Kale: An Easy Beginner’s Guide to Growing plentiful kale.

Kale is part of the Brassicaceae family which are also called "Brassicas," "crucifers," and "Cole crops". This family also includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi and collards.

Most kale growing guides to growing kale will start out by telling you it is a cold weather crop, which tastes best after it has been touched by frost.

The reality is that while cold weather may be kale’s preference, Kale can be grown during any season and in most climates. The flavour, yield, and duration from seed to harvest will change depending on the temperature, weather patterns, variety, and soil condition, but kale is a tough crop that is willing to adapt to our expanding desire for it. With that said, it can tolerate temperatures as low as -5C degrees but will start to turn bitter and become tough in temperatures over 30C degrees.

This Beginners guide to growing plentiful kale will discuss how to grow kale in ideal conditions as well as giving some tips on how to grow it outside its preferred climate. Feel free to alter my suggestions to fit your garden’s needs.

So… let’s get growing!

Growing Kale in a Pot:

How to grow kale:

If you don’t have the space to grow kale in the garden, or you want to save yourself the hassle, you can grow it in a pot or other soil-appropriate container. The pot or container must have a decent size to it  for the plant to be able grow in. I would suggest at least 10 litres. Plant your seeds or seedlings in the center of the pot. Water well and a regular fertilizer program will be helpful. A planting guide for seed is available at the end of this blog. Make sure to move kale grown in containers into a partially shaded area when summer arrives.

Planting Kale in Your Garden:

Kale is a hardy biennial (it take two years to go to flower and complete its life cycle), but it is usually grown as an annual.

 If you’re planting during the cool season, find a spot where your kale will receive full sunshine. If you are planting during the warm season, or in a warmer climate, plant kale in partial shade.  Kale enjoys companion plants such as beets, celery, herbs, onions, and potatoes, but does not enjoy being planted near beans, strawberries, or tomatoes.

 Kale also prefers loamy, well-drained, moist (but not soggy) soil of average fertility. Surprisingly, it isn’t a fan of soil that is too rich in nitrogen, so it will do best with a pH between 5.5 to 6.8.  If your soil is too acid, try adding some wood ash to sweeten it. Light, sandy soils and very heavy clay soils will “negatively”* affect the flavour of kale, but it still has the potential to grow in these environments.

 Seeds will germinate in cool soil, but they sprout best when the soil temperature is around 21C degrees. If you’re starting them inside, then do so 5-7 weeks before the last expected frost. If you’re direct sowing the seeds outside, do so 2-4 weeks before the last frost and/or anytime at least 10 weeks before the first frost of the next season. No matter when you plant, the soil temperature must be at least 4C degrees or higher for good germination.

The hotter the weather, the more bitter and tough the kale, but even bitter and tough kale is nutritious and can be made into delicious dishes.

Sow seeds in small pots filled with a mix of soil and veganic fertilizers/compost Plant your seed around 10mm deep.  Keep the soil around the seedling evenly moist throughout its growth but allow the top layer of soil to dry between watering.

OR:

You can directly sow seeds in the garden starting 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost date or as soon as the ground can be worked in the springtime.

A note on quantity: If you’re going to be using kale on a regular basis (and why wouldn’t you be?) you’ll want to have at least 3-4 plants per household member. It is also always a good idea to plant more seeds or buy more seedlings than you think you’ll need in case some of them don’t make it.

Before planting, distribute a good amount of organic fertilizer over the area you will be using and work it into the soil. Depending on the potency of the fertilizer you are using, you may want to fertilize then cover the bed and allow it to weather for one to two weeks before planting. If you are using seasoned compost to fertilize, you should be able to simply fertilize then plant the next day. If you’re using a mulch to fertilize you can simply place it around the plants after they are in the ground.

If you are planting from seedlings(that you started 4-6 weeks ago or purchased), put them in the ground 1-2 weeks before the last expected frost date. But only do this if the seedlings are big enough to survive the weather (they will have at least four true leaves**and the next two leaves will be beginning to form. The plant will usually be approximately 6 to 10cm high by this point.)

The recommended space for planting seedlings is 50cm apart in rows of 50cm apart. The space for direct sowing is much closer (if you are direct sowing your kale seeds, plant them 10mm deep and approximately 10cm apart and then thin plants to 50cm apart when they are 6 to 15cm tall.)

No matter the shape of the stem, set the transplants perpendicular to the ground so they will grow straight up, and place them deep enough to support the plant, but no further than the base of their first leaves.

A good amount of fertilizer depends on the type of fertilizer you are using. Follow the directions on the box if you’re using an organic fertilizer mix. With compost and mulches, you usually want to go at least 5 to 10cm deep, while other amendments like seaweed powder or rock dust only require a good sprinkle.

When a seed first emerges from the soil it has a set of two leaves called cotyledons. These are part of the seed and are its first food source. As the seedling grows, it forms two more leaves which look very different from the cotyledons. These are the first “true leaves” which look more like the plant’s adult leaves, but obviously smaller. Once the true leaves emerge, the cotyledons become unnecessary and eventually wither and fall off.

Care for your Kale:

Keep your plants well-watered. Along with cool temperatures, kale also enjoys moist soil. Keeping the soil most will also help keep the leaves sweet and crisp.

 Side dressing (fertilizing along the rows) with compost throughout the growing season will help keep your kale producing. You can do this approximately every 6-8 weeks.

If you’re having issues with dirt sticking to and rotting your kale leaves, you can put mulch (such as straw or grass) around the kale once it is at least six inches high.

