It’s packed with fiber, iron, calcium, and vitamins K, A, and C. Plus, your favorite salads just aren’t the same without it. Yup, kale is pretty amazing — and a great way to get more of it is by growing your own.
Even if you’re not a seasoned gardener, it’s easy to find success with this green. Just three or four plants can supply a family of four with a nice weekly harvest. You don’t even need a backyard; kale grows great in containers, too, like this Dura Cotta Planter Bowl. Just make sure your pot has at least a 12-inch diameter and use well-draining potting mix.
Here’s how to grow your own kale, whether you’re planting directly into the ground or using a container garden.
- Starting Kale Seeds
- Planting Kale
- Harvesting Kale
- Kale: An Easy Beginner’s Guide to Growing
- – How to grow kale –
- Kale 101: Basic care and Harvesting tips
- Brassica oleracea var. acephala
- The Best Start for Your Greens
- Ready for Picking?
- Good News for Big Kale: Soften with a Simple Massage
- Storage and Additional Prep Notes
- Making Green Choices for a Good Life
- Kale: Tips And Tricks For Growing Your Own
- Varieties of kale
- Seeds or seedlings?
- Growing tips
- Planting Schedule
- Position, Position, Position
- Talking Dirty
- Feed Me!
- What about the Water?
- Are we there yet?
- Pests and the Rest
- Good Neighbours
- Bad Neighbours
- Eat Me!
Starting Kale Seeds
Though kale will produce in warm weather, it has a tendency to become woody and bitter. It’s best when allowed to mature in cool temps. Start spring seeds indoors approximately six weeks before the last frost to give plants a chance to mature before summer’s worst heat.
Direct seeds will mature in 55 to 75 days, while transplants will speed up the process, ready for harvest in about 30 to 40 days. Plant your crop again in the fall, six to eight weeks before the first expected frost — you can keep harvesting even after snowfall. Plant more seeds or transplants every two to three weeks for a long, continuous harvest.
If you’re planting during the cool season, do so where your crop will get full sun. If you’re growing during warmer temps, plant in partial shade.
Kale is buddy-buddy with beets, celery, cucumbers, herbs, onions, spinach, chard, and potatoes. It isn’t happy growing next to beans, strawberries, or tomatoes.
Keep soil moist to encourage consistent growth. Dress your soil with compost every six to eight weeks. A seaweed emulsion, like Neptune’s Harvest Hydrolized Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer, can help boost growth when used lightly throughout the entire season.
Protect young plants with row covers like this Agfabric Floating Row Cover to stave off flea beetles and provide a buffer against any unexpected temperature dips. Picking off unhealthy-looking leaves and keeping your plants well-fed with compost and water will also reduce insect damage in your vegetable garden,
Kale’s roots run horizontally from the central stem. Use straw or grass mulch at the base of your plants to keep the soil cool, conserve moisture, and make it easier for roots to feed.
When things get really hot in the summer, pull plants up by their roots to make room in your garden for more heat-loving veggies until fall arrives for another round of planting.
It’s time to harvest when the leaves are about the size of your hand. Pick them one by one, starting with the lowest, outermost leaves and working toward the center. Always leave a few of the small central leaves attached to encourage growth. In most cases, you’ll be able to harvest from the same plant again in five to seven days.
Kale: An Easy Beginner’s Guide to Growing
Image by Ulrike Leone from
Any guide to growing kale will start out by telling you it is a cold weather crop, which tastes best after it has been touched by frost.
I’m here to tell you that while cold weather may be kale’s preference, you can grow it during any season and in most climates. The flavor, output and duration from seed to harvest will change depending on the temperature, weather patterns, variety and soil condition, but kale is a hearty crop that is willing to adapt to our expanding desire for it. With that said, it can tolerate temperatures as low as 20F degrees, but will start to turn bitter and become tough in temperatures over 80F degrees.
This easy guide to growing kale will discuss how to grow kale in ideal conditions as well as giving some tips on how to grow it outside its preferred climate. Feel free to alter my suggestions to fit your garden’s needs.
For some it may still seem like spring is long time away, if you plan to plant from seed you may need up to six weeks before your seedlings are ready to plant.
So… let’s get growing!
