Gardening Tip of the Week – How to Grow Kale
Why It's Cool to Grow and Eat Kale
Just a few short years ago, kale was a relative unknown leafy green. What a difference a few years makes! The kale craze shows no signs of slowing down. This green, a member of the cabbage family, has gone from being a simple garnish or an ornamental plant for our winter flower beds to one of the most popular greens for smoothies, salads, soups, side dishes and hip culinary delights. You can even buy kale in the healthy snacks section of your grocery store in the form of dehydrated kale chips.
While it’s possible kale’s popularity may plateau and wane in the future, this leafy green has been at the top of the heap long enough for many of us to learn about its potent nutritional powers. It’s extremely high in several vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C and K and the minerals manganese and copper. Kale includes calcium and fiber while being low in saturated fat. It is reputed to lower cholesterol, help detoxify the body, counter inflammation and boost immunity.
So even if it eventually loses its luster on grocery store shelves, it may have found a permanent space in our home gardens. Like many other leafy greens, it is easy to grow using organic gardening methods.
When to Plant
Kale is a cool season edible and can usually be planted anytime from fall through around the middle of February in North Texas. It can even tolerate a hard frost. But kale will “bolt,” losing its flavor and becoming spindly, as soon as the weather gets warm.
It’s extremely easy to start from seed. We recommend that you sow it directly into the soil. To maximize your harvest, try successive sowings about 3 to 4 weeks apart, but be sure to start early enough for your plants to mature before warm weather hits.
Varieties suitable for North Texas
Kale is a hardy plant and many types of kale may be grown in North Texas. The most popular varieties we sell at Marshall Grain include Dinosaur, Dwarf Blue, and Siberian. Some gardeners enjoy buying a Kale blend, which provides them with a variety of colors and flavors.
Instead of refraining from harvesting until the plant is mature, you can pick the outer leaves as you need them. If you clip the entire plant, leave a couple of inches and it will grow new leaves. Once temperatures exceed about 75 degrees, the plant will “bolt,” which means it will flower and then drop its seeds in an effort to produce a new crop.
Kale should be planted in full sun, if possible, but can tolerate some shade. It grows equally well in the ground, in raised beds and in containers. Soil should well tilled and loamy. Always amend your planting area with fresh compost.
How to Plant
Kale prefers rich, well-drained soil. Avoid areas where any member of the cabbage family grew the year before. These plants all seek a nitrogen-rich soil and share the same diseases so crop rotation can help avoid depleting nutrients while guarding against cabbage-family diseases in your new kale crop.
To jump start seed germination, before planting, soak seeds overnight in a solution of Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed (1/2 teaspoon per cup of water), which is an excellent natural root stimulator.
Plant seeds evenly and thinly and cover with ¼ inch of soil. Firm the soil lightly and water gently. You should see your seedlings emerge in 10 to 21 days.
Care and Maintenance
Keep the soil moist by watering gently until seedlings are mature enough to produce a few leaves, then water at the roots when the soil dries out. Avoid getting the leaves wet in order to prevent diseases. After your kale emerges, go back and top dress your beds and containers with a light mulch such as hay or straw to prevent weeds.
Because kale is a cool season plant, it generally needs less watering. However, dry spells or windy weather may require additional irrigation.
The edible part of the kale plant is the foliage, and foliage requires nitrogen. So plan on fertilizing every two weeks with a high-nitrogen fertilizer such as Blood Meal (12-0-0), Maxicrop Fish Emulsion (5-1-1), or Lady Bug’s All Purpose 8-2-4 fertilizer. Make sure you include mineral-rich Texas Greensand, as well to ensure that your plants are getting all the micronutrients they need.
Aphids and flea beetles are among more than a dozen potential pests that can be found on kale but, in general, it is a pretty hardy plant. Working compost into the soil can help prevent pests as it helps the soil drain and discourages the growth of fungi. Most pests can be controlled with Neem oil, which can be used up to and including the day of harvest. Cutworms, cabbage worms, and other caterpillars can also be controlled with either Thuricide (Bt) or Spinosad.
The best way to prevent disease is to practice crop rotation. Avoid planting kale in the same area where you’ve previously planted kale or cabbage for at least three years for the best results.
Kale requires 60 to 85 days to reach maturity, which is why North Texans generally get better results when they start their kale in the winter. If you wait until spring to plant, you run the risk that temperatures will get too warm before the plant is ready to harvest. After picking, kale will stay fresh in the vegetable crisper for about a week.
Recipes and Storage
Fresh kale is great in smoothies and salads. Others prefer it served hot. You can substitute kale for any recipe that calls for spinach. Kale is best when cooked just long enough to make the greens tender yet still able to retain their colors. Kale won’t mush down and lose volume when cooked, as many other greens do. It can be a wonderful side dish for fish, served with a dash of lemon juice and some butter.
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