“I’m strong to the finish ’cause I eats me spinach, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man …”

“I’m hearty and hale ’cause I eats me kale, I’m Eno the Guru Man …”

Winter kale growing in a bin. Image courtesy of Kool Cat.

I eats me spinach, too, and me broccoli, me Swiss chard, me lettuce, me Chinese cabbage, me pak choi, and me other greens, but it’s the kale I’m most interested in today.

When I started gardening in earnest about 30 years ago I extended the growing season on both ends of the summer with cold frames and a greenhouse I built from salvaged materials.

But I never considered growing anything leafy throughout the winter in Wisconsin, until I met up with Red Russian Kale, an heirloom that as far as I know has no connection with the Communist Party. It does have a reddish tinge, though.

Red Russian is reputed to be able to survive at temperatures as low as minus 10° F. That’s 42 Fahrenheit degrees below the freezing point of water. You wouldn’t think garden plants could do that, would you?

Cold frame in winter. Image courtesy of Kool Cat.

During this fairly mild winter the Red Russian has seen temperatures just slightly above zero, and it’s not only surviving in a cold frame it’s surviving out in the open, both in the ground and in above-ground bins. It isn’t beautiful, with some of the leaves pale brown and dragging on the ground, and some looking close to dead, but the fact that’s it’s surviving at all astounds me.

A bonus to eating kale that has experienced these low temperatures is that freezing makes the leaves tender and sweeter. Simmered for 10 minutes or so, and served with a dash of olive oil (not Olive Oyl) and lemon juice, and salt and pepper, they are just dandy.

Whenever Nature shows me that which I thought was impossible isn’t, I am filled with a sense of joy and awe, even if it’s something as small as growing greens in the wintertime.

Check out the blog post entitled “Time is Groceries” for a photo of the kale in the snow.