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 vs Fall planting
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.
Saving Your Own Seed
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 !
Bon apatite and happy growing !