I’ve had several clients and new students ask about garden soil. It seems many folks that have tried to garden have wanted to quit because their garden didn’t do well. Most times it turns out it was their soil that was at issue.
Soil is the foundation of our garden and can grow our plants for us. I have put together a 5 Day Free email course on soil, so you can transform your understanding of good garden soil, to begin to transform your garden.
Several years ago we planted open pollinated Red Kale seed we bought from Territorial Seed Company. In the years since, this kale; and none of the others we grow, have naturalized at Prior Unity Garden. We started allowing some of the plants to go to seed, after having overwintered. Spring planted, we harvest leaves all spring, summer and fall. After letting these same plants rest over the winter, we harvest a little in very early spring before allowing them to go to seed. The resulting seed has proven to be extremely hardy.
We start kale indoors in flats in February and August. The February started plants will be hardened off to be transplanted out in March. The August started plants will be hardened off to go out in September or October.
Seed can also be direct sown in spring and late summer to early fall and germinates best between 55º & 75º F. Plant ¼ and inch deep.
Spring planting gives you luscious greens in spring and early summer. Late summer or early fall sowing will give you greens until the plants go dormant for the cold of winter. Some traditionally say, plant fall crops after the 4th of July, although we find there are still too many bugs around and it is too hot to start them outdoors then. Starting them indoors where it is cool and bug free works best for plants you want to plant in fall. The beauty of fall crops is you have less bugs trying to eat your kale before you do. Like some other cole crops; think collards, their leaves will sweeten up with light frost, because the various types of sugars in the plants increase the plant’s tolerance to freezing. Producing sugar is the plant’s natural freeze protection.
Winter & Overwintered plants
Kale will overwinter naturally here without protection, although they will not continue to grow. Plants grown with the protection of a hoop house, cold frame or greenhouse can continue to grow during the winter months due to warmer temps of the enclosed environment.
Overwintered plants will tend to bolt sooner in the warmth of spring than spring sown plants. This is why overwintered plants are good to use to save your own seed.
We prefer to transplant seedlings when they have four or five true leaves that are at least two inches long. If your seedlings have stretched for light indoors, and have really long stems, you can bury part of the stem when transplanting. Do not bury as deep as you would tomatoes, but bury up to a half of the stem to give you a bit stronger stemmed plant.
We companion plant our kale, giving each kale plant about a one foot area.
What Kales Like & Where to put them in your garden
Kale are cool weather crops that like lots of nitrogen in the soil. If you have an area you have built up with so much green matter, manure or compost, it grows huge tomato plants with hardly any tomatoes, it is a good candidate location for kale and other leaf crops.
If you are growing kale in cold months, give it a place with sun. If you want your kale to hang in there year round, plant them in a place what they get shade in the hot part of a day in summer. We plant some of our kales in areas that are completely shady in summer. The baby plants get plenty of early spring sun before the leaves are full on the trees, and again as the leaves fall in autumn.
To save your own kale seed, let the plants go to flower. They will look beautiful in your garden with tall spires of little bright yellow flowers. Allow the seed heads to form and begin to dry on the plant. When the seedpods are almost dry, but not yet busting open scattering their little round black seeds, carefully cut the stalks and put them, seed heads down, into a paper bag. Place them in a cool dry place and allow them to continue to dry and lets the seeds fall into the bag. Keep seed refrigerated until you are ready to plant them. If you want your kale to naturalize, allow the plants to go to seed and fall from the plants wherever the wind takes them around your garden.
The two main pests we have had are cabbage moths and harlequin bugs. If you go out one day and literally overnight your kales are almost gone, look for green caterpillars, the color of green kale leaves, or for tell tail black poop near the center of the plant where the tender newest leaves used to be. These are the larve of the cabbage moth, the little white moths that flit so harmless looking around your garden as spring warms the days. The most used organic control is keeping your baby plants under row covers to keep the moths off your baby plants. The months want to lay their eggs on your kale (and other cole crops). The other most used organic control is Bacillus thuringiensis, found in a product called Dipel® DF, which is OMRI listed for organic use. Crop rotation helps to some degree, although in small home scale gardens, this helps to a smaller degree than on a larger farm, garden or homestead.
Harlequin bugs are a type of stink bug. They may be beautiful, but they will literally suck the life out of your kale. Hand picking them as soon as you see them is the best natural control. We keep buckets of slightly soapy water around the kales to put the harlequin bugs and green caterpillars in as we hand pick them.
One other pest occasionally shows up on our kale – white flies. They started to show up when we started getting unusually hot springs with little air flow. The best way to control is with Safer’s® Insecticidal Soap soon as you see the very first ones. If you catch them early, you can get rid of them, miss them and all your kale with have a little white cloud of them when you touch the plants.
The good news ? Deer, squirrels and chipmunks do not eat kale or other cole crops !
Kale is extremely high in Vitamins A and C. It also has vitamins B6 and K, and several minerals including magnesium and high amounts of calcium. It is also a good source of copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. Kale is low in calories, has no fat and is high fiber, making it good for everyone.
Most people think of kale is one of those savory crops you cook a long time, like collards. We think of it as the ultimate raw energy food and love them as a staple in raw green smoothies.
