Meet the grower
The majority of kale you buy in UK supermarkets between June and March will have been grown by farmers in Lincolnshire. One farmer who has many years of experience growing brassicas such as kale is Nigel Patrick. Nigel has been producing quality vegetables for over five years.
The mineral rich soils of Lincolnshire farmland combined with his experience and passion for farming enable Nigel to grow quality produce throughout the UK season.
Nigel is delighted that more and more people are enjoying kale but is keen to help spread the word even further about kale’s “superfood” qualities, great taste and versatility.
“Not only does kale taste great but its nutritional properties make this versatile vegetable very hard to beat! I would encourage anyone who hasn’t yet tried kale to do so and I’m sure they too will become a kale fan like me!”
How is kale grown?
Nigel and his team plant around 300 hectares of kale every year to supply much of the country with this nutritionally rich vegetable. Nigel buys the seed from top quality suppliers and then hands them to a local plant raiser who takes over the initial process of growing the tiny plants in a commercial scale glasshouse.
Once they are strong enough, a team of people plant out the kale in rows. While this task is aided by machinery, it requires people to select the strongest plants and insert them one by one into a semi-automated planter which puts them into the ground.
Kale is particularly successful in Lincolnshire as the farms there have the benefit of some of the best soil in the country. It is extremely moisture retentive and mineral rich as much of the land around the Wash is reclaimed from the sea.
This means that once the crop is established it is more likely to remain healthy even in extended dry periods. The large root structure of the kale plant also helps to keep it strong and makes irrigation unnecessary.
The soil is cultivated during the winter months in order to maintain good condition. The kale crop is grown in a mixed farming rotation; kale is grown in the same field once every six years. Other crops in the rotation include potatoes, leeks and peas. This wide rotation reduces pest and disease carry over, which maximises the quality of the crops.
When is kale planted?
The first kale of the year is planted at the beginning of April, and in order to provide a consistent supply of fresh young produce, sequential plantings are made through until August. The earlier crops are covered with fleece to speed up the growing process.
It takes a team of seven to maintain the crop and ensure that weeds are kept to a minimum as it is important to plant health that they are left free-standing.
How is kale harvested?
The kale plants take two to three months to grow depending on the outside temperature. When the plants reach the optimum time for picking, the team harvest the leaves by hand. This means that the quality of produce is kept high as they are able to immediately discard those leaves which are not up to standard, but it also means that the plant is able to produce a second crop of harvestable leaves. Kale is one of the few vegetable plants that can be harvested more than once.
As the team strip the leaves from the plant, they are followed by a tractor fitted with a conveyer belt designed to transport the kale into a covered trailer or rig.
A separate team work inside the rig sorting through the leaves and putting them into plastic containers ready to be taken back to the factory for cutting and washing.
In order to ensure that the vegetable reaches the supermarkets as fresh as possible, they start work in the fields harvesting from around 6.30am or when the light allows. They will gather around 1.5 tonnes of kale in approximately four hours.
There is minimal human intervention during the washing and packing process and where it is necessary is done in high care surroundings. Another important job staff undertake is cleaning the equipment at the end of the day – a task which takes eight hours!
Once the kale has been harvested and washed, it is cut and packaged ready to be transported to supermarkets around the country. The aim is for the kale to be harvested, packed and despatched within 24 hours so that customers receive the freshest possible product.