Different varieties of kale
Growing kale in a pot
Planting kale in your garden
Finding the right spot and time to plant
Starting kale from seed
Preparing garden bed and planting your starts
Caring for your plants
Insects and diseases that affect kale
How to harvest kale
– Different varieties of kale –
There are many varieties of kale, but they are usually grouped by the type of leaf:
• Curly leaved (Scots Kale)
• Plain leaved
• Rape Kale
• Leaf and spear (a hybrid of curly leaved and plain leaved Kale)
• Cavolo nero (also known as black cabbage, Tuscan Cabbage, Tuscan (or Toscano) Kale, Lacinato and dinosaur Kale)
In these leaf shapes you’ll find a number of varieties with varied growth time from transplanting to harvesting:
Once you’ve picked the varieties that best suit your taste then it’s time to get planting.
– How to grow kale –
Growing kale in a Pot:
If you don’t have the space to grow kale in the garden, or you want to save yourself the hassle, you can grow it in a pot or other soil-appropriate container. The pot or container must have at least six square inches of space for the plant to grow in. Plant your seeds or starts in the center of the pot, following the same fertilization and depth suggested for garden planting (a good layer of compost, with seeds planted ½ inch deep). Make sure to move kale grown in containers into a partially shaded area when summer arrives.
Planting Kale in Your Garden:
Stage One: Finding the right spot and time to plant
Kale is a hardy biennial (it take two years to go to flower and complete its life-cycle), but it is usually grown as an annual.
1. If you’re planting during the cool season, find a spot where your kale will receive full sunshine. If you are planting during the warm season, or in a warmer climate, plant kale in partial shade. Kale enjoys companion plants such as beets, celery, herbs, onions and potatoes, but does not enjoy being planted near beans, strawberries or tomatoes.
2. Kale also prefers loamy, well-drained, moist (but not soggy) soil of average fertility. Surprisingly, it isn’t a fan of soil that is too rich in nitrogen, so it will do best with a pH between 5.5 to 6.8. If your soil is too acid, try adding some wood ash to sweeten it. Light, sandy soils and very heavy clay soils will “negatively”* affect the flavor of kale, but it still has the potential to grow in these environments.
3. Seeds will germinate in cool soil, but they sprout best when the soil temperature is around 70 degrees. If you’re starting them inside, then do so 5-7 weeks before the last expected frost. If you’re direct sowing the seeds outside, do so 2-4 weeks before the last frost and/or anytime at least 10 weeks before the first frost of the next season. No matter when you plant, the soil temperature must be at least 40 degrees or higher for good germination.
*The hotter the weather, the more bitter and tough the kale, but even bitter and tough kale is nutritious and can be made into delicious dishes.
Stage Two: Starting your seeds (Skip to stage 3 if you’re planting from pre-grown starts.)
Sow seeds in small pots filled with a mix of soil and veganic fertilizers/compost Place the seed at least ½ inch deep. Keep the soil around the seedling evenly moist throughout its growth, but allow the top layer of soil to dry between watering.
You can directly sow seeds in the garden starting 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost date or as soon as the ground can be worked in the springtime.
A note on quantity: If you’re going to be using kale on a regular basis (and why wouldn’t you be?) you’ll want to have at least 3-4 plants per household member. It is also always a good idea to plant more seeds or buy more starts than you think you’ll need in case some of them don’t make it.
Stage 3: Preparing the bed and planting
Before planting, distribute a good amount* of vegan organic fertilizer over the area you will be using and work it into the soil. Depending on the potency of the fertilizer you are using, you may want to fertilize then cover the bed and allow it to weather for one to two weeks before planting. If you are using seasoned compost to fertilize, you should be able to simply fertilize then plant the next day. If you’re using a mulch to fertilize you can simply place it around the plants after they are in the ground.
If you are planting from starts (that you started 4-6 weeks ago or purchased), put them in the ground 1-2 weeks before the last expected frost date. But only do this if the starts are big enough to survive the weather (they will have at least four true leaves**and the next two leaves will be beginning to form. The plant will usually be approximately 3-4 inches high by this point.)
