When you learn to grow kale in your vegetable garden, you’re sure to marvel at its versatile benefits and won’t want to stop. This hardy leafy vegetable is easy to plant in the spring or fall and is low maintenance if you follow a few simple steps. In addition, its nutrient density makes it a preferred choice for many health-conscious amateur gardeners. So, with the help of the following instructions and gardening tips, learn how to plant, care for and harvest this tasty superfood yourself.
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- Here’s how easy it is to grow kale and turn it into a favorite vegetable
Here’s how easy it is to grow kale and turn it into a favorite vegetable
Like other leafy greens, kale is a hardy and resilient plant that can thrive in many climates. You can set the plants fairly early in the spring, as long as you protect the young seedlings from strong cold winds with a cover. They will grow steadily for months until the weather gets too warm. You’ll get a second chance to plant kale in the fall, when the cool weather brings out a wonderfully sweet, nutty flavor.
In addition, the fall season is the best time to grow kale in areas where the winter is not too cold. The vegetable can also be grown in a cold frame further north, as the leaves are sweeter when they ripen in cooler weather. In the kitchen, kale can be steamed, roasted or substituted for spinach in omelets, casseroles or even quesadillas. It also makes a wonderful addition to smoothies, and tender young leaves make delicious salads.
Kale plants can also be very decorative. They have textured and curly leaves that come in green, purple and other colors. In addition, kale has a relatively fast growth rate and can grow from seed to harvest in about three months. Its growths come back every year, but this biennial plant takes two years to complete its growth cycle. It forms leaves in the first year, while seeds and flowers develop in its second growing season. There are many types of kale plants (Brassica oleracea), including Red Russian, Black Kale (Lacinato) and Hanover Salad. However, when caring for different varieties of kale, the basic rules are almost the same. Just read on to learn more information about them.
Choosing seeds or seedlings and how you should plant kale.
You can grow kale by sowing seeds directly outdoors or planting seedlings. The exact time to plant kale depends on your climate as well as whether you start with seeds or seedlings. As a general rule of thumb, however, you should plant seedlings outdoors in late winter to early spring, as early as 3 or 4 weeks before the last average frost date. Seeding indoors can even be started a few weeks earlier. Protect tender seedlings with frost protection after planting. For a fall crop, plant kale 6 to 8 weeks before your zone’s first average fall frost date. In most places, plant in August , or late summer. However, in places with moderate winters, kale can be planted later in the fall and even into the winter.
Sow the seeds not very deep in light and well-drained soil. Maintain constant moisture during germination. If you are growing your kale indoors, be sure to provide adequate light to avoid large, leggy seedlings. Direct sowing seeds outdoors can result in less rapid and consistent germination. Tiny sprouts are also more susceptible to pests outdoors. When planting seedlings outdoors, it is best to place them about 30 to 45 inches apart. As long as they are properly hardened off, the stem of tall seedlings can be buried until the first leaf emerges. After planting, you should also water well.
How to grow your kale in the optimal location.
Kale thrives in moderately nutrient-rich, cool, consistently moist soil. In addition, your garden soil should be well-drained enough. It’s best to amend the soil with well-aged compost and/or a balanced natural fertilizer before planting kale. Abundant nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, minerals, organic matter and beneficial microbial activity in the soil will contribute to robust kale plants. If you grow kale in a container, be sure to use one that drains freely.
Kale grows best in full sun to partial shade. Therefore, plan to offer your kale plants at least 6 to 7 hours of direct sun per day. However, if you are growing kale on the horizon during hot summer weather in the spring, consider a growing location that receives some shade in the afternoon. This added protection, along with choosing the right variety, will help your crops survive longer before spreading. As fall days get darker, more sunlight will help accordingly. Also try to keep kale on the north side of garden beds, as it can grow tall quickly and shade out smaller, shorter plants.
The right plant care for collard greens
Kale grows best when you water it evenly to moderately. So try to keep the soil moist at all times, but never soggy or parched. This is because potting soil in pots tends to dry out more quickly than in raised beds or soil gardens. Therefore, you may need to water potted kale more frequently. Also, add mulch to the soil surface to help retain moisture and protect the soil and roots from temperature fluctuations. For especially long-lived kale, apply a fresh top dressing of compost as soon as the plants are 6 months old. This is recommended if you intend to keep the plants a little longer.
In addition, there are a number of ways you can extend the growing season, whether into the warmer summer months or through the depths of winter. The first step is to select varieties that are best suited for your climate and the time of year you want to grow kale. While established kale plants can tolerate some frost and snow, young seedlings are more sensitive and need protection. Adult kale plants will also appreciate a little extra frost protection for extended cold spells, which can extend their life in the coldest climates.
Enjoy a bountiful harvest after you grow your kale
It generally takes two months from planting date for kale to fully mature, but you can harvest young leaves before a plant is fully grown. Pick larger leaves from the outside of the plant and allow smaller leaves to grow from the center. In addition, you can harvest kale leaves several times from the same stem. The more you harvest, the more new leaves will grow and the taller and bigger it will get, so don’t hold back. Also, kale leaves left on the plant will become tougher over time. However, always leave at least a handful of leaves behind. The plant needs these to photosynthesize and continue growing. Also, never cut the whole thing off like a head of lettuce unless you are done with the plant for the season.
Also avoid harvesting leaves from the center of the plant. This grows new leaves, which are called terminal buds. If you cut off the terminal bud, the kale will no longer produce new leaves, or will instead form branched offshoots and only small new leaves. It’s best to harvest kale in the morning, or whenever the weather is cool and the plants are at their perkiest. Store harvested kale leaves in an unsealed plastic bag to retain moisture. After harvest, kale leaves will stay fresh in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.
Avoid common mistakes and control pests
Kale is fairly resistant to pests compared to other members of this plant family, but young plants need some protection from birds and insects. Pigeons especially like the tender leaves of the plants. Covering your plants with netting to prevent bird and insect infestations will also prevent butterflies from laying eggs on the leaves. Instead of fighting pests, most gardeners pull up old plants and compost them when it’s mid to late summer. So this plant variety can attract insect pests and rot diseases. In addition, kale is susceptible to black rot and cabbage hernia, as well as aphids, cabbage grubs, cabbage worms, caterpillars, flea beetles and slugs. The best defense is to monitor the plants frequently for signs of eggs or feeding, such as holes in the leaves.
In late summer, the best way to protect young seedlings from these and other pests (such as grasshoppers) is to cover them with a row cover or other lightweight fabric such as wedding netting (tulle). You can then remove the covers in mid-fall, when pest populations usually drop dramatically. Watch for outbreaks of gray-green cabbage aphids, which often congregate in clusters in the folds of curled kale leaves. Treat small problems with insecticidal soap, picking off heavily infested leaves and discarding them.