Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Kale
Kale is a cold-hardy vegetable that can be planted in early spring or autumn. Cool weather brings out the sweet, nutty flavor of this highly nutritious green. Dive into our Kale Growing guide for information on planting, growing, and harvesting this hard-working beauty.
Kale is a member of the cabbage family. Small plants can be set out very early in the spring (3 to 5 weeks before the last frost!). But kale’s glory is the autumn season in many regions as long as winter temperatures do not dip below the teens. Kale tastes better when the leaves mature in cold weather.
Kale is versatile in the garden, growing in traditional beds or raised beds and containers. It’s also versatile in the kitchen and a nutritious addition to salads, stir fries, omelettes, casseroles, and other dishes.
When to Plant Kale
- In early spring, kale can be set out in the garden 3 to 5 weeks before the last frost. However, if the temperatures can dip below the 20s, it’s best to have floating row covers on hand; you can cover them on cool nights.
- In the fall, kale can be planted 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost for fall and winter harvests. In zones 8, 9, and 10, kale can be planted throughout the fall.
- Harvest it from fall until the ground freezes in winter. In fact, kale leaves often have a better flavor after a couple frosts.
Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site
- Kale does best in full sun but tolerates partial shade.
- The soil pH should be 6.5 to 6.8 to discourage disease. (Test your pH with a kit from your Cooperative Extension office or garden store)
- Based on the soil test, amend your soil with nitrogen-rich compost or blood meal. (If you didn’t test your soil, mix in a few inches of compost).
- Soil needs to drain well and also be enriched for tender leaves. When planting, add fertilizer (1-½ cups of 5-10-10 fertilizer per 25 feet of row into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil).
How to Plant Kale
- If you’re planting seeds, sow ¼ to ½ inch deep into well-drained, light soil. After about 2 weeks, thin the seedlings so that they are spaced 8 to 12 inches apart.
- If you’re setting out plants (which is more common), plant them at the depth at which they are growing in the container. Space 18 to 24 inches apart.
- After planting, water plants well.
Check out this video to learn how to grow kale.
How to Grow Kale
- It’s important to keep kale well watered and fed. Water 1 to 1.5 inches of water each week.
- Regularly feed kale with a continuous-release plant food.
- Mulch the soil to keep down the weeds and keep kale cool as kale won’t grow in hot weather.
- Mulch the soil again heavily after the first hard freeze in the fall; the plants may continue to produce leaves throughout the winter.
How to Harvest Kale
- Kale is ready to harvest when the leaves are about the size of your hand.
- Pick about one fistful of leaves per harvest. Start harvesting the oldest leaves firt from the lowest section of the plant. (Discard any yellowed or torn leaves.)
- Avoid picking the terminal bud (found at the top center of the plant) because this will help to keep the plant productive.
- Kale will continue growing until it’s 20°F. It tastes even sweeter with a touch of frost. (See local frost dates.)
- If you wish to extend your harvest, shield your kale from the cold with row covers. Or, create a makeshift cover with tarps and old blankets propped up by hay bales. Here are a few more season-extending ideas.
- The small, tender leaves can be eaten uncooked and used in salads.
- Cut and cook the larger leaves like spinach, but be sure to remove the tough ribs before cooking.
How to Store Kale
- You can store kale as you would any other leafy green; put the kale in a loose plastic produce bag and store it in the refrigerator. It should last about 1 week.
- ‘Vates’, which is a hardy variety and does not yellow in cold weather. It also has curly, blue-green leaves.
- ‘Winterbor’, which resembles the ‘Vates’ variety, but is frost tolerant.
- ‘Red Russian’, which has red, tender leaves and is an early crop.
Wit & Wisdom
- The chill of a moderate frost or light snow improves the flavor of kale.
- Kale has a number of health benefits, as it is rich in minerals and vitamins A and C.
Many people dislike kale because it is so crunchy and dry. It sounds odd, but a great way to make kale more tasty is to massage it!