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There are several key differences between kale  varieties and they can be summed up as follows:
  • When they crop - early, mid or late season,
     
  • Their texture, taste and appearance
     
  • Colour, both green and various shades of red are widely grown in the UK
     
  • Disease resistance

BLACK MAGIC


Black Magic is a selection of probably the most well know kale variety, Cavolo Nero. Bred in Britain, for the British climate, the leaves are relatively thin and definitely very crinkled. Taste is excellent, either harvested as baby leaves or left to sweeten up by the cooler autumn weather.

Harvest baby leaves a month after planting out and full sized leaves (the size of an average palm) starting in mid September. Black Magic leaves are core consistently darker compared to similar varieties. Height is 55cm / 22in with a similar spread.

You can expect to harvest about a kilo of leaves per season from the average plant. The plant itself is resistant to most diseases and, unless left to dry out, unlikely to bolt. It also tends to continue growing through the cold months better than most.

It was given a RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 2015. Black Magic is an F1 hybrid.

CAVOLO NERO DI TOSCANA


Also known as Cavolo Nero or Black Tuscan Kale, this is the original kale from Italy. Several forms of this variety have been bred over recent years, "Black Magic" is one of those varieties (see above).

Because it is so similar to "Black Magic" we won't bore you by repeating the description. Note however that Cavolo Nero di Toscana is not an F1 hybrid and seeds from it will come true to type. In general, it is also slightly cheaper to buy compared to "Black Magic".

Always buy this variety from a reputable supplier. The reason is that there are very many strains of Cavolo Nero di Toscana, some of which are not particularly suited to the UK. Cheap seeds of this variety may not be the best choice.

REDBOR


Redbor is one the tallest kale varieties typically growing to 90cm / 3ft tall. This means it will need staking in all but the calmest of areas. Even so, it was awarded an RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1999 and this was reconfirmed during the 2015 trials.

For such a tall kale, the leaf harvest is a bit disappointing at 600g per plant, so why the RHS AGM? It's simply that Redbor produces very edible, curly, baby leaves and larger leaves, and at the same time it is a highly ornamental variety. The colour is not red, as the name suggests, it's more of a deep magenta / burgundy. The colour deepens in late autumn and winter.

It can be grown in the open and can also be grown as a single specimen plant in a container. If you want a decorative kale which is also very edible, we recommend it highly.

RED RUSSIAN


Red Russian kale originated in Siberia and dates back to a couple of thousand years, so you can be absolutely sure that it grows well through our British winters. We believe it is not as popular amongst gardeners as it should be.

As far as taste goes, this is one of the best. Harvest baby leaves or fully grown leaves and they are sweeter and more tender than other varieties. With attractive looking green leaves which turn red in winter, the oak shaped leaves, which are frilly rather than curly, are a feature in any garden.

Red Russian grows to about 75cm / 30in high so they can support themselves without support in many gardens. It's a surprise to us that this variety hasn't been given an RHS AGM, we certainly think it deserves it.

REFLEX


Reflex is one of the most curly of the curly leaf kales. It grows to a height of 75cm / 30in and produces a mass of deep green leaves. With an average harvest of over 1kg of leaves, it is one of the most prolific of the kales.

We would recommend it only for autumn / winter harvesting because even the baby leaves are more bitter than average. It was given an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1999 which was reconfirmed in the 2015 trials.

STARBOR


Starbor has small, deep green curly leaves which are tasty as baby leaves and fully grown ones. It has good disease resistance and is a very compact variety. As you would expect from such a compact variety yield is lower than normal, about 500g per plant.

It does well grown in open ground but is also a very popular choice for container growing. Height is 40cm / 16in and spread 45cm / 18in. Another good choice for exposed gardens because it does not need staking. It was given a RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 2015.

WINTERBOR


Winterbor is a reliable variety of kale which is slightly taller than average so may require staking in windy positions. We would suggest that there are now better varieties, such as Starbor or Reflex (see both above).

It was given a RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1993 which was reconfirmed in the 2015 trials. Expect a yield of about 1kg per plant.



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