Kale is one of those tasty superfoods that you can grow in your own garden. Get to know more about growing kale, including how to sow and harvest it through this article.
Quick Facts About Kale Plants
- Botanical name: Brassica oleracea
- Common name: Ornamental kale, kale
- Type of plant: Annual or biennial vegetable
- Size upon maturity: 1 to 2 feet – both tall and wide
- Type of soil and pH: Moist, loamy, and well-drained; acidic
- Sun exposure: Partial sun, full sun
- Hardiness zones: USDA zones 7 to 9
- Bloom time: Spring
- Native area: Europe
A Short Description of Kale
Kale is a famous superfood that is not only highly nutritious but also tasty. It has several essential and beneficial nutrients, including calcium, fiber, antioxidants, iron, and Vitamins C and K.
Also called borecole, kale plants belong to the brassica or the cabbage family. It is also possible to plant kale seeds and grow leafy greens from them. As a cold-hardy vegetable, it tends to achieve optimal growth in cold climates or temperatures. In fact, the cold weather or cold temperatures provides kale leaves with a much sweeter flavor.
Kale is also well-loved because of being one of the most versatile greens. It is versatile that you can prepare it in various ways, among which would be steaming, frying, and oven-roasting, so you will always have easy access to healthy veggie snacks.
It is also possible to eat young leaves raw by adding them to salads. You may also add finely ground leaves to your healthy smoothies.
Different Types and Varieties of Kale
If you are thinking of growing kale, then learn about its different types, varieties, and cultivars. By learning about them, you can better decide which particular type or variety will suit your location and natural climate.
Lacinato kale refers to an Italian variety that features large and narrow yet long leaves. You will also notice that their colors are dark green to bluish. The leaves of the lacinato kale also have a scale-like and bumpy look, which is why they are also often called dinosaur kale.
The red Russian kale variety features tender and smooth leaves that also have purple edges and veins. Many consider this particular kale variety as having the sweetest taste.
This bluish-green kale variety, which has a dwarf and curly personality is tolerant to both heat and cold.
The Redbor kale varieties feature vivid leaves colored burgundy. The good thing about these leaves is that they will look really fantastic when grown in a flowerbed or a vegetable patch. Expect the leaves to turn purple once you experience the cold weather.
If you are interested in a fast-growing kale variety, go for the Hanover salad. Aside from growing fast, this variety is also famous for being an early producer. What’s even better about it is it boasts of its pleasant taste that makes it possible for you to eat kale raw and integrate it into salads.
This kale variety came from the Mediterranean. It features wide, flat, and large paddle-like leaves that also have thick and white veins. This variety may remind you of collard greens, instead of the usual kale.
Portuguese kale also has the advantage of being more tolerant of heat compared to other varieties. It is a famous ingredient in the traditional kale soup of Portugal.
Choosing the Ideal Planting Location
Once you have made your choice from the different kale varieties, it is time to choose a planting location for them. One advantage of kale is that it is capable of growing pretty well in various sites and locations, among which are garden soils, pots, other containers, and raised garden beds.
It is easy and hassle-free for you to grow kale indoors, too, provided there is enough lighting. Make sure that the planting spot has soil with high organic matter content and is well-draining. It is also crucial for the planting site where you will be growing kale indoors to be able to receive enough sunlight.
Another thing that you should do when selecting the best planting location for your kale is it should not make it come very near tall plants that may only shade it. You also have the option to grow kale in window boxes but make sure that they are in windows that face the west or south.
However, if you live in an area that deals with an extremely hot climate, choose windows that face the east, so you can prevent the sun from getting scorched from the harsh and hot afternoon sun.
When Should You Start Planting Kale?
You can plant kale around 3 to 5 weeks before the anticipated last date of frost during the early spring. Several regions allow a lot of gardeners to harvest kale every summer if they plant it during the mentioned time.
You can also plant kale when the late summer comes, usually around 6 to 8 weeks prior to the first frost in fall. If you live in areas that have warm climates, specifically those that fall under zone 8 and up, continue planting during the early fall so you can harvest in the late fall to winter.
Growing Kale from Seeds
One thing about kale that you should know is that it is possible for you to grow it from seeds. You can do it outside or inside depending on where you are living. You can actually direct-seed kale in your garden or start it indoors before you transplant it in your garden beds.
It is also fine to direct seed kale when the weather is cold. The only thing you have to make sure of is that the minimum soil temperature is 45 degrees F. If you wish to grow kale from seed indoors, start planting in a seed-starting mix. Do this before the last anticipated date of frost.
One more thing that you should know about kale seedlings is that they are capable of germinating quickly when planted in warm garden soil. Expect them to sprout in around 5 to 8 days. Wait for that germination period to finish.
