The black cabbage, also known as Tuscan kale, black kale, italian kale and Lacinato kale, is a leafy vegetable with ancient traditions. In particular, as the name suggests, it is closely linked to the territory of Tuscany. It is a very hardy type of cabbage, easy to cultivate. It’s highly resistant to low temperatures and has an extended harvest period. For these reasons, it’s an ideal plant for home gardens. Let’s discover the main characteristics of this unique vegetable. In today’s article, we will explore how to cultivate it correctly. Specifically, we’ll find out the right time for sowing and transplanting in the garden, what cultural care it needs, and how to harvest it in a staggered manner to achieve maximum productivity.
Furthermore, we’ll learn about its nutritional properties and see how it’s used in traditional cuisine.
Botanical Overview of Lacinato kale
Black cabbage, scientifically known as Brassica oleracea var. acephala, is a plant belonging to the family Brassicaceae or Cruciferae. It’s a plant that originates in our country. The Romans already cultivated a species of cabbage very similar to Tuscan black kale. In Tuscany, the spread of black cabbage gained more success, becoming a fundamental element in some traditional dishes.
Characteristics of Tuscan Black Kale
Tuscan black kale is a perennial, rustic, and vigorous plant. What sets it apart from other cabbage species is its inability to form a head (typical of broccoli and savoy cabbage) and an inflorescence (like cauliflower). Black kale, in fact, produces many leaves, and these are the parts used in cooking. These leaves are unmistakable, oblong and narrow, highly crinkled and blistered. They have a distinctive dark green color, almost blackish, are up to 30-40 cm long, and are neatly arranged along the stem. These characteristics give rise to its common names: “pencil cabbage”, “curly cabbage”, and “palm cabbage”.
The leaves persist on the plant for a long time, until winter. Being a perennial, the plant rejuvenates regularly for several years, which is why it’s highly recommended for home gardens. Typically, black kale is kept in cultivation for 2 or 3 years.
The central part of the plant is very vigorous, erect and can easily reach over a meter in height in the first year and up to two meters in the following years.
The stem is simple in young plants, with some lateral branches in more mature ones. The plant becomes almost like a small tree over time. The particular vibrant coloring that black kale takes on during the autumn period leads enthusiasts to cultivate it for ornamental purposes as well.
Cultivating Tuscan Black Kale
Tuscan black kale is a plant that tolerates winter frost well. In fact, it gains vigor and more intense flavor with the first frost. Therefore, it can be grown anywhere in Italy, especially in regions with harsh climates where cultivating other vegetables is challenging.
Sowing and Transplanting
To grow Tuscan black kale, you can start from seeds or transplant pre-grown seedlings. Planting in well-prepared soil is done in the months of August, September, and October. It’s important to consider that from the moment of sowing in seedbeds, it takes about 40 days to obtain a seedling ready for transplanting. For example, if you want to transplant in mid-September, sowing in seedbeds should be done in early July.
Tuscan black kale is a voluminous plant, so adequate spacing between transplants in the soil is necessary. Leave at least 80 cm between each plant and one meter between rows.
Soil and Fertilization
To thrive, Tuscan black kale requires fertile, loose, and deep soil, which means well-prepared soil. To enhance fertility, it’s advisable to apply organic fertilization before transplanting (or in the months before). This can be done with mature animal manure from organic farms or by using the result of home composting. If these types of fertilizers are not available, you can opt for other organic fertilizers like worm humus (which we’ve discussed before and can be purchased here) or pelleted manure, which is available here.
Irrigation is crucial for growing Tuscan black kale. Since this plant is perennial, it must endure hot and dry summer periods, not just autumn and winter. For this reason, setting up a drip irrigation system for prolonged dry periods is beneficial. It’s essential to use high-quality irrigation hoses that will remain on the ground for a long time. An excellent product in this regard can be found here.
Among the cultural care in growing Tuscan black kale, significant attention should be paid to weed removal. This can be achieved through periodic manual weeding or natural mulching, perhaps with straw. In the latter case, apart from protecting against weeds, it keeps the soil more moist, reducing water needs. Since the plants will remain on the ground for a long time, consider using jute mulch, a natural material that is more durable compared to straw (which needs occasional replacement). You can find jute rolls here at competitive prices.
The harvesting of Tuscan black kale, depending on the transplant period, starts in autumn, continues through winter, and extends into spring. It’s better to let the plant rest in summer. As mentioned earlier, the best time for harvesting is during the winter months, after the first frost when the leaves are more flavorful. For this plant, individual leaves are harvested, starting from the lower part of the central stem. The best results are obtained when cooking with freshly harvested leaves.
Biological Pest and Disease Control
Being a very robust plant, Tuscan black kale withstands pests and diseases much better than other species. For further insights into this aspect of organic cultivation, we refer you to what was discussed for savoy cabbage.
Nutritional Properties and Culinary Uses of black cabbage
Tuscan black kale is a vegetable rich in nutritional elements. It’s high in vitamin C, minerals, folic acid, and sulfur compounds. In ancient times, it was also used for its therapeutic properties, particularly for liver and intestinal cleansing.
In the kitchen, Tuscan black kale lends itself to various uses. However, before consuming it, the leaves need to be cleaned by removing the stems, which are harder and less pleasant in taste. This can be done by cutting the leaves and separating them from the central vein (the stem). The simplest way to prepare Tuscan black kale is to blanch it and dress it with extra virgin olive oil and lemon. However, let’s not forget that Tuscan black kale is a fundamental ingredient in some typical Tuscan dishes, notably the “ribollita”.
It’s an ideal vegetable to enrich winter soups, stuff rustic pizzas, or add flavor to mixed vegetable purees.
- Critical reviews in food, 2019: “Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) as a superfood: Review of the scientific evidence behind the statement” – This article provides an overview of the botanical characteristics and health benefits potential of certain vegetables, including Lacinato kale.
- Journal of Sensory, 2010: “Lexicon to describe flavor of fresh leafy vegetables” – This study discusses the sensory attributes of various leafy green vegetables, noting that Lacinato kale was also bitter, astringent, and slightly green.
- International Journal of Molecular, 2023: “Impacts of Deficit Irrigation on Photosynthetic Performance, Productivity and Nutritional Quality of Aeroponically Grown Tuscan Kale” – This research focuses on the photosynthetic performance and nutritional quality of Tuscan kale (another name for Lacinato kale) when grown aeroponically under different irrigation conditions.
- Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, 2018: “Polyphenolic composition, enzyme inhibitory effects ex-vivo and in-vivo studies on two Brassicaceae of north-central Italy” – This article delves into the polyphenolic composition of various Brassicaceae, including Lacinato kale, and their potential enzyme inhibitory effects.