Kale is an easy-to-grow, superfood vegetable, of the Brassica family. It certainly deserves a spot in your spring and fall garden. Learning how to grow kale is definitely worth the effort as this leafy green is packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein.
Kale can be grown and harvested year-round in mild climates, or twice a year (spring and fall) in colder climates. Even if kale is not on your favorite food list, grow it anyway in the fall. It makes an excellent cover crop that, come spring, can be dug into help improve the structure of your garden soil.
As well as growing kale inground, it can also be successfully grown in containers, either indoors or outdoors.
This article will provide tips and tricks on how to grow kale in your garden.
Selecting the Best Location
Start by choosing the right growing location for the plants. Kale is a cool-season vegetable and the flavor is much improved after a light frost. This cooling turns the plant starch into sugar.
Select a location in partial shade for raising kale in the spring, to mature in the summer. This will provide much needed relief from the heat of the midday sun. If the plants get too hot, the leaves become tougher and develop a bitter taste.
The opposite is true for growing kale during the fall and the winter. At this time, the heat from the sun will be less intense, so a full sun location should be chosen.
Preparing the Planting Site
Kale will grow in a wide range of soil conditions but flourishes best in a low-acidic soil with a 6.5 – 6.8 pH level. You can test this level with a soil testing meter.
Soil naturally becomes more acidic. If the soil is too acidic, wood ash can be added to make it more alkaline. Save some of the wood ashes, from a wood burning stove or fireplace, and incorporate them into the garden soil two weeks before planting kale seeds.
Along with the wood ashes, incorporate compost or well-rotted animal manure into the soil so the soil will be fertile and able to feed the growing kale plants. The organic matter will also improve drainage and prevent soil compaction.
Starting Kale from Seed
Seeds can be started indoors 6-weeks before spring or fall planting time. Transplant seedlings into prepared soil after all danger of frost has passed in the spring or near the end of summer when temperatures have cooled. The plants should be spaced about 16 inches apart.
Kale seeds can also be sown directly into prepared garden soil or outdoor containers in spring or fall. The soil temperature should be at least 45℉. Check this with a soil thermometer.
Scatter seeds on top of prepared soil, cover with 1/4-inch of soil, and water thoroughly. Once the seeds have germinated the seedlings can be progressively thinned to about a spacing of 16 inches.
How Long Does It Take Kale To Grow?
If you start with seedlings, kale will be ready to harvest in 40-days. If you sow seeds, allow 70-days until harvest time.
Growing kale with succession planting will ensure a much longer growing season. Sow seeds every 2-weeks in early spring and fall to extend the harvest period.
If a light frost occurs in the fall it will make the kale leaves have a sweeter flavor. However, it’s just the opposite if a late spring frost falls on the plants – the leaves will develop a bitter taste. Protect spring crops with a covering, such as a floating row cover, if a late frost is predicted.
Once your plants are established, add a 2-inch layer of organic mulch, such as straw or grass, around them, to retain soil moisture, prevent weed growth, and keep the soil cool. This is especially beneficial for spring planting when temperatures may warm up before the growing kale has reached maturity.
Water the plants regularly; at soil level to avoid getting the leaves wet. Keeping the soil moist preserves the tenderness of the leaves and stops them becoming tough and bitter. The plants should also be fed regularly with a water-soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle-Grow® All Purpose Plant Food.
Kale is a hardy, disease-resistant plant and attracts few pests. It matures in cooler temperatures when the incidence of pests is low. There may be small numbers of cut-worms or cabbage worms and these can easily be hand picked off the plants. Aphids also sometimes attack kale and any outbreak can be eradicated with neem oil or an insecticidal soap spray.
Growing Kale In Winter
In mild climates it is possible to grow and harvest kale throughout the winter by using succession planting. In cold climates (or if you don’t want to eat the kale) you can utilize this cold-hardy plant as a winter cover crop.
Sow kale seeds into prepared garden soil in late summer and allow to grow all winter. Harvest as desired or just allow to grow as soil protection.
If using as a cover crop, when the ground thaws in the spring, dig the kale plants in, to improve soil structure. Wait for 2-weeks, to allow the kale to decompose before starting the spring planting. The kale cover crop will help prevent soil erosion and compaction, and increase the fertility of the growing bed.
Growing Kale in Pots or Containers
Kale is just as happy growing in a pot or a container as in the open ground. A few plants of this cabbage-cousin will provide plenty of nutrient-packed leaves to satisfy you during the spring or winter.
Fill a 12-inch pot with good quality potting soil and place one seed or plant in the center. Water well and keep soil moist. The soil in pots will dry out faster than in-ground garden soil so water kale plants frequently.
Kale is a heavy feeder and will need to be fed a steady diet to keep the plant growing vigorously. Feed the potted plants water-soluble plant food mixed at one-half the recommended rate once a week.
When growing kale indoors or outdoors in pots, make sure to place the pots in a sunny location that remains below 65 degrees F. If the plants get too hot, they will bolt, which means they will stop growing and go to seed.
Kale is ideal for growing hydroponically with a hydroponics grow kit. The root systems of the plants flourish in a growing medium of clay pebbles rather than soil. You just have to keep the water level topped up.
If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, you could try aquaponics, which is similar to hydroponics but with the addition of fish. The waste products from the fish provides the nutrients required by the plants.
How To Harvest Kale So It Continues To Grow
Snip off the outer leaves when they are about the size of your hand. Be gentle to avoid damaging the plant. Do not harvest the terminal bud (found at the top center of the plant) if you want the plant to continue growing. Regular picking encourages further growth.
Kale will bolt when it has completed its growth cycle or if temperatures become too hot. Bolting causes the kale to produce flower buds which are edible and delicious. However, the leaves become bitter.
The seeds are contained in the flowers, so allow some flowers to remain on the plant until the seeds ripen. Then harvest the seeds for the next planting. Store them in a paper envelope, not in a plastic bag, just in case the seeds contain any moisture.
Using the Harvest
Once you have harvested the kale leaves you have to decide how to use them. There are many great recipes that incorporate kale. It can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. You will find countless ways to include kale in your cuisine, in cookbooks or online.
A favorite of mine is to use kale in a smoothie. Blitz it in a blender with fruit, such as banana or pineapple, and yoghurt. Delicious!
Another healthy and fun way to use it is by making kale chips.
Making Delicious Kale Chips
Health Benefits Of Kale
Kale is rich in antioxidants, magnesium, calcium, iron, vitamins C and K, fiber, and several other nutrients. What’s more it is very low in calories. Growing kale and making it a part of your daily diet can provide a wide range of health benefits.
- The antioxidants counteract damage by free radicals which are widely regarded as a contributing factor in aging. They also reduce the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Kale contains quercetin and kaempferol which, according to Healthline, “have powerful heart-protective, blood pressure-lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-depressant and anti-cancer effects”.
- Bone health is improved by the calcium content in kale. Calcium helps build strong bones while we’re young and protect against osteoporosis when we get older.
- Kale helps lower cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of heart disease.
- Vitamin K assists blood clotting and helps prevent heart disease and osteoporosis.
- Kale has a high fiber and water content that work together to improve digestion.
- Mineral rich kale provides a much-needed top up of many minerals that are deficient in countless modern diets.
Kale is a versatile, health-promoting vegetable that can be grown twice a year in most climates. It’s also a good plant to grow indoors for both food and beauty. Overall, kale is a great choice for an easy to grow, nutrient rich plant that will improve the soil, produce seeds, and grow in cold weather.
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