Master Kale Growing: A Complete Guide to Planting, Care, Harvesting & Companion Plants
Kale has become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks to its impressive nutritional profile and versatile culinary applications. If you’re interested in learning how to grow kale in your own garden or even indoors, you’re in luck. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about growing kale from seed, planting, caring for, and harvesting this healthy and delicious green. We’ll also discuss companion plants for kale, helping you create a thriving garden ecosystem. Additionally, we’ll touch on how to grow kale in pots, as well as how often to water kale and how much sun kale needs to thrive.
Section 1: Kale Basics – From Seed to Seedling
1.1 How to Grow Kale from Seed: The Ideal Conditions
Growing kale from seed is relatively easy, but there are a few key factors you’ll want to consider to ensure your kale thrives. To successfully grow kale from seed, follow these steps:
- Choose the right variety of kale for your climate and intended use.
- Plant kale seeds in nutrient-rich soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
- Provide the seeds with ample sunlight (6-8 hours per day) and consistent moisture.
1.2 Kale Varieties
- Blue Curled Scotch Kale: This hardy, blue-green, curled-leaf variety grows up to 2 feet tall and has a sweeter, milder flavor, ideal for salads and smoothies.
- Lacinato Kale: Also called Tuscan or dinosaur kale, this non-curly variety has long, narrow, dark green, bumpy leaves. Sweeter and less bitter, it’s great for salads, soups, and smoothies, and is cold-resistant.
- Red Russian Kale: Also known as Ragged Jack kale, this variety has flat, frilly, blue-green leaves with reddish-purple stems. Tender and slightly sweet, it grows up to 3 feet tall and tolerates cold weather.
1.3 Starting Kale Seeds Outdoors
Starting kale seeds outdoors is a great way to ensure your kale plants receive the necessary sunlight and are well-adapted to their growing environment. To successfully start kale seeds outdoors, follow these steps:
- Choose the right time: The ideal time to start kale seeds outdoors is about 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost in your area. Kale can handle light frost, which may even enhance its flavor.
- Prepare the soil: Choose a location with well-draining soil and 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Enrich the soil with compost or well-aged manure to improve its nutrient content.
- Sow the seeds: Plant kale seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, spaced about 3 inches apart. If planting in rows, maintain a distance of 18-24 inches between rows.
- Water the seeds: Water the seeds gently and consistently, ensuring the soil remains moist but not waterlogged. Too much water can cause the seeds to rot.
- Thin the seedlings: Once the kale seedlings have grown 2-3 true leaves, thin them out by removing the weaker seedlings, leaving a spacing of 12-18 inches between plants. This ensures each kale plant has enough space to grow without competing for resources.
- Protect the seedlings: Keep an eye out for pests and use organic pest control methods, like introducing beneficial insects or using neem oil, to protect your young kale plants.
By following these steps, you’ll successfully start your kale seeds outdoors, paving the way for a bountiful kale harvest.
1.4 Starting Kale Seeds Indoors
To get a head start on the growing season, many gardeners choose to start their kale seeds indoors. This allows the seedlings to develop in a controlled environment before being transplanted outdoors. Here’s how to start kale seeds indoors:
- Plant seeds in seed trays or small pots filled with seed-starting mix.
- Sow seeds ¼ inch deep and about 1 inch apart.
- Keep the soil consistently moist and maintain a temperature of 60-70°F (15-21°C).
- After 4-6 weeks or when seedlings have 3-4 true leaves, they’re ready to be transplanted outdoors.
Section 2: Planting Kale in Your Garden or Containers
2.1 How to Plant Kale: Outdoor Transplanting Tips
When it comes to transplanting your kale seedlings outdoors, follow these guidelines:
- Harden off your seedlings by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions over a week.
- Choose a planting location with well-draining soil and full sun to partial shade.
- Space your seedlings 18-24 inches apart, with rows 2-3 feet apart.
- Water the seedlings thoroughly after transplanting to help them establish.
2.2 How to Grow Kale in Pots: A Guide for Small Spaces
Kale can be easily grown in containers, making it an excellent choice for those with limited gardening space. Here’s how to grow kale in pots:
- Choose a container that is at least 12 inches deep and 10 inches in diameter.
- Fill the container with a high-quality potting mix, leaving 1-2 inches of space at the top.
- Plant one kale seedling per pot, or sow seeds directly and thin seedlings to one plant per pot.
