Planting Kale 101: How to grow kale
If you want a handsome vegetable to grow and share on social media, kale is it. Once found lurking in the culinary shadows, it has become trendy with a reputation as a ‘superfood’. The reputation is well-deserved, as this leafy veggie is packed with vitamins (including vitamin C, carotene and folate) and is rich in calcium and iron. It is also a source of dietary fibre.
The good news is it is easy to grow, needs little care, crops over a long period and is handy to have growing in winter and spring when fresh greens can be scarce.
Kale is super versatile - blend it up in a green smoothie for a superfood hit!
Types of kale
Kale is an edible first and foremost, but it's also ornamental and there are ornamental forms that resemble small but colourful cabbages that are sold for winter colour with white, pink and lime green leaves. You'll often see these included in mixed floral arrangements, too. Tall, edible varieties such as Tuscan kale (also known as Cavolo Nero) are very handsome veggies and make their mark in the veggie patch with elegant, palm-frond-like, almost-black leaves.
Other varieties to grow include ‘Red Russian’, also known as ‘Ragged Jack’, which has frilly leaves and purple stems; and ‘Squire’, which has frilly blue-green leaves. ‘Blue Curled Scotch’ kale has distinctly curled blue-green leaves. These kales grow to around 40-60cm high and 30cm wide.
If you can’t choose, mixed punnets of kale provide access to the wide variety of colours and forms that are available.
How to grow kale
Kale is part of the large brassica or cabbage family that also includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. It will grow happily in full sun, or with a little afternoon shade.
Like these other brassicas, kale performs best in cool conditions, which is why it is a good choice to grow through winter. If the plant is heat- or water-stressed, it may become tough to eat once harvested.
Seedlings are planted from autumn to spring to keep a good supply of greens growing through the winter and spring growing season. Depending on the mature size of the variety grown, space seedlings 40-60cm apart. If growing in a container, plant one kale per pot. It can also be grown from seed sown in autumn.
Like all brassicas, kale prefers a neutral to slightly alkaline soil (a pH of around 7 is ideal). If you're not sure what your soil's pH is, read this article here. In areas with a very acidic soil, digging in dolomite or lime while preparing for planting improves growing conditions and leads to healthy plants. You can also dig in compost and well-rotted manure or fertiliser prior to planting to feed the developing plant.
Keep your seedlings well watered as they establish and grow. To promote strong growth, feed the developing plants monthly, providing a side dressing of fertiliser (such as Supergrow Organic Fertiliser Pellets or blood and bone), or apply liquid feed such as Harvest fortnightly.
Cabbage white butterfly caterpillars and aphids may be encountered when growing kale. However, keeping kale growing strong and healthy, and regularly searching over the foliage and removing green caterpillars and aphids by hand, works well to keep pests under control. Large infestations of caterpillars can be treated with organic pesticides including Nature's Way Caterpillar Killer Dipel.
Harvesting and using kale
Kale is a biennial plant that will keep growing until it eventually flowers. It can be harvested throughout the year. Begin picking leaves around seven to eight weeks after planting, when the plant has enough leaves so some can be picked without affecting the plant’s overall growth.
A vegetable with many uses, kale can be cooked like spinach, added to soups, or individual or torn leaves can be fried or baked as a chip. It can also be juiced, blended into smoothies or used as the base for a very tasty pesto.
Ornamental kale can be grown in a range of colours, with gorgeous frilly leaves adding texture to your garden.