To make a green smoothie, put some fresh filtered water in a strong blender, such as a Vitamix® or Blendtec. Add your favorite fruit and a few leaves of kale and enjoy an energy and nutrient packed lunch ! You can make them ahead of time and take them anywhere, to work, hiking etc. Use bananas, mango or avocado to make your smoothie creamy. We love Banana/Mango/Pineapple in summer. Berry rich ones include blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, gooseberries and a few currents for tartness and high vitamin C content. In the fall, apples and pears make super sweet smoothies and we found that peach/nectarine and blackberry combos are divine in summer ! A strong blender is needed to break down those strong kale leaves and the reward is getting your dark green leafy veggies in a yummy sweet way !
Some of our tomatoes have reached over 7 feet and others, that were pruned by the deer, are growing wide and bushy instead.
Yet, as we enjoy our tomatoes, we sometimes have problems in our tomato garden, so here are some solutions for you:
PROBLEM: I’ve got big green bushy plants, but almost no blooms and no fruit.
SOLUTION: You may have fed your soil or plants too much nitrogen (compost, compost tea, manure, fertilizers). For faster blooming, add bone meal. To build your soil long term, add rock phosphate to add phosphorus to your soil. Home compost usually has enough phosphorus though, as it can be found in banana peels and egg shells. You may also want to back off on watering if you have been giving them lots of water, allow them to stress a little and think they need to reproduce, aka bloom and produce fruit/seed.
PROBLEM: I’ve got green healthy plants, and plenty of blooms, but no fruit.
SOLUTION: If your plants have plenty of flowers but no fruit, there may not be anyone pollinating your plants. Perhaps lawn chemicals have been used in your area that have killed all the bees and other pollinators. Perhaps there are either too many or too little pollinator attracting plants close to you. Try adding pollinator attracting plants around your garden. Add some herbs, even in containers that can be moved where you need them. Blooming thyme and oregano attract bees for example and will also give you fresh herbs for the kitchen. Yarrow is a beautiful native perennial that attracts not only pollinators but many beneficial insects. You can also hand pollinate with a small dollar store paint brush.
PROBLEM: My tomatoes are splitting.
SOLUTION: Tomatoes split when there is an inconsistent amount of water. Fruit will split if the plants get lots of water after a dry spell. Provide plants with more consistent watering schedule.
PROBLEM: My tomatoes seem to rot before the are really ripen.
SOLUTION: This can easily happen in our humid hot summers. One solution is to pick them when they are still a bit hard and not completely ripe. Although we resist doing this at Prior Unity Garden because we want them to be really completely vine ripened, it is easy to put them in a sunny window sill for a two or three days to finish ripening, and frankly they seem to taste as good and sometime better because there are no rotten spots. Another solution is to look for stink bugs on your plants and tomatoes. Stink bugs will puncture a hole in your fruit and suck it, leaving a small hole that you probably won’t notice till you go to pick the tomato and feel it is soft on one side, or see a rotten section with a hole. Hand pick the stink bugs or use Insecticidal Soap.
PROBLEM: My tomato plants have yellow leaves.
SOLUTION: They may need more nitrogen, so add compost, compost tea or manure. It is possible they have bugs eating enough to stress the plant, check for them. The plants may have Fusarium wilt, a fungal disease that thrives in hot temperatures. People will often advise destroying whole plants if you suspect this, but first, try removing all the stems with yellow leaves. Do this every day for a few days and see if the plant revives, this will often extend the life of the plant and provide you some harvest.
PROBLEM: My tomato plants have brown leaves.
SOLUTION: There is brown from lack of water and brown from other things. If you haven’t watered at all this summer, water. If you have watered, the browning is likely from a wilt or bacteria. Again, remove all the stems which have the browning leaves for a few days. At the end of the season, if you suspect a fungus or bacterial problem, remove the whole plant off property.
PROBLEM: My tomato plants aren’t growing.
SOLUTION: Plants do not grow if there is too much heat or cold. With our excessive heat, it is likely they are too hot to want to grow. If you suspect this, try providing shade cloth. Alternatively, perhaps they are in a place that does not get enough sun. Considering another location next year may help this. In both cases, patience is needed and you still may get some tomatoes. Another solution may be watering them if you have not been since we are in Moderate Drought according to the US Drought Monitor. Another solution may be to add compost, compost tea or manure to feed the plants if your soil is nutrient deficient.
Spring is almost here – have you started planning your garden?
Think about what you like to eat – For people who don’t know where to start, we often say, grow what you like to eat! See if you have the growing conditions required for your favorite fruits and veggies…this is a great place to start.
Look to the past – What did you grow last year? Was it successful, too much work, or just right? This will help you decide what to plant this year. You can even use seeds from last year to save money.
Crop Rotation – Most crops do not like to grow in the same location from one year to the next. Research what crops should follow your last year’s crops to plan the rotation. Plus, many pests that liked your broccoli last year, may have eggs close to where you planted, so cleaning out and shifting varieties helps with pest control as well.
Companion Planting – Find out what varieties grow well with one another. For example, we know bean, corn, squash, melons and sunflowers like to grow together. Did you know that lettuce, carrots and peas are good companions for cool spring beds?
Permaculture – Following permaculture design principles is the most advanced way to plan your garden. Take into consideration what permanent or perennial crops you can grow. Plant crops that need more attention closer to the house and those perennials needing less care farther away. This utilizes your property well – creating plant guilds around your perennials ,allowing other plants to do more work so you don’t have to.