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Daubenton kale is a perennial kale that forms an attractive shrubby mound of mild and nutty-flavoured leaves.
It belongs to the brassica group Brassica oleracea ramosa, a group of branching bush kales whose outer stems have the tendency to grow out horizontally at first and often root where they touch the ground. In this way a Daubenton kale clump can live for many years (and even the portion growing on the original roots has a lifespan of several years).
The plant is usually propagated by cuttings. The plant rarely flowers, having mostly lost the ability to do so through a long history of propagation from cuttings.
Daubenton kale is named after the French naturalist Louis Jean-Marie Daubenton – or D’Aubenton – (1716 – 1800). It grew in his home town of Montbard in the Bourgogne region in eastern France and was described by him in his book, “Instruction pour les bergers et pour les proprietaires de troupeaux” (“Advice to shepherds and owners of flocks”). Read more here.
Tolerates temperatures down to about -15°c
Plant ideally in full sun, in a rich, heavy soil with a pH above 6. However the plant is tolerant of some shade and will crop adequately in a wide range of soil conditions. It is tolerant of seaside conditions. Allow the branches to flop to the ground and root in order to increase the lifespan of the plant.
Grows 3-4ft (90-120cm) high and 4-5ft (120-150cm) wide. In time may form a much wider clump if the side branches root.
Although Daubenton kale appears to be less prone to the many pests and diseases that afflict annual brassicas it is not immune. Building a soil rich in organic content and maintaining a garden environment which is diverse in terms of plant species and wildlife will help minimise problems.
Young plants are particularly attractive to slugs and snails. Encourage frogs and hedgehogs. Control methods include iron phosphate slug pellets, barriers of e.g. sheeps wool, copper rings, beer traps
Sparrows and pigeons may tear at the leaves of young plants. Cover with some wire mesh.
Pigeons may feast on mature plants especially during winter months particularly if they can find a perch on the plant. Covering with a net or wire cage is the most effective control.
Caterpillars, particularly of cabbage white butterfies, Pieris brassicae and Pieris rapae, may feed on the leaves in mid to late summer. Encourage parasitic wasps. If necessary use 7mm diameter nets to exclude cabbage white butterflies (finer nets will be necessary for some other pests such as diamond-back moth for which 0.8mm net is effective).
Powdery mildew can infect the leaves in late autumn giving a grey powdery bloom to the leaves. Where possible remove nearby vegetation, to increase ventilation and direct light, and keep the plants well-watered.
Pick leaves from the plant once it is well-established and growing well. They will soon be replaced and can be harvested again. Refrain from harvesting for a while if regrowth seems slow. Harvest can often continue through the winter especially when the weather is mild.
One plant will probably be sufficient to feed two people during the warmer months of the year but two plants enable harvests during the colder months when leaves are smaller and regrowth is slower.
Daubenton kale is easily propagated from leafy side shoots. These are best taken during spring or summer (even from plants in their first year so long as they are growing well).
(Alternatively inserting a largish side shoot directly in the open ground will often be successful especially if done in late spring or early summer.)
There is a variegated variety of Daubenton kale. It has a similar taste and growth habit to the green variety and makes an attractive plant for a border of edible ornamental plants.