Sunday, September 03, 2006

How to Grow Nero di Toscana Cabbage (aka Tuscan Kale, Cavalo Nero, Lacinato Kale, Dinosaur Kale) from Seed and What To Do with It

Realization Of The Day:
Nero di Toscana Cabbage is known around the world by several other names, including Black Palm Cabbage, Cavalo Nero, Black Kale, Tuscan Kale, Lacinato Kale, and Dinosaur Kale. But it really should be universally called Cat Cabbage because I swear this stuff has nine lives.

Regular readers know that I am entwined in a passionate love affair with Nero di Toscana Cabbage. It is easy to grow from seed and puts up with heat waves, cold snaps, long humid summers, with nary a complaint. But no matter how deep my feelings for it run, year in and year out, this delicious, easy to grow mainstay in my kitchen garden suffers through much more than its fair share of distress.

For example, the small patch I direct seeded in one of my raised beds last spring was accidentally fried by me, turned to lace by cabbage worms on two separate occasions, devoured for dinner by the deer and then Cary, and attacked by ravenous blister beetles. And yet look at the above photos. It's not only alive, but is thriving! I purchased my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (a packet of 300 is $1.75).

I'm telling you, this stuff is resilient. No matter how pitiful it looks after being ravaged, I never, ever pull it up because it always makes a beautiful comeback. Like I said, I think the name should definitely be changed to Cat Cabbage.

The Baker Creek catalog states that this loose-leafed member of the brassica family "dates back to the early 1800s at least. It has beautiful, deep 'black' green leaves that can be 24 inches long. They are heavily savoyed." But I think this description on Dave's Garden sounds much more romantic. Nero di Toscana is descibed as "a stripped-down version of kale shaped like a miniature palm tree about 18 inches high. Very dark-green, wrinkled strap-like leaves appear almost black at a distance, looking minimalist compared with the more common lush, curly-leaved kales."

While I have never gotten around to doing anything with my Cat Cabbage besides tossing the tasty leaves into salads, Baker Creek says that "this Italian heirloom is popular in Tuscany and central Italy for making fabulous soups and stews," adding that it is "one of the most beautiful and flavorful types you can grow. offers these simple preparation instructions: "Remove center ribs from all but the smallest leaves then blanch leaves for 3-4 minutes. Cool then squeeze out the leaves and saute them with garlic and olive oil. This is a very hearty green and pairs well with rich dishes of pastas, beans or pork." I think I may have just been convinced to move my beloved Nero di Toscana beyond the salad course.

Out Of My Inbox:
Another Person In A Pickle and An Easy Homemade Pest Repellent From A Certified Organic Gardener

1. Lemon Cucumber Pickles, Anyone?
First of all, thanks again to all of you who were kind enough to share your favorite pickle recipes at the request of my  friend Katherine Dunn at Apifera Farm. (Click here and scroll through the comments section if you missed that post.) She was thrilled by your response, and I'm happy to report that her first attempt at pickling was a success, as evidenced by this e-mail message I recently received:

"We tasted the pickles and they are delicious! They're crunchy. They taste like pickles! Anyway, I'm quite pickled, I mean tickled, with my pickles."

Since there are so many pickle experts out there, I am hoping some of you can come to the rescue again, as the other day Andrea sent me this message:

"I was wondering if you had pickled any of your lemon cucumbers. I have an organic farm in Northeastern Washington and have a lot of lemon cucmbers that don't sell every week at the farmers market. I try to donate as much as I can to the local food bank, but even they cannot seem to move as many lemon cucumbers. I would greatly appreciate any information on this variety of cucumber."

While I've never pickled lemon cucumbers before (which, by the way, date back to 1894), I, too, have been wondering about doing it lately, as I cannot keep up with my current little glut, and I think they would probably make really wonderful pickles. Any lemon cucumber picklers out there?

2. Plagued by pests? The other day an anonymous organic gardener left this helpful recipe on the post I wrote about blister beetles on July 17th (thank you!), and rather than letting it get lost back in the comment archives, I thought I would share it with you:

"One thing that I have found to work on most garden pests is real easy to make at home, and it may help with deer. I found that mixing 5 cloves of garlic, 4 tablespoons of red pepper flakes, 1/4 cup of dish soap and 2 gallons of water in a garden sprayer work quite well. I use all natural dish soap which is detergent free and organic garlic and red pepper flakes.

"I have not used this on any tomato plants. I have a certified organic farm, and therefore I am very cautious about what goes into and onto my produce. The only real drawback to this is that you have to wash all produce, no more walking threw the garden and grabbing a piece of lettuce or green bean."

Years ago I tried a homemade spray with garlic, onions, and hot peppers, but I never added dishsoap to it (I think this helps the spray cling to the plants). I also can't remember what I sprayed it on or if it did its job. I'm definitely going to try this version. If you make some (or have made it before), I hope you'll report back to me on what you used it on and if it worked.

