When we plant our vegetables either from seeds or starts we generally have a good idea what to expect. You likely know what you are planting after all. But sometimes surprises show up in the form of new traits. Keeping your eyes open for these can result in new varieties of vegetables—perhaps even a perennial kale!
Last spring I spread a bunch of kale seeds on one my hugelkultur hedgerows. This was before I had built my kitchen garden so this hedgerow doubled as a vegetable garden.
Most of the kale struggled growing around the shrubs and the slugs and later voles had a field day with them. Sometimes brand-new growing areas just have pest issues until a balance is reached between predator and prey. This year that same hedgerow is doing great with little to no pest issues.
But 2 kale plants not only survived but have also thrived—2 out of a good 100+ seeds.
At first I was just happy to have some kale and these 2 plants provided a great harvest after growing very large. As the seasons changed from summer to fall and then winter I decided to just leave the kale. Despite growing on the northside of the hedgerow the 2 plants did fine and easily survived the winter.
Since kale are biennials I was not surprised that they kept growing into the spring and summer. But as they started to flower I figured that was it for my plants.
However, now it’s fall again and the 2 kale plants are still growing and at this point are more like shrubs than regular vegetables! Big even for kale! There is a tree growing out of the middle of one of the kales that is struggling to stay above it despite starting out with a couple feet head start!
What is surprising to me is that the kales are doing so well despite flowering. Normally with biennials after they flower during their 2nd summer and then die. But these kales are not behaving that way.
Could they be perennial?
I don’t know but I’m letting them keep growing and I saved seeds from them. Perennial kales are fairly rare and a lot of effort has been made by plant breeders to develop the few perennial kales (like Kosmic kale) that currently exist.
Most likely these kales will die sometime over the winter but perhaps I got lucky?
The main point of this story is to look for new traits in your vegetables. These 2 kales are behaving differently than other kale I have grown. But if I had just removed them as they started to flower, I may have missed the opportunity to have a new perennial kale variety.
If these 2 kales survive this winter and keep growing, then I basically have all the kale I could ever want! They are getting huge! Plus, I will have a brand-new perennial kale that I can start propagating and sharing with others.
Even if they are not perennial this variety is proving to be very productive and is providing a great harvest even after flowering. That alone is worth saving which is why I’m glad I saved seeds from them regardless of if they turn out to be perennial.
Now are you likely to find a new perennial vegetable? Nope—but by looking for new traits you may discover a variety of lettuce that bolts later then the others that you have. Or some broccoli that are extra cold hardy and can overwinter in your area. Or perhaps a tomato that germinates in colder soil letting you start your tomatoes a few weeks earlier in the spring.
These sort of traits may show up and are a big reason why saving seeds from your best vegetables each year can result in a much more abundant garden. Overtime your vegetables essentially adapt to your garden’s unique conditions. If you buy new seeds every year you miss out on this opportunity.
So start looking for those traits in your vegetables and other plants—you may be surprised what you find!
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