Grow Your Own Superfood!
How-To: Plant, Maintain, and Harvest Kale
Kale is super versatile. It’s good in salad, soup and smoothies. It’s even delicious when torn into bite sized pieces and baked with olive oil and salt into “chips” (a healthier version of our favorite guilty pleasure) it might even convert a kale “hater” into a… “these aren’t too bad!” Best of all, kale is good for you. It’s known to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
We need to be eating more food that is GREAT for us. That helps not hinders our health. And kale is one high on the good list. And because you are reading about kale on gardenstead, a gardening website, we’re also here to preach to you how easy it is to grow too.
Due to its resilient nature kale is suitable to grow in hardiness zones 2-10. Which is pretty much all of them! It’s a cool-weather crop which makes it ideal for spring or fall harvests. A light frost won’t hurt it rather it will actually give it a sweeter taste.
Below are some steps to take when planting kale from either seed or seedling:
Direct Sowing: A straightforward way to grow kale is directly sowing seeds into soil (whether it be in containers, raised or in-ground beds – kale grows easily wherever you place it!)
- Pick a sunny spot for kale in your garden (over 4 hours of sun) that has well-draining soil
- Plant seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep (this isn’t very deep!)
- After they’ve grown a couple of inches tall, thin them 8 to 12 inches apart so they have enough space to grow
- If possible, plant near other veggies like onions that will promote healthy growing (More on “companion planting” here)
Starting Seeds Indoor:
- Start seeds 4-6 weeks before your zone’s last frost date
- Kale seeds can be viable for up to four years. If you’re not sure they will germinate, do a simple germination test.
- Kale seeds germinate fairly quickly in about 5-8 days
Care and Maintenance
Watering: The key to watering kale is to keep the soil evenly moist. You don’t want soaking wet soil where the roots are swimming around but you also don’t want bone dry soil either. Water deeply for the first several weeks of the season, this will encourage the roots to grow long and deep and therefore stronger.
Pests: Unfortunately, pests love kale too. Aphids, flea beetles, cabbage worms all love and are eager to also munch on the beloved kale. Larger holes, anywhere on the leaf, like the one pictured below are usually caused by cabbage worms. They start as small (very small!) white pointy eggs on the back of the leaves. Check every morning for several weeks and “squish” them in any stage from egg to worm.
Onto the most exciting of stages… harvesting! Most varieties can be harvested anywhere from 50-80 days after planting. That is just a general guideline as kale can be eaten at any stage of growth, but when kale leaves are about the size of your palm, they are more tender and easier to eat. When kale leaves get large and old, they become “tougher” and less flavourful but with a little massaging (yes, literally using your hands to “massage” the leaves!) they can still taste great.
How to harvest:
- Trim a handful of leaves at the same time
- Harvest first from the lower outside leaves
- Leave the “terminal bud” (the inside middle part where the new growth comes from) on the plant so that it can keep producing
Kale is an excellent veggie for beginner gardeners and it’s beneficial to living a healthier lifestyle. If this is your first time growing kale or any new vegetable, you may encounter a number of unfavorable garden conditions, but it’s all part of the learning process. Remember that the garden is alive and resilient. So, give it your best shot and regardless of the outcome you are guaranteed to come out a more knowledgeable and experienced gardener. We’ll leave with a few of our favorite kale varieties.
Our Favourite Varities
- Dwarf Green Curled from West Coast Seeds, these are perfect for small space gardening or any gardeners looking to grow in containers
- Winterbor from either West Coast Seeds or Johnny’s Seeds are one of the best varieties for winter or fall harvesting. They are very frost hardy and can tolerate cold better than other kale plants so if you grow in a cooler climate, give this variety a try.
- Toscano from Johnny’s Seeds is great for those who love young, tender leaves.