That leafy green we call kale has been around since about 200 BC, when the ancient Greeks first began growing it. The greens eventually fell out of favor and for many years kale was used only as a garnish. Kale recently gained new popularity as trendy vegetable prepared by celebrity chefs. Kale has now caught on with home cooks who have discovered that kids will eat —and enjoy— kale chips.
How to Grow Kale
There are two main types of kale leaves: tight curly leaves and long smoother leaves. In addition, there are different sizes and colors of kale. Experiment with ‘Dinosaur’, ‘Red Russian’, Nero Di Toscana’, ‘Winterbor’ and others by planting them all to see which you like the best.
Gardeners can grow kale from seed or transplants, planting in early spring or in late summer for a fall crop. As a cool-season crop, kale doesn’t grow well in summer heat.
The best temperature for planting is when the soil has warmed to about 60 degrees, although it can be successfully planted in slightly cooler soil temperatures. One of the benefits of planting later in the season is that light frosts help sweeten the kale.
- Gardeners can plant kale seeds directly into the garden, start kale seed indoors 6 weeks before transplanting into the garden or purchase garden-ready transplants.
- Kale is one of those greens that likes a fertile soil, so prepare the planting bed (or containers) with compost, well-aged manure or packaged nitrogen fertilizer.
- When direct sowing, plant seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep and 6 to 8 inches apart. Kale seeds can also be broadcast over the top of a container of soil and then lightly covered with another layer of soil. Water carefully with a spray or watering can until seeds start to sprout.
- Transplants can be planted at soil level 8 inches apart, and 18 inches between rows. Water in and then mulch lightly to help maintain soil moisture.
- Kale is often referred to as a “heavy feeder” because the more nitrogen and water the kale crop gets, the tastier the leaves become. Get the kale crop on a regular fertilizing schedule and keep the kale crop consistently moist. A soaker hose placed through the vegetable bed directs water to kale roots while keeping the leaves dry.
- If you notice the kale isn’t growing, it may be due to hot weather, not enough nitrogen fertilizer or the soil is too dry.
- Kale leaves are best when they’re harvested while young and tender, less than 60 days after planting from seed. If you wait too long, the leaves will become tough and less tasty.
- Use pruning shears, scissors or a sharp knife to cut individual leaves from the outside of the plant. Allow the new center leaves to continue to grow. As an alternative, cut the entire plant at its base.
- To keep cut kale fresh, place the whole, unwashed leaves in an air-tight container and refrigerate. Use kale as soon as possible, washing and removing the tough stem from each leaf right before use.
Plant Kale with these companions:
- Any aromatic herbs
- Members of the cabbage family
- Flowers like marigolds and nasturtiums
Avoid planting near pole beans and strawberries
Materials for Success
- Soil thermometer
- High-quality compost or well-aged manure
- High nitrogen fertilizer
- Soaker hose
- Sharp pruning shears or garden knife
- Container and potting soil
To learn more about growing kale or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center.