The recommended space for planting seedlings is 12 to 15 inches apart in rows 18 inches to 24 inches apart. The space for direct sowing is much closer (if you are direct sowing your kale seeds, plant them ½ inch deep and approximately 3 inches apart and then thin plants to 12 inches apart when they are 4 to 5 inches tall.)
No matter the shape of the stem, set the transplants perpendicular to the ground so they will grow straight up, and place them deep enough to support the plant, but no further than the base of their first leaves. I often plant my kale 12 to 15 inches apart and then stagger the rows or plant on a diagonal so I can shrink the space between rows. Experiment with what works best in your garden.
*A good amount of fertilizer depends on the type of fertilizer you are using. Follow the directions on the box if you’re using a veganic fertilizer mix. With compost and mulches, you usually want to go a couple of inches deep, while other amendments like seaweed powder or rock dust only require a good sprinkle.
**When a seed first emerges from the soil it has a set of two leaves called cotyledons. These are part of the seed and are its first food source. As the seedling grows, it forms two more leaves which look very different from the cotyledons. These are the first “true leaves” which look more like the plant’s adult leaves, but obviously smaller. Once the true leaves emerge, the cotyledons become unnecessary and eventually wither and fall off.
Stage 4: Care and harvesting
– Keep your plants well watered. Along with cool temperatures, kale also enjoys moist soil. Keeping the soil most will also help keep the leaves sweet and crisp.
– Side dressing (fertilizing along the rows) with compost throughout the growing season will help keep your kale producing. You can do this approximately every 6-8 weeks.
– If you’re having issues with dirt sticking to and rotting your kale leaves, you can put mulch (such as straw or grass) around the kale once it is at least six inches high.
Insects and diseases that affect kale:
Cutworms, cabbage loopers and cabbageworms enjoy munching on kale, but kale is relatively good at resisting disease. Giving your plants the nutrients they need and picking off any weathered leaves will help reduce insects found in your garden.
How to harvest kale:
Kale is usually ready for harvest 70-95 days from seed and 55-75 days from transplanting, depending on the variety you are planting. Check the seed packet for specific times.
– You can begin to cut individual leaves off the kale when the plant is approximately 8 to 10 inches high, starting with the outside leaves first.
– If you decide to harvest the entire plant, cut the stock two inches above the soil and the plant will sprout new leaves in 1 to 2 weeks.
– Make sure to harvest kale leaves before they become too old and tough. If you can’t eat the kale leaves fast enough and they begin to turn brown, pull the old leaves off, and compost them, to free the plants of insect attractants and unnecessary energy drains.
– You can also pick kale regularly and store it in the fridge for up to a week. If you choose to do so, keep it lightly moist and place it in a bag, but unsealed, in the crisper bin.
Look out for my new post on the health benefits of kale and simple delicious ways to enjoy it everyday, coming soon!
Vegan Organic Fertilizers for Spring
Beginners Guide to Composting
12 Vegan Garden Tips
Second Photo: Flickr (woodlywonderworks)
Kale 101: Basic care and Harvesting tips
I’ve noticed three things going on regarding Kale in the garden this month (note: these do not apply to all plots!): aphids, poor care, and improper harvesting, the last of which inspired the sign pictured below. Thus, I thought It may be helpful to go over a couple of the basics for those of you who are not familiar (or who want a refresher!).
First things first: Kale plants like to have a little space. This isn’t terribly surprising (many veggies do), but I was surprised to find recommendations of 12 to 18 inches between seeds. (Yes – a foot!) This allows Kale plants enough space for all of their leaves to receive sunlight when they eventually grow larger. This means that if you densely planted seeds and find your bed with thick rows of sprouts, your Kale will thrive best if you thin them out.
That leads me to another fact that growers new-to-kale may not realize: Kale is essentially a perennial crop, meaning it continues to grow and produce through multiple seasons, even multiple years, if you care for it correctly. An essential part of this care: harvesting.
The only way Kale will grow up big and strong to last multiple seasons is by undergoing continued, proper harvesting. So what’s the proper way? Always harvest the older, larger leaves that are closest to the bottom of the stalk, and be sure to take each leaf stem-and-all. So long as you continue to harvest in this fashion, the plant will continue to produce new leaves from the top as it grows taller. But if you harvest the leaves from the top, they you will stunt the plants growth!
