Happy summer! School is finally out, the sun is shining, and the produce is growing in the garden! My name is Mary-Kate, and I am the summer intern with Dexter Farm to School. I am a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Public Health studying nutrition. I love being outside and gardening, so I am very excited to be working in the gardens this summer and selling our delicious produce at our Farm Market.
Things in the garden have been growing a bit slower than normal this year, likely due to the reduced sunshine this spring. Even with this slow start, we have already harvested and sold rhubarb, chives, radishes, garlic scapes, and lots of leafy greens.
This week, especially, our lettuce has been growing like crazy and it looks awesome! In addition to lettuce, we also have kale, rainbow chard (just planted!) and spinach. All of these leafy greens are typically in season throughout May and June, with kale, lettuce, and chard also in season into July and August.
All types of leafy greens are powerhouse vegetables, if you ask me. They are all very nutrient-dense, meaning they are rich in many important nutrients, but low in calories. Kale, in particular, has certainly come into the spotlight recently, and with good reason. Kale is a member of the cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetable family, which also includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and collard greens. Interestingly, this group of vegetables was given the name cruciferous because their sprouts are in the shape of a cross. There are various different types of kale; we have Lacinato (Dinosaur) and Red Russian kale planted in our garden.
In general, kale is rich in potassium, calcium, vitamins A, C, K, and B6, folate, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Vitamin A, along with the carotenoids, are essential for vision and eye health, as well as immune and cellular function. In fact, diets high in vitamin A have been shown to prevent age-related macular degeneration, and just one cup of kale contains over 100% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A! One cup of kale also provides roughly 75% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K, which helps to support heart and bone health. In addition, kale contains certain phytonutrients called glucosinolates, which form anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory compounds in the body. These compounds, along with vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, help to reduce oxidative stress and detoxify the body. Studies have shown that cruciferous leafy greens, like kale, may prevent the growth of cancer cells, which makes kale quite the nutritious bite!
Despite all of the great health benefits of kale, raw kale leaves can be bitter and tough. To break down these tough kale fibers, try massaging kale with olive oil. The leaves will turn a bright green color, and this can form the base of a tasty salad. Also, try looking for the baby kale varieties. These tend to be milder in flavor and more tender.
Here is a simple kale salad recipe that is easily adaptable to your favorite toppings:
Simple Kale Salad
- 8 cups kale (loosely packed; washed & torn into bite-sized pieces)
- 1/3 cup feta cheese crumbled (or goat cheese, parmesan)
- 1/3 cup berries (or your favorite dried fruit)
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey (or maple syrup)
- 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- salt & pepper
- Tear or chop kale into bite-sized pieces (making sure to remove the thick part of the stem).
- Wash, then spin dry.
- In a large bowl, massage the kale with clean hands for 2-5 minutes, until soft and bright green.
- Add the feta, berries, and almonds.
- Shake together vinaigrette ingredients.
- Add to salad and toss. Serve immediately.
Adapted from: Sweet Peas and Saffron Blog (https://sweetpeasandsaffron.com/kale-salad/)
Back to the topic of growing leafy greens – they usually do very well in Michigan and are relatively cold-hardy for early spring outdoor planting. When it comes to harvesting greens, one technique we use in the gardens is known as the cut and come again technique. This involves harvesting the leaves on the outside of the plant while keeping the crown the of the plant with the smaller leaves intact. The crown is where the new growth occurs, so by not harvesting the crown, it allows the plant to continue growing leaves, and you can keep harvesting week after week. We typically harvest about two-thirds of the plant and leave the remaining one-third with the crown intact.
Here is a helpful video on using the cut and come again technique with greens by Epic Gardening:
Lastly, all of the rain this spring has been great for our plants, and unfortunately, our weeds, too. If you want to help me tackle the weeds and with other tasks to care for the garden this summer, please sign up via the link below! We have two shifts per week on Mondays and Thursdays from 10am-12pm. I would love to see you there!
Have a great day!