, “For the best planting instructions . . . search the web . . . follow the Farmer’s Almanac . . . talk to local gardeners or the county extension service.”
There are other vagaries on the package. “Some seeds should be started indoors for transplanting, and some should not be planted indoors. Check with the pros in your area to find out more. “
Thank you very much, Dave!
So I went to the Internet and found that for fall flowering I should have planted the seed in the beginning of July. It is now nearly mid-August, or will be in a blink. But aha! “Flowering,” they say, each of the sites I consulted. What does this mean in the context of kale? They don’t really flower, they just arise and show off frilly pink centers, in this particular case, amid the cabbage-y green outer leaves.
Do they mean “bolt”? When suddenly a sprout emerges from the center of the cabbage and leaps up in rather leering, ugly fashion and the kale is kaput? Basil does this too.
But if we’re talking about itty bitty cabbages emerging by early September, that is exactly what I want. Small ones settle in better than those big honkers and look good longer.
Flowering kale is not an edible thing; it’s ornamental and enchantingly so. Set amid pansies and ivy and greens that stay green through the dark season ahead, they are a constant cheery reminder that the bone-cold winter will eventually end. “Ornamental kale is the term used for types with deeply cut, curly, frilly or ruffled leaves,” says the University of Wisconsin agricultural site. “Ornamental cabbage is the term used for types with broad, flat leaves that are edged in a contrasting color.” Though they’re both, technically, kale, the distinction, they say, is a garden-center one.
My packet of seed was a shock, a little plastic bag that Dave says holds 50 seeds, which didn’t seem possible. It also didn’t seem possible that an entire cabbage could grow from something so minute; the entire batch could fit on the head (or tail) of a dime. I tried counting but gave up after five.
Figuring I’d count as I went along, I put six seeds in each window box, dropping them in with a tweezer, and gently covered them over with soil and watered, thinking, How could these fly specks grow to between 24 and 36 inches tall?
Now there’s nothing to do but continue to water and maybe pray a little. The hope is to get two viable cabbages for each box. Any extras (OH, THE THOUGHT) will go in the downstairs boxes or into the garden.
When they get big enough, I’ll pull the annuals, which will by then be in extremis, and let the cabbages grow in to take their places.
If they don’t sprout in time, I’ll be hunting the big-box garden centers for little six-packs come September.
It does seem there are 50 seeds—as I still have a little clump of them to distribute. A couple in with the basil, others with the chives, places that tend to be cared for more regularly than some other spots I might consider. And I might dare curbside. Surrounding the seeds with land mines.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and so forth.