You also have to cover kale seeds using half an inch of soil. Moisten the growing medium. After that, you can transplant the kale seeds that you started indoors once the harm brought on by the frost already passed.
Growing Kale in Containers or Pots
One thing that makes kale so well-loved by gardeners is the fact that they can also easily grow and keep it in containers or pots. An advantage of deciding to grow kale plants in containers or pots is that they boost their mobility. It allows you to move the plants easily so they receive sufficient sunlight.
You can also easily move the plant in a way that it gets protected from harsh weather. In addition, it offers protection from garden critters, like rabbits, the ones that may end up consuming kale leaves.
It is also a good idea to grow kale in containers or pots in case you have no sufficient space for a garden, or you are living in an area with soil conditions that are not suitable for this green plant.
When growing in containers or pots, make sure to choose one with a minimum diameter of 12 inches. The pot or container also needs to have sufficient drainage holes. In this case, the best choice would be a clay pot or container that is unglazed.
It is the perfect choice as it lets any excess moisture from the soil to get out of the walls. This helps in preventing root rot. When growing in pots or containers, ensure that you also utilize a quality and nourishing potting mix.
You may also use an organic mix meant specifically for the successful growth of vegetables. Transplant kale into your chosen container or pot with a depth that is similar to when you were growing and cultivating it in your past container. Water kale right after planting it.
How to Propagate Kale?
The most common means of planting kale is from kale seeds or plants in the nursery. Note, though, that you also have the option to propagate kale. You can do it through cuttings.
The good news is that kale is capable of regrowing after you cut it. However, this also needs a very specific means or process of propagation. You can also ensure that your kale will continue to grow healthily if you take the cuttings from old leaves.
What you have to do is to get a stem cutting from the bottom part of your kale plant. You can utilize your gardening shears for this purpose. As much as possible, pick one that has several kale leaves from the primary stem. Avoid propagating from the middle or center of the plant.
You should then remove kale leaves found at the stem’s lower half. The next thing to do would be to trim the stem’s bottom right under a leaf node. It should be around a 45-degree angle.
Once done, you should dip the end where the cut is in a rooting hormone. Prepare a tiny pot or container that has drainage holes and fill it up with a soilless potting mix with moisture. This is where you should plant the stem’s bottom half.
Maintain the moisture of the growing medium and wait for the development of roots, which usually happens after several weeks. One sign that roots are already developed or formed is when you notice some resistance after tugging the stem gently. When that happens, it is time to transplant your kale.
Caring for Kale Seeds and Plants
Once you have successfully planted kale, it is important to continue providing it with the kind of care and nourishment it specifically needs. Your focus when it comes to caring for and growing kale should be on these areas:
Expect kale to have a much better growth pattern if you provide it with moderate amounts of water consistently. Your goal should be to retain the dampness in the soil all the time. It should not be soggy while also not totally dried out.
One thing to keep in mind is that soil within containers or pots is prone to drying out faster compared to those in in-ground or raised beds. This makes kales grown in pots or containers need more water.
To support moisture retention, it is a great idea to put some mulch on the surface of the soil. This can keep the soil moist. It also helps in buffering your soil from any major changes in temperature.
Kale prefers growing in soil considered rich – one that has high organic matter content and is a bit acidic (to be more specific – 6.5 to 6.8). Organic matter has a lot of nitrogen that is necessary for the healthy growth of kale leaves. It is also crucial to be one hundred percent sure that the soil drains properly.
In terms of sunlight, take note that what kale specifically requires is full sun to partial shade. This is applicable in almost all climates since the highest growth tends to happen once your kale plant receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.
In case your living location has a dry and hot climate, it helps to provide some shade to your plant. It should be enough to shield your kale plants from the harsh and strong sun in the afternoon. This is crucial as too much strong heat may result in leaves wilting and losing their flavor.
Humidity and Temperature
Kale falls under cool-weather vegetables, which means that they have the ability to deal with frost upon maturity. To plant kale, the best soil temperature you should provide would be around 60 to 65 degrees.
Also, note that each kale variety favors cool temperatures, and some light frost can sweeten it. Meanwhile, the hot weather has the tendency of making the taste of kale bitter. One more fact about kale that you have to be aware of is that it is a biennial.
In other words, it takes a couple of growing seasons or years to end its life cycle. However, despite being a biennial, many grow it as an annual. There is also a possibility for kale to collapse if you expose it to heavy snow or frost. Despite that, you can still grow it the entire winter in case it is mild, and you provide the plant with enough water.
The best time to apply fertilizer to as you grow kale from seed is the time you plant them. Upon planting, add your chosen fertilizer into the soil – around three to four inches on top. It is also advisable to feed this plant the entire growing season based on the instructions indicated on the label.