How to harvest kale:

Kale is usually ready for harvest 70-95 days from seed and 55-75 days from transplanting, depending on the variety you are planting. Check the seed packet for specific times.

You can begin to cut individual leaves off the kale when the plant is approximately 8 to 10 inches high, starting with the outside leaves first.

 If you decide to harvest the entire plant, cut the stock two inches above the soil and the plant will sprout new leaves in 1 to 2 weeks.

 Make sure to harvest kale leaves before they become too old and tough. If you can’t eat the kale leaves fast enough and they begin to turn brown, pull the old leaves off, and compost them, to free the plants of insect attractants and unnecessary energy drains.

You can also pick kale regularly and store it in the fridge for up to a week. If you choose to do so, keep it lightly moist and place it in a bag, but unsealed, in the crisper bin.

Varieties of Kale

Kale- Black Toscana

Black Toscana Kale

An extremely attractive savoyed leaf variety with dark grey/green leaves. Grows to 60cm tall. Heirloom.                 Kale is also known as Borecole.

Black Toscana Kale is a large kale with long strappy leaves, with the potential to reach 60-90 cm tall. It can have a widespread as each leaf may grow to 5-10 cm wide, with 30cm high leaves on long greenish-white stalks. The leaves have a bumpy or embossed surface texture and are dark blue green in colour. When the leaves are harvested, or cut away from the base, the plant takes on a fan or palm-like appearance giving it a prehistoric presence.             

Black Toscana Kale is reputed to be the best-tasting kale and is prized by chefs in Italy. Until recently, this leafy green was one of Tuscany’s best-kept secrets. This is the kale used for the famous Tuscan soup known as Ribollita, or re-boiled bean soup. It has been used in northern Italy for centuries, as an essential ingredient in dishes like risotto, pasta, and frittata. The taste is slightly sweeter and more delicate than the curly kale varieties but still retains an earthy component. https://ejurbanfarms.com.au/shop/black-toscana-kale/

Planting Guide: Black Toscana Kale

Method: Direct or Punnets

Planting Depth: 10mm

Best Planting Season/s: AutumnLate SummerSpring

Germination: 3 to 7 days at 10-29C

Life Cycle: Annual

Row Spacing: 50cm

Plant Spacing: 50cm

Position: Full sun

Days to maturity/flowering: 55-70 days

Other: Protect from slugs, snails, aphids, and caterpillars. Keep well-watered.

Dwarf Blue Curled Kale

Blue Dwarf Curled Kale

Dwarf Blue Curled Kale: In the past few years, the word “kale” has become synonymous with health, and not without good reason. This nutrient-packed member of the cabbage family is rich in vitamins and minerals and tastes good to boot! As if that weren’t enough to make you want to fill your garden with this tasty plant, most types of kale are also relatively easy to grow thanks to their ability to withstand cooler temperatures. Like many other hearty greens, the leaves’ flavour will actually improve if exposed to cooler temperatures, so light frosts are your friend instead of foe. There are many different varieties of kale, but almost all types are either purple or green in colour with broad or curly leaves.

Dwarf Blue Curled Kale, as its name suggests, the heirloom Dwarf Blue Curled variety is one of the curly leaf types of kale, with a beautiful green-blue hue that makes it a popular addition to many autumn gardens. This variety is considered to be particularly hardy and can be harvested in all climate zones until the ground freezes. Considering that it grows in a more compact fashion than other types of kale, it’s a great crop for space-challenged gardens.

Dwarf Blue Curled Kale can be planted either in the spring just prior to the last frost or in the autumn, leaving approximately 6 to 8 weeks before the first average frost for the plants to grow.  Although plants will be richer in flavour when they are allowed to grow in cooler weather, they are tolerant of most climates. https://ejurbanfarms.com.au/shop/dwarf-blue-curled-kale/

Planting Guide: Dwarf Blue curled Kale

Method: Direct or Punnets

Planting Depth: 10mm

Best Planting Season/s: AutumnSpringWinter

Germination: 3 to 7 days at 10-29C

Life Cycle: Annual

Plant Height: 35cm

Row Spacing: 100cm

Plant Spacing: 50cm

Position: Full sun

Days to maturity/flowering: 55-90 days

Other: Protect from slugs, snails, aphids, and caterpillars. Keep well-watered.

Red Russian Kale

Kale Red Russian

Kale is a primitive leaf vegetable. 'Red Russian' is one of the most popular varieties; it grows to 75cm at a fast rate and has blue/green/red tinged serrated leaves with red veins. The young leaves are eaten raw like lettuce, the old leaves cooked like cabbage. Has a sweet flavour. Less prone to cabbage moth (and caterpillars) than other varieties.

This variety is easily recognized by its richly coloured burgundy stems and purple-tinted leaves. They are flat and toothed like an oak leaf with overall dark green colours and deep red veins.

Red Russian kale offers a mild nutty flavour that is slightly sweet and earthy with a hearty texture. When choosing Red Russian kale look for fresh, bright, firm leaves. https://ejurbanfarms.com.au/shop/red-russian-kale/

Planting Guide: Red Russian Kale

Method: Direct or Punnets

Planting Depth: 10mm

Best Planting Season/s: AutumnLate SummerSpring

Germination: 3 to 7 days at 10-29C

Life Cycle: Annual

Row Spacing: 50cm

Plant Spacing: 50cm

Position: Full sun

Days to maturity/flowering: 55-70 days

Other: Protect from slugs, snails, aphids, and caterpillars. Keep well-watered.

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