Kale, a robust, cool-season green that is part of the cabbage family is a superfood. Either served as kale chips, or easy garlic kale or simply steamed, kale has taken the vegetable world by storm, thanks to its health benefits that includes high fiber and loads of vitamins. Kale can also be eaten fresh in salads. A group of researchers from the Department of Crop Sciences of the College of Agricultural & Marine Sciences at Sultan Qaboos University, headed by Dr. Rhonda Janke, Head of the Department, is conducting research on this crop to benefit farmers in the region by experimenting with organic methods of growing crops at SQU’s Agricultural Experiment Station greenhouses.
Kale is a plant that is closely related to broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. A powerful superfood, kale is loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, and super-loaded with vitamin K that may reduce the risk of cancer. It also boasts antioxidant compounds and can help lower cholesterol, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. According to Dr. Rhonda, the price of non-organic kale in regional retail markets is between 5 to 7 OMR per kilogram, whereas in the USA, the price wholesale price of non-organic kale is about 2 OMR per kilogram. Organic kale will likely sell for a little more. “Kale is gaining popularity as a superfood due to the higher level of protein, dietary fiber, calcium, and iron as compared to other green vegetables such as arugula, spinach, lettuce and broccoli”, she said. “We only know of one farm in Oman now growing kale, Pairidaeza Organic Farm, in Barka. We would like for other farms to know about kale, about organic growing methods, and encourage consumers to try this new super-food”, she said.
Dr. Rhonda and team decided to grow organic kale at SQU as a cool season crop in a long-term, organic rotation with other vegetable crops. In warm climates, kale can be grown outdoors in the winter or in the summer in partial shade or in greenhouses to protect the plant from extreme heat. A well-drained soil is best, supplemented with compost for the organic crops. These will be compared to crops receiving conventional fertilizer, and to no fertilizer in a replicated experiment. .
“Kale seeds are grown in trays for 4 weeks before they are transplanted to the green house soil. Plants mature in 50 to 65 days, but you can also pick leaves much sooner. The harvesting can be done for at least 6 to 8 weeks, and it can be succession-planted repeatedly for an extended harvest”, she noted. At SQU’s research station, the researchers planted the kale in the first week of December 2018. Now the vegetable is ready to harvest in the greenhouse. Dr. Rhonda added that her department has plans to organize workshops in April this year for farmers to learn more about organic farming with kale and other crops. She also is in the fourth year of teaching a course about organic farming to undergraduate students. She hopes that this kale will only be the beginning of a long-term experiment on organic crop rotations, and that it will help to build relationships with new organic farmers and gardeners.