Growing Cavolo Nero Kale

Cavolo nero

Cavolo nero
© Veg Patch Diaries

Cavolo nero is a delicious Italian heirloom (traditional) variety of kale. It is seldom found in the shops, yet many find it tastier and more appetising than the more common kale varieties.

It is also know as ‘nero di Toscana’ and the English translation of ‘black cabbage of Tuscany’ or ‘Tuscan kale’.

Not Quite A Cabbage!

It is a member of the brassica family of vegetables (cabbages & stuff) and is planted in spring for harvesting from mid summer through to the following spring. It is easy to grow and requires less effort than many other brassicas, along with being versatile and having great nutritional value. It’s well worth considering adding to your veg plot, especially as you get more harvest for your space than, say, a single cabbage plant.  And there’s more…!

Tuscan kale is easy to grow and doesn’t mind the cold.

Cavolo nero / Tuscan kale

Cavolo nero / Tuscan kale
© Veg Patch Diaries

Cavolo nero produces narrow, “bubbled” / “blistered” leaves, which are a beautiful, deep green colour. They are not traditionally thought of as being very winter hardy in the UK climate, but if you manage to get hold of UK-grown seeds (as opposed to those from Southern Europe), they will survive most of what our weather can throw at them.

I had plants that made it through weeks of snow and frosts as cold as -13 degrees celsius last winter. Only the Land Cress outperformed them! If in doubt, cover with fleece when bad frosts are forecast. It’s worth looking after these delicious plants, as they’re a valuable source of flavour and nutrition in the depths of winter.

The nero di Toscana leaves are best harvested ‘cut & come again’ style – single leaves.


How To Grow Cavolo Nero

When to sow? Every 4-6 weeks from early spring to mid summer – approx. March to mid July, depending on your weather & climate.
Where to sow? Under cover (in an unheated greenhouse) at the beginning of the season. Sow in modules to minimise root disturbance when planting out.
Direct in the growing site from mid/late April onwards.
Spacing of final plants? About 45-60cm (1 1/2 – 2ft) apart. The plants grow up to 2 ft (60cm) tall.
Ongoing care? Make sure they are planted into firm ground, rather than loose, recently dug soil. Keep them well weeded and water them in dry weather.
Note: if the soil dries out too much, cavolo nero can bolt (go to seed), due to stress.
When to harvest? From mid summer to the following spring. Approx. late June to February / March.

Planting Cavolo Nero Seeds

Cavolo Nero Seeds

Cavolo Nero Seeds
© Veg Patch Diaries

The seeds are typical of the brassica family and are easy to handle. Sow 2 or 3 in a module tray in an unheated greenhouse in March / April.

If sowing direct into the final growing position, later in the season, don’t overcrowd them. You’ll be thinning out to 30+cm (1+ft) in a few weeks and it saves wasting seeds.

Cavolo Nero Seedlings

2 week old cavolo nero seedlings

2 week old cavolo nero seedlings - looking a bit leggy, due to insufficient light
© Veg Patch Diaries

Seedlings take 4-7 days to appear, depending on the weather, which is almost as close to instant gratification as you’re going to get in the vegetable growing world!

Plant out / transplant when the seedlings have about 6 ‘proper’ (i.e. not the first) leaves. Make sure you disturb the roots as little as possible and firm the seedlings in well.

One mistake I made this year was to put the cavolo nero seeds at the back of the greenhouse shelves, meaning they didn’t get enough light. This produced leggy (tall and thin) seedlings. They’ll recover soon enough, once they get more direct light, but it’s best to avoid this problem in the first place, to produce stronger plants!


How To Cook Cavolo Nero

The leaves are delicious eaten:

  • straight off the plant, before they make it to the kichen 😉
  • raw in salads, when young
  • popped in the blender for green smoothies
  • lightly steamed or stir fried, once larger
  • collected in bulk for soups, once older and tougher
  • pretty much how you would cook spinach!

Eat them as soon as possible after picking, to avoid the bitterness that affects kale, as it ages. When really fresh, these leaves are sweeter and juicier than most brassicas.

Please, please, please…. don’t boil them.

They’ll turn into a disgusting, slimey mush and you’ll end up swearing that you hate Tuscan kale, all for the want of a good cavolo nero recipe! 😉


I’ll be bringing you more ‘month by month’ photos of Tuscan kale over the year, plus some delicious cavolo nero recipes and tips for saving the seeds at the end of this year’s harvest.

In the meantime, have you ever grown cavolo nero? How did it go for you? Do you have any questions? Please do share via the comments box!

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Posted on April 29, 2011, in Cavolo Nero and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hey there – just sowed first bacth ever cavolo nero in South Africa…waiting to see how it will gol.l I figured our spring and summer are just too hot so am trying sowing early winter for late spring harvest!

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