Kale is an old-fashioned “cooking green” that deserves a revival. It matures within eight weeks and thrives in cool weather, although it tolerates all but the hottest summer heat. Kale is a powerhouse of nutrition –rich in antioxidants and iron. If you think you don’t like kale, perhaps you just haven’t found the right recipe. Forget dishes that call for steaming kale into oblivion. Instead, cook it lightly, just until it’s tender. Sauté it with a bit of olive oil or bacon, or toss it with olive oil and roast it in the oven for five minutes. Add chopped kale to soups and stir-fries. Young kale leaves are even tender enough to eat raw. If you have a high-powered juicer, try adding a few kale leaves to a fruit smoothie. Chances are, you (and your kids) will never know it’s there.
To grow kale, plant it in spring, about six weeks before the last expected frost. Kale seeds germinate in soil temperatures ranging from 45 to 85 degrees F. You can plant another crop in early summer, especially if you live in a mild climate, or sow seeds in late summer for a fall crop. Kale is among the most cold-hardy vegetables you’ll find and actually tastes better after a few nips of frost. Dig two to three inches of compost or manure into the soil because kale prefers well-draining loam. Sow the seeds half an inch deep and keep the soil consistently moist. Kale grows best in full sun, although it will tolerate light shade, especially in hot climates. Once the plants emerge, thin them to twelve inches apart. Kale becomes bitter in dry conditions, so mulch the soil with untreated grass clippings to conserve moisture, and water frequently.
Begin harvesting kale when the leaves stand eight inches high. Remove the outer leaves first and allow the inner leaves to continue growing. With this approach, you can extend your harvest by several weeks.
Pests And Diseases
Kale is less vulnerable to insect pests and diseases than other crops, but it is occasionally bothered by the usual culprits – flea beetles, cutworms, snails, cabbage loopers, cabbage aphids, and nematodes. Diseases include fungal diseases such as black rot and club root.
To minimize pest problems, interplant kale with other crops, such as tomatoes, beans, or herbs. Install floating row covers over your garden immediately after planting. Hand-pick and destroy slugs, snails, and worms. Treat aphids with a steady stream of water or apply insecticidal soap on cool, cloudy days.
To reduce the risk of disease, rotate cole crops, including kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and collards, so they only grow in the same spot once every four years. Select disease-resistant varieties and use soaker hoses rather than overhead sprinklers. Water early in the morning and avoid working in a wet garden.
Curly kale is the type of kale most commonly grown for eating. It has bluish-gray to green leaves that are frilled, but not ornamental. Try a hardy heirloom variety such as Green Scotch Curled.
Flowering kale has lovely blue, pink, or green foliage and is often found tucked in planter baskets as an ornamental. It’s just as tasty as curly kale, though, and it makes a lovely and practical addition to the vegetable garden.