Also note: you should continuously remove yellowed leaves. If they are yellowing or have holes in them, it’s a sign that you’re not harvesting quickly enough!
Continued, proper harvesting is the number one way to fend your plants from all the insects who would like to make it their dinner instead of yours. The principle is quite simple: if you’re constantly getting your hands up in your Kale plants, you’re constantly disturbing where insects would like to set up shop. Furthermore, if you’re constantly harvesting then you’re taking the stuff they’d prefer to eat. It works out nicely, doesn’t it? Just harvest regularly and you shouldn’t have a problem.
That said, aphids are also fond of kale flowers. When a Kale plant does mature enough to begin flowering, you can make an exception to the chop-from-bottom-only rule and remove the flowers – before they attract aphids.
The bottom line is: be kind to kale, and kale will be kind to you!
Read more: How to Care for Kale | Garden Guides
Brassica oleracea var. acephala
Kale has quickly become one of my favorite foods.
In addition to having a very distinct flavor, which reminds me of a mild cabbage, it can be a versatile addition to almost any dish.
While health food stores and fad diets want you to think that there is something mystical about the plant, it’s an approachable homegrown treat that can – and should – be added to any garden!
A member of the brassica family, it is in fact related to cabbage. Its pleasantly mild taste makes it perfect for fresh salads and smoothies, as well as in cooked recipes.
If you’ve been put off by the big bags of chopped kale found in your grocer’s fridge case, it’s likely because this one type of green is notorious for being tough, stringy, and pungent. Fortunately, there are many other types to choose from:
This variety has leaves that are literally curly. It’s more than likely the type of kale you will find in bunches tied by string or rubber bands at the store.
Tuscan and dinosaur cultivars fall into this category. They have ugly, rough, and slightly deformed-appearing leaves. They are less appealing to use raw in salads, but taste sweet and delicious.
These are hearty greens that can be grown long into the winter seasons. Their fibrous structure helps them endure cooler temps that can cause more fragile types to wilt. They hold up well in casseroles and soups and can add much-needed texture to soft egg dishes.
Plain or Plain-Leaf
As the name implies, these types have very broad and smooth leaves.
Leaf and Spear
A cross between the plain and curly leaf varieties, both baby and fully mature leaves are delicious.
Kale can also be grown strictly for ornamental purposes. While all varieties are edible, you won’t want to eat leaves that grow too large in size. They will be tough and fibrous, and difficult to digest.
Edible and ornamental breeds come in a variety of colors, including blue, red, green, and even purple.
My favorite varieties are currently:
Kamome Flowering – A beautiful ornamental for any flower bed!
Lacinato (Dinosaur) – Bumpy and beautiful, it sautés nicely.
Dwarf Siberian – This type tolerates cold, and can be grown throughout milder winters.
All of these varieties (and more!) are available from Mountain Valley Seeds.
The Best Start for Your Greens
Growing kale is very similar to growing spinach. As I explained in my tutorial on growing spinach, I prefer a raised bed approach for my greens.
I plant the seeds near leaf lettuce, spinach, and chard in a well-drained plot or box planter. Following the directions on the seed packet, I find that I can usually plant at the same time as other greens, past the early frost and when danger of snow has passed.
Kale needs full sun in the spring and fall but a little shade is helpful if your are trying to grow it during the summer months..
Putting seeds in the ground a little shallower than recommended can help germination in thick or hard soil. I have had good success with planting a little more than ¼-inch deep, and with each seed about an inch apart.
Thin to no less than 5 inches between plants. If you’ll be allowing them to grow big this is ideal, but I allow one row to be a bit more crowded if I have designated it for early picking.
Kale needs a good amount of water and hates too much heat. An early, dry summer is bad news for this plant, which likes to be pampered with cool weather.
This is why many people do two plantings a year: one in spring, and another in fall. A bit of snow on a late-season plant is actually a good thing that can improve the flavor of the leaves!
Ready for Picking?
Harvesting this treat is a matter of personal preference. Do you like your leaves tiny, juicy, and mild? Pick them early when they’re just a few inches long, and toss with other baby lettuces and microgreens for a delicious salad.
Are you a fan of dense, hearty leaves that you can shred and add to soups and stews? Allow leaves to grow to the size of your hand.
