One of the trendiest foods in the market right now is kale. If you ask me, it deserves all the praise that it is receiving. Kale is a highly nutrient-dense dark leafy green. It is labeled a superfood because of the high content of iron, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K. No wonder more and more gardeners are giving in to the craze of growing their own. Once you read this guide, you will realize how easy it is to grow and stop getting price gouged at the grocery store.
Growing Kale: The Basics
Kale is an easy vegetable to grow. As long as it gets enough light, water, and nutrients, you’re sure to have a great harvest. It can grow just as abundant in pots or raised beds as it does in open soil. Now, let’s get to the basics! Find out how to grow kale from sowing to harvesting.
When To Grow
Kale is a cool season crop. It is my favorite crop to grow in the fall. Like other cool-season crops, you can grow them twice a year, in the spring and fall. If you live in lower zone 9 or 10, places with mild winters and warm summers, you can grow kale year-round. While spring planting is possible, I prefer growing kale in the fall. That’s because kale is more of a fan of the cold than the heat. Cold weather makes the kale sweeter and tastes better.
Grow kale from seeds you start indoors or outdoors or transplants you grow or purchase. For a fall harvest, start kale seeds indoors at the end of the summer so that you are ready to transplant the seedlings into the garden right around the beginning of fall. The exact time depends on where you live and your gardening zone. (Insert link to download page with planting calendars). In zones 9 and 10, we are starting our seeds at the end of August. If direct sowing the seeds outdoors, begin seeding early in September. Since kale can handle the cold, you can continue to sow until one month before winter starts, around the beginning of November.
For a spring harvest, start kale seeds indoors four weeks before your last frost date. You want transplants ready to go as soon as the threat of frost passes and the ground is no longer frozen.
Whether transplanting or thinning your seedlings, kale plants need about 12-18” between them.
Where To Grow
Like most leafy greens, kale thrives in organically rich and cool soil. Since they have shallow but extensive root systems, plant kale in an area with damp, well-draining soil. Kale grows best in full sun but develops its best flavor when grown in partial sun. Preferably where it receives afternoon shade. This tip applies more to spring planting than fall planting. In the fall, when the days are shorter and darker, regardless of the time, the more sunlight the kale receives, the better. Irrespective of where you plan to plant the kale, ensure it gets a minimum of 6 hours of sun.
Kale can be grown in containers but may require more frequent watering than kale grown in raised beds or inground beds.
There are many varieties of kale with a wide array of colors and textures. There are edible as well as ornamental varieties of kale. My favorite type of kale is the dino or Tuscan kale. It is my go-to year after year. No matter how many varieties I try, I always ensure the garden has at least two during the fall and spring growing seasons.
According to West Coast Seeds, there are three distinct groups of kale.
- Mediterranean Kale. Think about the Dino kale. This type of kale will have long and thin leaves.
- Scottish Kale. This is my second favorite type of kale. A majority, if not all, of the curly varieties are Scottish kale. This is the one most commonly seen in grocery stores.
- Russian Kale. These are the flat and wider leaf varieties. Usually, the leaves are serrated.
Like everything else in gardening, there are many different crosses and combinations. I prefer to grow the heirloom varieties of kale.
Kale has a shallow but extensive root system that performs best with consistent watering. Like other leafy greens, keep the soil consistently moist but never waterlogged. The easiest way to keep the soil moist but not soggy is to apply organic mulch around the plant. Mulch helps keep the soil temperatures cooler and retain moisture within the soil.
Kale is not a heavy feeder, but a leafy green, meaning it loves nitrogen. Before transplanting or sowing seeds, amend the soil with compost or a balanced organic fertilizer. I always add some vermicompost to the garden bed to help increase the microbial activity before planting. Two of my favorite fertilizers for leafy greens are seaweed extract and compost teas. I apply one or the other at least once a month.
You usually harvest kale plants at two stages: baby leaves or mature leaves. Harvest kale with the “cut and come again” method. Remove lower outer leaves, closest to the soil, from the bottom of the plants as needed. The more you harvest from your kale plant, the larger it becomes. Harvesting the leaves triggers the plant to produce new leaves. Do not leave leaves on the plant for extended periods. The longer they sit on the plant, the tougher they become. Avoid harvesting leaves from the center of the plant where the new growth forms.
Harvest kale in the morning when the weather is cooler. Wash the leaves and store them in an airtight container with a couple of drops of water. This helps to regulate the humidity and keep the leaves fresh.
The most common pests that affect kale are cabbage worms and aphids. If you notice holes in the leaves, it is likely cabbage worms. These pests are usually located on the underside of the leaves. If you see the seedlings or fresh transplants suddenly disappearing, it is expected that slugs or snails.
Powdery Mildew is the most common fungal disease that affects kale. I have found kale to be relatively pest-free during my many growing seasons.
If you notice the cabbage worms, be prepared to apply bacillus thuringiensis or BT Spray. If you see the aphids, try one of these DIY sprays. These pest control methods I recommend are organic. If you oppose spraying your crops, then be prepared to practice companion planting and apply row covers.
I love kale for its versatility. It can be juiced, eaten raw, or cooked. If you’re planning on eating kale raw, massage the leaves first. Chop the kale and gently rub it with olive oil or lemon juice. This helps break down the kale’s fibers, making it less chewy and more digestible.
If you’re not juicing or cooking the kale in a soup, make sure to de-stem the kale leaves. The stem is highly fibrous, and some may say it is inedible. The easiest way to de-stem kale is to hold the l stem in one hand and the base of the leaf in another, then pull them away from each other.
Kale is another fun and easy-growing crop to add to your fall and winter gardens. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different varieties and recipes. I hope this article provides information and tips to help you JUST GROW IT.