How to grow Cavolo Nero

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Have you ever thought of growing Cavolo Nero? This leafy green is a staple in many an Italian meal, but is also perfect to grow in our climate. Cavolo Nero is a variety of kale but sweeter in taste, especially after the first frosts have sweetened the leaves. In Italy, Cavolo Nero finds its way into all sorts of meals, from soups to salads, and as a complement for meat and fish dishes.

At home, we’ve put the leaves in stir fries, chicken noodle soups, and fried them with butter and white wine as a delicious side dish. Last year my hardy Cavolo Nero survived everything the winter threw at it, going beyond the call of duty and providing tasty greens when the rest of the plot had given up. The crumpled, mottled green leaves are also very attractive, and give the plot some much needed colour during this otherwise barren period.

Cavolo Nero growing in the veg garden

I’d go as far as saying the plant wouldn’t look out of place in a decorative bed, so if space in your veg patch is at a premium, try sneaking some Cavolo Nero in with the flowers. Alternatively, you could mix Cavolo Nero with other brightly coloured winter veg, such as Bright Lights chard and the purple kale Redbor for a striking display. April, May and June are the perfect time to sow Cavolo Nero.

I sow seeds in April for early winter and then again in June for a crop that lasts until the next spring. I start the seeds off in 10cm pots of multipurpose compost and plant out when the seedlings reach about 25cm in height. Plant the Cavolo Nero about 50cm between apart, as they can grow upwards of a metre tall, and harvest when the leaves reach 15cm long. Being a cut and come again variety, the leaves you take home will quickly be replaced by more, making this a great value for money crop. One good tip is to try and harvest evenly, rather than one at a time, to avoid exhausting individual plants. There isn’t much else to know when growing this increasingly popular veg.

The plants don’t require huge amounts of water and seemingly untroubled by pests. The slugs ignore the seedlings, and they haven’t succumbed to the whitefly as much as the other brassicas on my plot. Cavolo Nero leaves are difficult to find in grocery stores, but luckily the seeds are readily available nowadays. The shop at stocks Cavolo Nero under its other guise, Nero di Toscana.

Thanks for reading!