Just be certain to remove the hard stems and ribs in the center before cooking. The flavor of a fresh kale and sausage soup, or this garden sauté, can’t be beat.
Picking is a simple task. Pinch each leaf off at the bottom, leaving at least a few of the inside leaves to help it to continue producing.
I like to use a pair of gardening shears or kitchen scissors for a cleaner cut. I’ve been known to be clumsy with my picking, which can result in pulling the entire plant out by the roots. In soft or loose soil, using a cutting tool ensures the plant stays rooted!
Good News for Big Kale: Soften with a Simple Massage
If you allow your kale to get a bit too big, don’t stress. Leaves of any size can be used in something.
The woodiest leaves can benefit from a little massaging. This technique requires a bit of manual labor, but results in a more tender, edible green. Massaging kale involves manually breaking down tough, fibrous tissue, and it’s very easy:
1. Remove the ribs and woody pieces from the ends of each leaf. Tear off bite-sized chunks and toss into a large bowl.
2. Add a drizzle of olive oil, enough to lightly cover the leaves, and a few pinches of coarse salt.
3. Begin mixing and working the oil into the leaves. This should feel much like kneading bread dough.
4. After about 5 minutes, the leaves should appear darker in color, and they should be more supple. Serve immediately, or dress for a salad.
You can also substitute the olive oil for your choice of oil or vinaigrette.
Be cautious if you have sensitive or broken skin, as the acidic components of many dressings may cause irritation. I often wear gloves for this step.
Storage and Additional Prep Notes
Storing kale is difficult, as it tends to break down and lose flavor quickly. Best to eat it up right away!
Store it the same way you would any other freshly-picked green, such as in a plastic bag lined with dampened paper towels. And wait to wash it until just before serving.
You can also try drying it in your dehydrator, or making kale chips!
Making Green Choices for a Good Life
There’s nothing more exciting than the day when my first kale harvest of the season is ready to be picked. I love it in almost every dish I prepare.
In addition to adding color, it’s a wonderful source of fiber, which is key to good digestion. It’s highly nutritious and I love that I can give my kids a healthy dose of vitamin K in every kale dish.
It’s been credited with preventing a number of health conditions, including inflammatory issues.
What is your favorite way to prepare kale? I’m always looking for new recipe inspiration and would love to hear about your successes in the comments!
If you want to learn about how to save your seeds, see our guide on how to harvest and store kale seeds.
Photo credit: .
About Linsey Knerl
Born and raised in a small Nebraska town, Linsey Knerl is a homeschooling mother of six who enjoys blogging and working hard on her 3 1/2-acre Nebraska homestead. When she’s not working on her next fantasy novel, you will find her in her kitchen, perfecting the Danish recipes of her grandmother with those special ingredients you can only find in a backyard garden.
Quick Guide to Growing Kale
- Plant kale 3 to 5 weeks before the last frost. In-ground gardens, raised beds, and containers are all excellent growing options.
- Space kale 18 to 24 inches apart in an area with full sun and well-drained, fertile soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8.
- Improve native soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
- Kale is a fast grower, so keep the soil moist by giving it 1 to 1.5 inches of water each week.
- Get the most out of your harvest by regularly feeding plants with a continuous-release plant food.
- For nutritious kale year-round, consider an indoor, water-based growing system.
- Harvest kale starting with the lowermost leaves once they reach the ideal color and are large enough to eat. Leaves reach their peak flavor once they’ve been kissed by a light frost.
Soil, Planting, and Care
Set out plants in spring 3 to 5 weeks before the last frost; in late summer, you can begin planting kale 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost for fall and winter harvests, and continue planting throughout the fall in zones 8, 9, and 10. Be sure to choose kale starter plants from Bonnie Plants®, so you know they’ll be strong and vigorous.
Kale grows best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade as well. Plants that receive fewer than 6 hours of sun daily will not be as stocky or leafy as those that get ample sun, but they will still be plenty edible! Like collards, kale likes fertile soil to grow fast and produce tender leaves. Enrich the soil with compost and fertilizer before setting out the seedlings. Apply fertilizer and lime according to test recommendations. If you forgo the soil test, work nitrogen-rich amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, or composted manure into the ground before planting.
