Learning how to grow kale is worthwhile. Nutrient-packed and remarkably hardy, kale will carry on cropping throughout the coldest months and on into spring. The best-looking of the brassicas, kale is a valuable addition to a kitchen garden or ornamental border as well as vegetable gardens. We’ll show you how to sow, plant, care for and harvest this stunning vegetable.
Types of Kale
Kale is a stunning vegetable, with varieties that offer a choice of frothy, frilled leaves; crinkled leaves; and flatter leaves suitable for both cooking and salads. And then there’s the opportunity to grow red or purple kale, which we reckon wouldn’t look out of place in any ornamental border.
Kale is best sown from late spring to early summer, which makes it the perfect choice to follow on from earlier crops such as garlic, fava beans, or early salads.
Where to Grow Kale
Hardy kale is the most reliable crop of the cabbage family. It stands up to frosts with ease and thrives in just about any well-drained, fertile soil. Give it a sunny position in order to encourage stronger growth during the dark winter months.
Like cabbage, kale grows best when well-fed. Add plenty of compost to the ground before planting and if your soil isn’t especially rich, top up its fertility by applying a balanced organic fertilizer such as chicken manure pellets a week or two before planting.
How to Sow Kale
Kale needs plenty of room to develop properly. To make the most of the space you have it’s almost always better to start plants off in plug trays or pots. This way you can get seedlings growing while other crops are still in the ground. Once you’ve harvested the previous crop, your sturdy young kale seedlings will be ready to plant.
Fill plug trays or small pots with multipurpose potting soil. Firm it in with your fingertips then make holes about half an inch (1cm) deep. Sow two seeds per plug or pot, cover, and water. Should two seedlings grow remove the weaker of the two.
Depending on how soon you plan on planting your kale you may need to pot your seedlings on into larger containers. Then, about a week before planting, start moving plants outside so they can acclimatize. Leave them out for gradually longer periods until they’re staying out all day and night.
Space the young plants about 18in (45cm) apart. Dig a hole, pop the plant in and backfill with soil. Kale needs to be well anchored, so be sure to properly firm the plants into position so that the rootballs are in good contact with the soil. Thoroughly water once you’re done.
Kale that will be harvested for smaller salad leaves can be planted closer to leave about 10in (25cm) between plants.
Caring for Kale
Keep plants well watered and weeded, especially during the summer as they settle in and establish. Remove damaged or yellowing leaves as they appear.
Kale tends to be less prone to the catalog of pests and diseases that afflict other cabbage family crops. Nevertheless, it’s worth taking a few precautions against possible attack.
Slugs sometimes prove a nuisance in wetter climates but they are easily picked off by hand and you can always set slug traps to limit their numbers. If you find that pigeons are tearing at the leaves then set up bird deterrent tape or install barriers of netting supported on, for example, canes with upturned bottles on the ends. Make sure the netting is properly secured at the ground. Butterfly netting also stops butterflies from laying their eggs on your plants so that caterpillars won’t get a chance to decimate your crop.
Whitefly can occasionally turn up. They are easily identified as tiny white triangles that readily take to the air when disturbed. Fuzzy gray cabbage aphids are another common problem. Insect mesh or row covers are a simple way to protect plants. Most pests die off after the first frosts, leaving plants clear and blemish-free once more.
How to Harvest Kale
Harvesting usually begins in the fall. Pull or twist leaves down and away from the plant, or use a knife to cut the leaves off.
Harvest every few days by taking one or two leaves from each plant so that the central inner rosette of leaves remains untouched. By the end of the following spring kale plants will have grown quite tall as a result of this regular harvesting. When they stretch to flower they can be removed to the compost heap or left as an extra source of nectar for pollinators such as butterflies and bees.
Kale is one of those crops that just keeps on giving, making it a worthy addition to any garden. Let us know down below if you’re growing kale this season. What variety are you growing, and how do you make the most of it in the kitchen?
See the Almanac Growing Guide for Kale for more information about planting, growing, and harvesting.
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