How to Grow Kale
Don’t miss out on the kale revolution! For so many years, kale was relegated to the side as a garnish and ignored as the true superfood it is. Thankfully, some gardeners and creative chefs kept growing kale and cooking it in new and wonderful ways. Now it is everywhere, in salads, baked into crisps, in stir-fry, added in smoothies, used in place of lettuce in sandwiches, and in soups and stews. It is a highly versatile vegetable in the culinary arena and a highly resilient plant in the garden.
Growing kale is quite easy. It loves cold weather which makes it perfect for our cold northern gardens. It can be planted early in the spring and then again later in the fall for two harvests.
Kale is packed with Vitamins C, A, and K. It is high in fiber, iron, and magnesium. It’s true superpower though is that it has 45+ different antioxidant polyphenols which are known to protect against the effects of aging.
Types of Kale
There are many types of kale. Curly kale is the most common and is the one you usually see in grocery stores. Lacinato kale, also known as Dinosaur kale, is dark green with narrow wrinkly leaves. Redbor kale has deep reddish -purple leaves with a little bit of green. Siberian and Red Russian kale are both very hardy varieties, being able to withstand very cold temperatures. Siberian kale has huge green leaves and Red Russian kale has tender intricate green leaves on a red stem.
How to Grow Kale from Seed
Step One – Plant Seeds
Start planting seeds in pots indoors about six weeks before the last frost. This is to give the plants time to come to maturity before the full heat of the summer hits. Seeds can be planted directly in the garden, however, that means they will mature in the summer and heat makes kale bitter and woody.
Use a good potting soil mix and fill your seed start containers. Water the soil before planting and then place 1-2 seeds in each pot and cover them with 1/2″ of the damp soil.
Step Two – Watch the Seeds Grow
Mist the soil daily with water and keep the seed starts in a warm location to sprout. The soil temperature should be above 10 C.
Step Three – Transplant Outdoors
When the kale starts have 4 true leaves and are around 3-4 inches high, they are ready to be moved outside. Harden them off before transplanting by taking them outside for two hours the first day. Then, incrementally increase the amount of time they are outside until by the end of a week they are outside for the full day.
Kale likes to be in a sunny location so pick a spot with full sun if possible. Plant the seedlings 12-15 inches apart in rows that are 24 inches apart.
Step Four – Care for Your Plants
Side dress the kale plants with fertilizer a couple times during the season. Side dressing means applying the fertilizer 4-5 inches away from the base of the plant in a shallow furrow.
Keep the soil moist, at about 1 – 1.5 inches of water per week. Kale likes a well watered environment but be careful not to overwater them since that may cause root rot. A rain gauge set in the garden will let you know how much water Mother Nature is providing them.
Spread a leaf or straw mulch around the plants to keep the moisture in the soil and keep weeds away from your plants.
There are a few bugs and pests that may take a liking to your kale plants. Cabbage worms can be an issue as can cabbage aphids. If you see these, pick off the infected leaves or pull up the entire plant. These pests won’t kill your kale, they’ll just enjoy it before you get a chance to. If the plants are still young, cover them with row covers or a lightweight fabric to keep the pests away until the plants are bigger and hardier.
Step Five – Harvest the Kale
When the leaves are approximately the size of your hand, they are ready to harvest. Pick individual leaves off as needed. Start with the outermost leaves and work your way to the center, picking your way up the stalk. Always leave some of the center leaves attached to encourage more growth. The more you pick, the more will grow and the more you can harvest. So, don’t neglect those plants. Harvest the leaves 1-2 times a week if you can.
When the summer heat hits, you’ll notice the kale starting to wilt and suffer. Pull them up to make room for other plants in your garden. Kale grown in hot conditions doesn’t taste as good as when it is grown in the Spring or Fall.
Step Six – Plant More Seeds!
For a second kale harvest, plant seeds in the late summer directly in the ground. They may start off slow but once the temperatures begin to cool, they will grow happily. Even after the first frost, kale will continue to grow so don’t forget to harvest it.
Growing Kale in Containers
Growing kale in a container is an option if you do not have garden space. Choose a pot with at least a 12″ diameter so the plant has space to grow. Make sure to keep the pot in a sunny location outside once the seedlings are big enough to be outdoors.
Try our Kale Varieties
Interested in growing kale? You can find our kale seeds here.
We’d Love to Hear from You
Have any tips or questions on growing kale? We’d love to hear from you in our comment section below.