The soil pH should be 6.5 to 6.8 to discourage clubroot disease, although the plants will grow fine in a pH of 6.2 to 6.8 if clubroot is not a problem in your garden. To be sure about your soil pH, test the soil with a do-it-yourself kit, or by using your regional Cooperative Extension office. If that seems too complicated, you can simply improve your existing soil by mixing in a few inches of Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil with the top layer. Enriched with aged compost, it will improve both the texture and nutrition of the native soil.
Kale is easy to plant, and grows beautifully in both raised beds and containers. To create the ideal growing environment for the plant roots, fill raised beds with 100 percent organic Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil and containers with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix. Set plants at the depth at which they are growing in the container. Space them 18 to 24 inches apart. The leaves will grow bigger if given a lot of space, but smaller leaves tend to be the most tender.After planting, water plants well. Plants grow best when they have access to both great soil and a continuous source of nutrition, so apply a water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition regularly for excellent results.
At this point you may need to be patient, because spring-planted kale may stay small until slightly warmer soil temperatures trigger vigorous growth. Kale planted in late summer or early fall may sulk through spells of hot weather. Then, when conditions improve, the plants will take off, quickly multiplying in size.
Kale likes a nice, even supply of water, about 1 to 1.5 inches per week. You can measure how much water rain has provided by using a rain gauge in the garden. Mulch with compost, finely ground leaves, weed-free hay, straw, pine needles, or finely ground bark to keep the soil cool and moist and to keep down weeds. Mulching will also help keep the leaves free of splashing soil for a clean harvest.
You also have the option of growing kale indoors. An easy way to do that is in a hydroponic growing system like the Miracle-Gro® Twelve™ Indoor Growing System. There’s no soil—plants grow directly in water that circulates around the roots, delivering moisture, nutrition, and air. With plenty of light courtesy of a grow light, the system provides top-notch growing conditions for kale. Best of all, you won’t even have to go outside to harvest.
How to plant:
Propagate by seed
Germination temperature: 45 F to 85 F – Will germinate at soil temperatures as low as 40 F.
Days to emergence: 4 to 7
Seed can be saved 4 years.
Maintenance and care: Direct seed about three months before expected fall frost. Plant seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep, 1 inch apart in rows 18 to 30 inches apart. Thin to 12- to 18-inch spacings. Eat or transplant thinnings.
Similar to cabbage and other cole crops, you can also set out transplants in spring 4 to 6 weeks before average last frost, 12 inches apart, rows 18 to 24 inches apart.
Doesn’t seem to be as troubled by pests as most other cole crops. Use floating row covers to help protect from early insect infestations.
To help reduce disease, do not plant kale or other cole crops in the same location more than once every three or four years.
Cabbage root maggots
Slugs and snails
Usually not as susceptible to pest damage as other cole crops.
To help reduce disease, do not plant kale or other cole crops in the same location more than once every three or four years.
Kale: Tips And Tricks For Growing Your Own
image: Red Russian, Lacinato, Redbor, Green Scotch (Suzie’s Farm, Flickr)
Varieties of kale
There are around 15 to 20 kale varieties grown in Australia.
- Nero di Toscana: An attractive Italian heirloom variety also known by other names such as Cavolo nero, dinosaur kale and black cabbage. It doesn’t form a central head and leaves are dark, narrow and highly crinkled. Will withstand frost.
- Red Russian: Tender grey-green leaves tinged with red and with purple ribs. Sweeter than some other varieties and great for salads. Grows 45 to 90 centimetres high.
- Dwarf Siberian: A compact plant 30 to 40 centimeters in height with blue-green frilled leaves.
- Early Hanover: Also known as premier, and has attractive smooth green leaves with scalloped edges. More tender than other kales and is ideal for juicing and salads. It’s an early variety and is fast growing.
- Redbor: Red-purple frilly leaves and often used as a microgreen or baby green.
- Green Cossack: Wide feathered grey leaves with greenish white veins. Young leaves are sweet and tender.
- Half Tall Scotch: Also known as Borecole, it has tightly curled leaves with a long harvest period.
- Gates Blue Curled: Heavily curled, blue-green leaves.
