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A Conversation
on Prevention

Advocacy, Cosmetic Pesticides, Guest blogger, Provincial Election, May 7th, 2013

How Growing Kale is My Way of Embracing Good Health

Carol Pope is the editor of a dozen gardening books including the national bestsellers The Book of Kale and The Zero-Mile Diet. Previously the editor of Gardenwise magazine for a decade, she now blogs regularly about organic gardening and is currently working on The Book of Kale 2 with Sharon Hanna. Follow Carol on Twitter at @carolapope


Why gardening is an important excercise for me

I’ve never been much of one for exercise without purpose. Why slog it out on a treadmill when I can run back and forth from a pile of newly acquired manure to my raised beds? Both endeavours may keep me fit, but the latter also provides me with a garden. And, better yet, a garden brimming with healthy food that will also add to my wellbeing.  The same strategy holds true with upper-body workouts. Why pump weights when I can shovel soil? Why do bicep curls or tricep pushdowns when I can pull weeds, rake leaves, churn compost or roll rocks around? My garden drill keeps my body working and fit, something that I know helps to keep away cancer and other diseases. It also keeps my spirits up and my heart hopeful. In this turbulent world there is nothing that soothes me more than the gentle sway of life in the garden, than getting my hands into the dirt.

Still, even with directing my personal exercise regime toward the improvement of my kitchen garden, I have to be realistic about what I grow. There is only so much time and I want my efforts to equal a food garden that truly makes a difference in my life. I want to eat better because of what I sow and nourish those that I love.  I’ve tried growing just about every edible you can think of – from asparagus to zucchini – and while all are worthwhile, there’s nothing more generous and responsive in the garden than one hearty garden stalwart – kale.

 In a small backyard space, we have five raised beds brimming with kale – many types, in fact, so that it’s quite a pretty effect of red rippled leaves, green curly leaves and the lovely prolific ‘Red Russian’ that grows like a weed and self-seeds onto every barren inch of soil (for which I am always grateful). Unlike some lesser greens, kale doesn’t need to be continually replanted. Rather than pull the plant for dinner, we simply snip leaves and some of the succulent stems, buds and even flowers right into the salad bowl, never taking more than a third of the plant. It will grow back in a flash. In the kitchen, a token rinse is all that’s needed because kale grows so rapidly that it is always shiny-clean when you cut it.

A cinch to grow and sow

Growing kale is a snap. It’s a lover of cool weather, something we have lots of in B.C. Typically, I start some in seed trays in February or March for the spring/summer garden. And I also plant some in June or July. The summer crop reaches a good height by fall and then slows down growth-wise but continues to hang in there all through the winter. With a generous group of plants, you can basically pick the leaves all through the winter until the stems are almost naked. We always leave a few bits of green so that the plant isn’t completely stripped. Come February or March, depending on the weather, the stark-looking stems will burst forth with growth – with leaves curling outward from bottom to top – and there’s plenty to pick again, just as you were worrying that you might run out.

Pesticides for bug control?

I’ve had people ask me what I do to keep insects away – do I use pesticides near my food or do I go organic? To sum it up in a few words, I can’t imagine using pesticides anywhere in my garden ever. Why would I invite a cancer risk into my garden? The whole point of a garden for me is that it enhances my health, the health of my children and all those I love who tread through my yard, as well as the health of the birds and bees that I work to welcome to my outdoor space.

It’s right here, outside my door – a no-pesticide zone that I protect from chemical violations. All wildlife is welcome here. All human life is welcome here. If the cabbage butterfly larva shows up on my kale, I remind my kids that if the insects are eating it, that means it’s good food for us too. If we poison our garden so that insects can’t survive, what does that say about what it might do to us?  The same goes for our little bit of lawn, our flowers, our trees, much of which winds up in our compost heap and is reshuffled into the circle of life that is my garden. I might pluck a slug out of my parsley patch or plant some lovage to serve as a nursery for aphid-eating ladybug larva – in other words, help Nature keep my garden strong – but it is and always will be a poison-free place. Otherwise, I have to ask: what’s the point?

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Authorized by the Canadian Cancer Society, BC & Yukon, registered sponsor under the Election Act, 604-872-4400.

  • DZiegler

    Love your approach. I will try some Kale since we live in a much cooler area – Saskatchewan. I agree with not using any pesticides, I wish I had known that a lot longer ago than 7 years. I really think if people knew, they wouldn’t use anything.

    • ccsbcy

      Thanks Donna, good luck with your kale crop this summer!

  • Diana

    Wise words. Thanks Carol!