- Place the pot in a location that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
Section 3: Caring for Your Kale
3.1 How to Care for Kale: Watering, Fertilizing, and Pest Control
Proper care is essential to ensure your kale plants grow healthy and strong. To care for your kale:
- Water consistently, keeping the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. Kale typically needs 1-1.5 inches of water per week.
- Fertilize with a balanced, organic fertilizer, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Monitor for pests such as aphids, cabbage worms, and slugs, and use organic pest control methods when necessary.
3.2 Pruning and Supporting Kale Plants
Although not required, pruning and supporting your kale plants can help improve their overall health and productivity. To maintain your kale plants:
- Remove any yellowing or damaged leaves regularly.
- For larger kale varieties, consider using a stake or small cage to provide support as the plant grows.
Section 4: How to Harvest Kale for Fresh, Nutritious Greens
4.1 When and How to Harvest Kale
The best time to harvest kale is when the leaves are young and tender. To harvest kale:
- Begin harvesting when leaves are at least 4-6 inches long.
- Remove outer leaves first, leaving the inner leaves to continue growing.
- Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the leaves from the base of the stem.
4.2 Storing and Enjoying Your Fresh Kale
To store and enjoy your freshly harvested kale:
- Rinse the leaves thoroughly and pat them dry.
- Store in a plastic bag or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Use fresh kale in salads, smoothies, or sautéed as a side dish.
Section 5: Kale Water and Sun Requirements
5.1 How Often to Water Kale
Kale requires consistent watering to thrive. To properly care for your kale, water it about once or twice a week, ensuring the soil remains consistently moist but not waterlogged. Kale typically needs 1-1.5 inches of water per week. Monitor the soil moisture regularly, and adjust your watering schedule as needed, especially during hot and dry periods.
5.2 How Much Sun Does Kale Need?
Kale thrives in full sun to partial shade and should receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. In regions with hot summers, kale can benefit from some afternoon shade to protect it from excessive heat. Planting kale in a location with the appropriate amount of sunlight will help promote healthy growth and robust yields.
Section 6: Companion Plants for Kale
Discover the best companion plants for kale, categorized by herbs, vegetables, flowers, and fruits. These plants can help improve soil health, repel pests, and encourage the growth of your kale plants.
- Basil: Repels aphids and whiteflies, and improves the flavor of nearby vegetables.
- Dill: Attracts beneficial insects, like ladybugs and lacewings, which prey on pests.
- Mint: Deters aphids, cabbage moths, and other pests with its strong aroma.
- Parsley: Attracts beneficial insects and provides ground cover to help retain soil moisture.
- Beets: Improve soil structure, share nutrients, and have similar growing requirements as kale.
- Celery: Deters white cabbage butterflies and shares similar growing conditions.
- Lettuce: Acts as a living mulch, retaining soil moisture and shading out weeds.
- Onions: Repel pests such as aphids and cabbage worms with their strong scent.
- Potatoes: Help deter pests, such as flea beetles and Colorado potato beetles.
- Marigolds: Repel harmful nematodes and pests like aphids and whiteflies with their strong scent.
- Nasturtiums: Attract aphids away from kale plants and provide a habitat for beneficial insects.
- Sunflowers: Provide shade for kale during hot summer months and attract pollinators.
- Zinnias: Attract beneficial insects, like ladybugs and hoverflies, that prey on pests.
- Strawberries: Act as a ground cover, helping to maintain soil moisture and suppress weeds.
By incorporating these companion plants into your kale garden, you can create a diverse and mutually beneficial ecosystem that promotes the overall health and productivity of your plants. Experiment with different combinations of herbs, vegetables, flowers, and fruits to find the perfect balance for your specific growing conditions and needs.
Now that you know how to grow kale, it’s time to get started on your own kale-growing adventure. By following these guidelines for planting, caring, and harvesting kale, you’ll soon enjoy the satisfaction of picking fresh, nutritious greens right from your own garden or container. Incorporating companion plants for kale will help create a diverse and flourishing garden ecosystem, further promoting the health and productivity of your kale plants. With proper watering and sunlight, your kale plants will thrive, providing you with a bountiful harvest of healthy and flavorful greens. Happy gardening!
2 thoughts on “How to Grow Kale: A Comprehensive Guide to Planting, Caring, and Harvesting”
Kale is one of our favourite vegetables, we didn’t know how easy it is to grow and harvest. I love that you can cut some leaves off for stir fries, curries, smoothies, etc. and the kale keeps growing. To think that the first few years we tried to give it away, because I didn’t realize how versatile and nutritious it was!
Glad you discovered how great kale is! It really is so easy to grow kale, and it’s nutritious to eat.