Kale is a delicious, nutritious addition to your fall and winter garden. Cool weather brings out a unique and deliciously nutty flavor in kale crops that just can’t be matched. Gardeners love it because it is a hardy plant that’s easy to grow and tough to kill. Cooks love it because it is so versatile. You can serve kale fresh or cook it in a number of ways. You can steam it, stir-fry it, or use it in recipes like you would any other greens, such as spinach. No matter how you serve it, kale is simply delicious.
Kale is a member of the cabbage family and is considered a hardy biennial. This simply means it takes two full years to complete it’s life-cycle. After two years, kale will go to flower. However, most gardeners choose to grow kale each year as an annual.
Planting Tips and Tricks
Kale thrives in full sun when temperatures are cool. However, if you are planting kale while it is still relatively warm outdoors, you will need to give your plants partial shade to keep them from burning up. Additionally, hot weather can make your kale bitter and tough. So make sure you plant at the appropriate time for your area and climate, or plan on providing your kale some shade from the hot afternoon sun.
Kale grows well with most plants in the garden, however it does not do as well when planted near beans, berries, or tomatoes…or where these plants have been. Avoid growing it in the same soil or too close to areas where these types of plants were growing in the summer.
Kale likes well-drained and loamy soil. While it does like moisture, it does not like to be soggy. Kale gets its best flavor in light and sandy soil. It can be grown in heavy or clay soils, but the taste will not be quite as good. So be choosy about your soil if at all possible.
Kale does best with a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.8. If your soil is too acidic, you can add a bit of wood ash to adjust it, but go slow and avoid adding too much at once, or you’ll end up with the opposite problem!
Space your kale plants 12-15 inches apart. If you are direct sowing, place them much closer and then thin out the seedlings as they emerge.
You’ll need 3-4 kale plants for each member of the household who eats it. This way you’ll have plenty of plants for a bumper crop for everyone to enjoy. Because kale is so easy to grow and will grow in the spring also, keep several packets of seed on hand.
Before planting your kale, make sure to work some natural fertilizer into the soil. It’s even a good idea to fertilize your soil and then allow the soil to “rest” for one to two weeks before transplanting your kale plants. This is especially important if you have tired, worn-out soil. If you have good compost, you should work it into the soil before planting.
You will need to fertilize your kale plants with a side dressing application of natural, liquid fertilizer or apply organic compost every six weeks or so. To side dress plants, apply the fertilizer along the rows beside the plants, not directly on them. Doing this every six weeks will keep your plants producing longer into the cool season.
Mulch around your kale plants. This keeps critical moisture in the soil and helps guard against pests and disease. Moist (but not overly damp) soil will help your kale’s flavor to remain sweet and crisp.
Another great characteristic of kale is that it is naturally good at resisting disease. However, make sure to keep an eye out for cutworms, cabbage loopers, and cabbageworms as they like to snack on kale from time to time. If you find them, pick them off the plants. You can also guard against insect damage by continuously picking off any dead and weathered leaves.
Your kale will be ready for harvest approximately 70-90 days after sowing seed, and 50-75 days after transplanting, depending on the variety you plant.
To harvest your kale, cut the individual leaves off when the plant is around 8-10 inches tall. Always harvest the outside leaves first. Or, you can harvest the entire plant by cutting the stock about two inches above the soil line. If you use this method, your plant should sprout new leaves in a few weeks.
Harvest your kale leaves before they become too old, or they will be too tough. If you can’t cook it or eat it fast enough, try drying the leaves or make kale chips so your harvest doesn’t go to waste. Kale will keep in the refrigerator for approximately a week. Just make sure you keep it in the crisper bin in an unsealed bag for best results.