- Squire: An attractive heirloom variety with heavily curled blue-green leaves. Sweet and tender and slow to bolt.
- Dwarf Green: Light green curly leaves on short stems.
- Bear Nessecities: Mature plants have feathery leaves similar to mizuna with a mild mustard flavour. Baby leaves can be used in salads.
- Chou Moellier: A giant heirloom tree kale growing around 2 meters tall. Leaves are flat and slightly curled at the edges. It is also grown as a fodder crop for livestock.
Seeds or seedlings?
You can plant either but I usually like to sow seeds into trays first then transplant them into the garden or containers. This gives me more time to prepare my garden beds and enrich the soil.
- provide well-drained soil with a near neutral to slightly alkaline pH
- plant in a sunny spot and keep well watered
- fertilise with compost, manure (eg. pelletised poultry manure), or other organic fertiliser and feed developing plants monthly, or liquid feed every two weeks
Belonging to the family, Brassicaceae, kale has been rediscovered as a superfood. It is mostly rich in lutein, folate, vitamins A,C, E and K, magnesium, iron and contains a load of anti-oxidants.
It originated around the Mediterranean and was grown for many centuries until the Middle Ages. In more modern times, it became popular in post-war periods because it was easy to grow and very nutritious. However, in the USA ornamental varieties were favoured for use in floral arrangements – even wedding bouquets – and it even has its own national day, the first Wednesday of October.
There are over 50 types of kale, both ornamental and edible. However, three varieties are readily available to grow:
Dwarf Curly, a compact, leafy green with mildly sweet, crinkled leaves
Red Russian, a blue-green variety with purplish-red veins
Black Toscana (Cavalo Nero – pictured above), a long dark-green/blue leaf variety.
*You could also try sowing seeds directly in the soil if the soil is not too hot
Position, Position, Position
In temperate areas, all three varieties of kale like full sun. But in hotter regions, part shade will assist its growth. Also, being a winter vegetable, kale can tolerate mild frost, with Red Russian still able to thrive and survive at a temperature of -10 degrees C. Actually, frost tends to intensify its sweetness.
Kale, like many vegetables, prefers a well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. However, its pH range is a little towards the acidic side with a preference for a pH of 5.5 – 6.5. If your soil is rich in clay you might add some sand and compost. If it is very sandy, try adding powdered bentonite clay or compost. Actually, compost is the magic ingredient for any soil! Another useful addition to sandy soil is coir peat (ground coconut fibre). Coir is available in blocks which expand when soaked in water and will hold moisture when added to soil.
Since kale is a leafy green, it needs a rich nitrogen source to thrive. A green manure crop planted and dug in before planting kale is ideal. Or aged manures, pelletised chicken manure or “blood and bone” are important soil additions, but make sure you don’t overdo them – little and often is the way to go. Drinks of fish emulsion and seaweed extracts during the growing season will provide both food and moisture.
What about the Water?
Although kale is a winter vegetable and drying out is not such a problem, regular watering is required to provide the moisture it requires. Mulching around plants will protect the soil from moisture loss.
Are we there yet?
For most varieties harvest can start after around 7 – 8 weeks. If there are too many leaves for your household, take them to your local Harvest Swap, feed them to your chooks or add them to your compost heap or worm farm!
Pests and the Rest
Kale is generally pest-resistant, but can fall prey to cabbage aphids, harlequin bugs and cabbage white butterfly. The best way to deal with such pests is to prevent them by crop rotation, keeping the soil healthy and encouraging predatory insects into the garden by including flowering plants. But if all that fails, try hosing small ones off and picking caterpillars and larger bugs off and dropping them into a bottle containing soapy water.
Rhubarb, onions, cucumber, beets, celery, marigold, nasturtium, herbs (sage, dill, camomile).
Climbing beans, mustard, strawberry or members of the nightshade family (tomato, chili, capsicum, eggplant).
There are many recipes now for kale. When used raw it needs some extra attention to reduce bitterness. This may be by chopping it finely into well-dressed salads or including it in a smoothie with nut milk and fruit. However, it has a delicious savory flavour when chopped and baked to make “chips” or steamed, sauteed or stir-fried with garlic or onions. Just search online for one of the hundreds of recipes out there!