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Growing Kale in the Home Vegetable Garden

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Kale was such a “trendy” vegetable a few years ago that many people have strong feelings about it. Most have a love it or hate it view of kale, but it really is a nutritional powerhouse that’s easy to grow in the home vegetable garden.

Why You Should Grow Kale

This powerhouse leafy green is super versatile. In the home vegetable garden, Kale is a hardy vegetable that does well in most climates. The kale plant grows best during spring and fall, but can survive cold winter weather as well.

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Kale has some advantages over other favorite fall greens like spinach or lettuce, which become bitter in cold temperatures and bolt (go to seed) as soon as it gets warm.

Kale can be harvested in the heat of summer and is slower to go bitter, so kale will provide an excellent crop for a longer period than other fall greens which are more suited for spring or early autumn harvests.

There are several varieties of kale that are perfect to grow in the home vegetable garden.

The most popular kale varieties for home gardens include:

  • Russian (Red or White)– Wonderful harvested small or full grown, this variety of kale comes in red or white and both are delicous!
  • Siberian– Bright green and leafy, this variety of kale can be grown in any zone and even through the winter in milder zones.
  • Blue Scotch– A curly leaf kale variety, blue scotch is very cold hardy but will bolt quickly in hot temperatures.
  • Lacinato (Dinosaur)– One of my favorite varieties, this kale has large, bumpy leaves which can be continuously harvested while the plant continues to grow.

When and Where to Plant Kale

Kale grows best in cool weather conditions like the early spring and fall. It is possible to grow kale plants when the temps get up into the 80’s but it will require more attention to watering. (For summer kale, consider a place with part shade.)

Kale prefers acidic soils with a pH between 5 and 7 in order to provide the best growing conditions for kale plants. If your soil is already too alkaline, you can add aluminum sulfate (garden lime) to help lower its acidity level so kale will thrive. Keep in mind that kale grown in soil with a higher pH level will be more bitter.

It’s also important to note where kale plants are going to live because kale prefers sandy soils, which drain well and don’t retain too much water. If you have clay-like soils, it might be better to choose another type of plant or consider planting the kale in containers or raised beds.

Kale can be grown from either plants or seeds, both methods are easy. Using seedlings or small plants will obviously result in a quicker harvest, but planting seeds means you have a larger variety of kale types to choose from.

Russian Red Kale Seedlings

Watering Kale Plants

It’s best to water kale plants, like many vegetables, early in the morning. This gives kale plants time to dry before nightfall and reduces the risk of fungal diseases. Nobody has time for that!

Water kale throughout its growing season with between 1 and 1 1/2 inches per week. It’s important not to over water kale or allow them to sit in a pool of stagnant water because this could lead to root rot issues. So if you’re growing kale in containers, be sure it’s one that drains well.

The best way is to check to see if your kale is getting enough water is by digging down about six inches. If your kale plants have long roots, that means they are receiving sufficient water and you’re not overwatering the kale.

On the other hand, if kale’s taproot is short or nonexistent, this may mean that the kale doesn’t get enough water, and it might be time to increase watering frequency or add a soaker hose for a slow steady supply of water.

Fertilizing Kale Plants

To start, use a good all around fertilizer to mix into the soil prior to planting kale. You can also amend the soil with compost from your own compost pile. (Learn How to Start Composting today!)

This organic fertilizer should consist of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (aka the three numbers on commercial fertilizers). I like using Espoma’s Garden Tone fertilizer, but there are other good ones out there, too.

To be certain a balanced fertilizer is what your kale plants need, consider a getting a soil test done. This will let you know if your soil is abundant in a nutrient already and you can choose your fertilizer accordingly.

Kale Plant Maintenance

Once kale plants are established, they will require very little care. Yipee!

Add a layer of mulch around the kale to help retain moisture and keep the soil cooler in hot weather during summer months. Kale is also like most other greens – it prefers moist (but not wet) soil conditions.

Snip off any leaves that are discolored or turn yellow. Kale is very cold hardy and will survive a light frost, however kale grown as an ornamental should be protected from the harshest of freezes.

For areas with lots of snow and winter weather, consider a cold frame for your kale plants. This will give them a warmer area to grow in while snow is on the ground. (Here are my instructions for how to build a cold frame from old windows.)

How to Harvest Kale

There are a few ways kale can be harvested. Harvest baby kale by cutting the leaves off about one inch above ground level with sharp scissors or pruning shears. You can also harvest baby kale when you thin out your kale bed.

Harvest kale leaves when they reach desired size, larger for kale chips and smaller for salads and smoothies. The kale should snap off when pulled, rather than bend at the base of the stem.

When kale plants reach two feet high or more they can produce flower stalks with small yellow blossoms that are edible as well! Just like other brassicas, kale is a great source of vitamins A, C and K. Flowers do usually indicate that the plant is going to seed (due to hot weather or simply timing), so consider this as well.

Like many other brassicas, kale also has a better flavor after being exposed to frost so you can enjoy kale well past the first fall frosts!

Storing Kale Leaves

If you’ve harvested more kale than you can use for one meal, store fresh kale leaves by wrapping them in a paper towel and then placing them inside of an airtight plastic or silicone bag. Store kale like this for up to one week.

For long term storage, blanch kale leaves whole before freezing in an airtight freezer bag or container.

Need some recipe ideas for all of that kale? Check out these suggestions:

kale berry salad
Kale Berry Salad

Have tips for growing kale? Share them below for everyone to enjoy. Gardeners are always learning!

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