More posts about some of my favorite things to grow:
Favorite Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow—Mine and Yours
Growing Onions in the Garden
Growing Short Day Onion Varieties from Purchased Plants
Harvesting Spring Onions Grown from Purchased Plants
Endive and Escarole in the Kitchen and Garden
Growing Lemon Cucumbers from Seed
Growing Miniature White Cucumbers from Seed
My Favorite Heirloom Carrots (so far) to Grow from Seed: Parisienne

How to Grow Swiss Chard from Seed and Why You Should
How to Grow Beets from Seed (and here's my favorite beet recipe)
How To Grow Your Own Gourmet Lettuce from Seed (It's easy!)
How To Grow Arugula from Seed in Less than a Month
Tips for Growing & Using Rosemary Year Round



  1. Okay, you have convinced me to grow some of this next year, despite the fact that I'm currently buried in chard, another plan that will survive a lot of neglect. I've always been curious about the taste of this type of kale which I've seen referred to in cookbooks.

    I'm in the process of re-thinking how I plant my garden next year. I have overhead sprinklers in the garden area, fine for some plants, but I feel like my tomatoes are getting too much water. I have a very sunny area along the west fence in my back yard where I removed some bushes this year and I'm thinking tomatoe might do well there and they'd get a lot less water because that area gets watered with rainbirds which don't quite reach that far. (Remember this is the desert where everything has to have water. If I wasn't so lazy I would dig up a lot of my lawn and put in other plants. It's expensive too, so for now I'm just trying to get away with as little water on the lawn as I can.)

    Thanks for the link to Gardens Alive too, which I can tell I will love.

  2. Hey Susan - Have you ever grown sweeet potatoes? John has some growing in the garden this year, but we have no idea when to harvest them. They are starting to peek out of the ground in a couple of places, (they are a beautiful red!) but we've covered them up so they don't get sun burned. They are also starting to bloom - a little lavender flower that looks a little like morning glory - Anyhow, just thought you might know.. :-) Thanks! Tina

  3. I pickled lemon cukes last year, both as bread & butter and as dill pickles. They tasted great - just looked a little pale. I chose other varieties to grow this year but I think I'll plant lemon cukes next year, as they were very prolific. I'm disappointed in my Maine cucumber crop this year, but it's been a pretty cool summer, so everyone has this problem. I have to buy a bushel of cukes to pickle this year!

  4. I have only grown early Jersey but I am going to try this one next year I think.

  5. I am not sure about sweet potatoes but I do know that we harvest our red and white potatoes when the vines die.

    You can also dig them for new potatoes before that after they bloom.

  6. Hi Kalyn,
    Definitely grow some nero di toscana cabbage next year. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

    As for your chard glut, I'll be HAPPY to send you over a few blister beetles from my garden. They should take care of the problem within a few MINUTES. : )

    My tomatoes get lots of sun and do very well. As for watering, I do all my watering by hand with just a basic "sprinkler" thingie attached to the hose (one choice of spray, looks like a light shower spray--I got tired of buying fancy $20 attachments and having to replace them every year). Anyway, I find that watering at the base of the plants is more effective and allows the plant to soak up more water. For bushy plants like peppers and tomatoes, I put bamboo stakes at the roots (even if they don't need support) to mark where I should be placing the hose. This also works great with sprawling cucumber patches. When we haven't had rain for a while, I'll spray the entire plants to wet them down, but that's not where they're getting the majority of their moisture.

    It does take time to hand water, but I think that giving good, deep soakings saves time and water in the long run.

    I think digging up the lawn is a super idea--maybe little by little? You could make veggie beds like Steven at DirtSunRain did.

    Hope you enjoyed the Gardens Alive site. So much helpful info there.

    Hi Tina,
    Okay, I just did a little google search for you and came up with this VERY helpful page on the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service website all about Sweet Potato Production. Click here. (By the way, I just put "when to harvest sweet potoates," including the quotes into google, and that's how I found this. I LOVE google, LOL.)

    Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks for letting me know about your lemon cucumber pickling success. I really should try making at least a few jars. Sorry to hear about your lousy cucumber crop this year. It seems to have been a strange year for everybody in the garden--no matter where that garden is located.

    Hi Coffeepot,
    I think lemon cucumbers are just wonderful. And I find the flavor to be mild--not overpowering like some cucs. And of course, as you can see, they are super easy to grow!

    And thanks for helping Tina with her sweet potato dilemma. : )

  7. I have an abundance of lemon cucumbers and wanted a pickling recipe to save them. It looks like there was one, or more, available. Can I receive the recipes, too? Thanks so much.


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!