Kale is a very popular green that is very versatile and used in a lot of vegetable dishes. Kale is a great source of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and Vitamin A.
Kale really grows best when planted in September or early October for a cool season crop here in Texas. This will allow you to have a steady supply of kale from late fall through the next spring without aphids, harlequin bugs and other pests that attack kale during the warmer weather. In addition, the cooler weather and frost actually improves the flavor of kale. If you do decide to plant them as a spring crop, plant the more heat resistant variety Tronchuda in early March.
Kale is easily grown from seeds planted directly in the garden. Plant seeds 1/4″ deep in well-drained, humus rich soil in the sun (for the fall/winter crop), and partial shade (for the spring/summer crop) and water well. Seedlings will emerge in 6-9 days.
Once the plants have at least two sets of leaves, space Dwarf Blue Curled Vates 12″ apart, Premier 15″ apart, and Tronchuda 18″ apart. You can either thin out (pull up) the plants to create this space between them, or lift out the small extra plants with a dining fork and transplant them elsewhere in the garden, or in a large, deep pot or whiskey. Always water plants after transplanting.
Kale likes moisture and good drainage. You can also add mulch to help maintain the moisture level. It is good to water in the evening during the hot months, and in the late morning or afternoon during cooler months.
Kale is one of the most cold hardy vegetables. Light frosts and light fluffy snow will actually improve the flavor of kale. But, if temperatures of 10 degrees or lower, or ice or heavy snow are expected, you will need to cover them with a blanket, towel or other fabric until the temperatures are warmer. In Texas, this usually means covering them in the evening before the sun goes down and uncovering them in late morning the next day. Kale does not need to be covered if light, powdery snow is expected and the temperatures are not 10 degrees or lower. Also, be sure that the soil around the plants is not dry because kale will not be as resilient in freezing weather if it does not have enough moisture in its cells. If you need to water them, water in the late morning or afternoon when temperatures are above freezing.
Pests and Diseases
Green cabbage worms, the progeny of those pretty little white butterflies fluttering around your garden make some small holes in the leaves, but aphids and orange and black harlequin bugs are kale’s worst pests. You can hand remove harlequin bugs, and then spray your kale with neem oil mixed with natural dish soap (follow the neem mixing directions on the bottle). Neem oil is effective against both pests. These pests always make an appearance when the kale is beginning to become distressed in warmer late spring/summer temperatures. You will not have to fight these pests on a fall planted winter crop because the pests are not present in the winter.
To prevent soil diseases, don’t plant kale or any of the other member of the Brassica or cole crop family like cabbage, broccoli, collards, Brussels sprouts or bok choy in the same place in the garden two years in a row.
Even though kale matures in 55-65 days, it can be harvested for many months (especially the fall planted crop). You can start harvesting the bottom leaves when they are only 6″ long. Harvest bottom leaves as you need them by cutting them away from the central stalk or stem with scissors or a paring knife.
Harvesting only the lower-most leaves as you need them (instead of harvesting the entire plant at once), allows the plant to continue to produce new leaves from the top/center of the plant
Do harvest the entire plant at the first sign of the development of a central flower stalk. Plants that are allowed to produce yellow flowers/seeds will become too bitter and tough to eat. If you want to grow seeds for your next crop, then allow one plant to flower and produce seeds (for heirloom varieties)..
I usually use kale fresh from the garden. If you do want to store kale in the refrigerator, then wash the leaves and set them on a towel to air dry until they are almost dry to the touch and then place them in a plastic bag and put them in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
If you have a large amount of leaves that you want to freeze and save for later then they can be blanched and frozen. To blanch, bring water to boil in a large sauce pan. Add kale, put the lid on the pan and boil for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, dip them out of the water, let them cool, then add to freezer bags and store them in the freezer until you are ready to cook them at a later date.
Culinary Uses for Kale
Kale can be eaten raw in salads and added to smoothies. It can also be cooked as kale chips, stir-fried, steamed, sauteed, and used in place of spinach in recipes. The large, mild tasting tronghuda kale leaves can also be used as sandwich or cabbage roll wraps.
My simple Kale Chips recipe
- Wash the kale leaves.
- Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil in 1 cup of water.
- Dip each leaf in the oil/water solution and then lay them 1 leaf deep on a cookie sheet or in a dehydrator.
- Add your favorite toppings. I like parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes.
- Bake in the oven at 350 degrees until crispy (10-20 minutes). Eat while warm. They don’t store well.
- Planting Time: Fall or Spring
- Light: Full sun (fall/winter crop), Part sun (spring/summer crop)
- Seed Planting Depth: 1/4″
- Soil: well-drained, deep, humus rich
- Spacing: Dwarf Blue Curled Vates 12″ apart, Premier 15″ apart, and Tronchuda 18″ apart
- Height: 12″ to 18″ tall
- Culinary Use: Salads, smoothies, kale chips, stir-fried, steamed, sauteed, as a replacement for spinach, and large leaves used as a sandwich or cabbage roll wrap.