The best fertilizer that you can use is a vegetable fertilizer rich in nitrogen. You may also use compost.
Protecting Kale During the Winter
In case you are growing kale during the winter, it is crucial to have a few protective structures in place. You have a much better chance of enjoying kale crops during the winter if you set these protective structures for them:
This structure refers to a bottomless box that has a clear top that you can use to form a microclimate surrounding your kale crops. The good thing about this protective structure is that it is perfect for use in any household garden.
It is also versatile in the sense that you can use it in various seasons, like winter, autumn and spring as a means of extending the harvest period for a few months or weeks. The fact that kale can be classified as a cold-hardy plant makes it possible for you to harvest it the entire winter using your cold frames made of wood or polycarbonate materials.
Greenhouse or Polytunnel
You can also use a greenhouse or polytunnel when planning to protect kale during the winter. It also works for other cold-hardy vegetables, including brussels sprouts, swiss chard, and parsnips.
In most cases, you can just put baby kale and mature or full-sized kale plants in the tunnel so you can harvest them during the winter. Sow the kale seedlings directly or transplant them when their growing season comes into your raised bed garden that you can put inside your tunnel.
Another option is to grow and cultivate winter kale in containers or pots then put them in your polytunnel or greenhouse.
How to Harvest Kale?
In most cases, the time it takes for the kale plant to reach maturity starting from it being in seeds is around 2 months. If you want the timing to be more accurate or precise, you may check out the number of days needed for the plant to mature in the plant label or seed packet.
Harvest young leaves so you can use them while fresh in your salad recipes. You may also choose to grow mature kale plants first before you use them as cooked greens. Take out the exterior leaves that are already older and let the center of the plant keep on producing.
In other words, you can harvest kale if you remove several of the plant’s oldest leaves, the ones you can find at the bottom of the stem’s outer portion. Just tear off each leaf carefully or cut them from the primary stalk.
It is possible for you to begin this harvesting process early. This happens if you harvest baby greens while the kale seedlings are still young. Ensure that there are a few leaves left all the time, too. The reason is that the kale plant will need this in photosynthesis and consistent growth.
Pests and Other Problems
One advantage of growing kale is that you have an assurance of its ability to resist pests. It is more pest-resistant than other brassica or cabbage family members. Note, though, that there are certain birds that may harm your young kale plants, so you have to keep them protected.
Pigeons, for instance, may damage the tender leaves of your young plants. In that case, it would be a great idea to use insect-proof netting to cover your plants. This is a big help in keeping off birds, as well as other pests and animals, like cabbage root fly and caterpillars, from the kale’s tender leaves.
Kale is also prone to experiencing root disease or the infestation of pests and insects. Among those that may affect kale are clubroot, black rot, cabbage loopers, gray green cabbage aphids, flea beetles, cutworms, slugs, cabbage white butterflies, and cabbage worms.
One way to protect your kale plants from such insect, pests, and other animals is to monitor them frequently for signs that there are eggs of insects or pests and there are those who feed the plants. An indication of this problem is the presence of holes in kale leaves.
Treat the problem right after you notice the signs, especially for badly infested leaves. For leaves that are extremely infested, pick them off and discard them.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long does it take to grow kale?
It would take around 5 to 8 days for the seedlings of kale to germinate. Continue to water them until ready to pick up. It also takes up to two months for them to reach maturity.
Does kale regrow after cutting?
Yes. It is possible for kale to regrow even after you cut it. However, for the regrowth to happen, you have to make sure that you did not cut off the top leaf. If you want to cut kale with the goal of making it regrow, use a scissor or pruner as a means of cutting off a few leaves while retaining the topmost leaves.
What month do you plant kale?
Since kale is one of those plants that are fond of the cool weather, it would be best to plant it during the early spring. Make sure that the soil is already workable for spring-planted kale. It is also fine to plant and grow kale during the late summer.
Does kale come back every year?
There is a low chance for kale to come back every year since it falls under the biennial plant category. Several gardeners make it grow as an annual, though, which prompts the need for planting it yearly.
Are Swiss chard and kale the same?
No. Despite the fact that they are the same in looks in the sense that the leaves of both are usually deep green, crisp, crinkled and large, they are also different. One thing that makes chard and kale different is their individual taste.
Kale is often stronger while having an earthy and bitter flavor. Meanwhile, chard falls under the milder green category. One more thing that makes the two different is the stem.
Kale has thick stems that you have to remove prior to eating. On the other hand, chard has stems that you can tenderize first if you cook them.
Growing kale is definitely not that hard. Make kale a part of your garden with the help of this article, so you can finally take advantage of it, especially its great taste and high level of nourishment.