Vibrant and bold, kale is one of the world's healthiest foods and is not only easy to grow, but a beautiful addition to the garden. Learn how to grow kale and you'll have a versatile leafy green vegetable at your fingertips for much of the year, crunchy in salads and spicy when cooked in soups, stir-fry dishes or just as a flavorful side dish.
Protect against at least five types of cancer including cancer of the bladder, breast, colon, ovary and prostate by adding kale to your diet. When it comes to vitamins K, A and C, kale is off the charts, and it's no lightweight in the dietary fiber, omega fatty acids and antioxidant departments, either.
Kale can be grown in both spring and fall, but does best in cool weather, planted three months before the first expected frost of the autumn season. You should plant kale alongside bush beans, beets, celery, cucumber, lettuce, onion or potatoes for best results.
Types of Kale
Kale comes in both edible and ornamental varieties, though the edible plants are often quite beautiful as well. Among edible varieties there are 'curly' types and 'dinosaur' types. The former has frilly leaves and a more tender texture, while the latter features flatter dark blue-green leaves that have a firmer texture but a lighter, sweeter taste. Some heirloom varieties of kale include Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch, Lacinato Kale and Red Russian Kale.
Ornamental varieties of kale can be eaten, too (provided they haven't been sprayed with pesticides), but they are often cultivated for their looks rather than their flavor. They're often called 'flowering kale' because they form white or purple central leaf clusters that resemble blossoms.
How to Plant Kale
- Choose a growing site that gets full sun and has rich, loosened soil.
- Enrich the soil of your garden bed with compost or rotted manure if necessary.
- Sow kale seeds one-half inch deep into the soil in rows spaced about one foot apart.
- Lightly cover the seeds with soil and water well. Keep the soil consistently moist throughout the growing season.
- Thin seedlings to one plant ever 18 inches by carefully pulling them out of the ground or cutting them at ground level when they reach nine inches tall.
- Add a thick layer of mulch around the plants to protect the roots from harsh weather and hold in moisture.
- Take leaf cuttings for salads and garnishes throughout the growing season, leaving the head of the plant in the ground to grow more leaves. Choose bright green, fresh-looking leaves; remove and compost yellowing leaves.
- For kale grown in fall, wait until after the first frost to harvest for a sweeter taste.
- Harvest the entire kale plant by cutting it at the surface of the soil.
- Eat kale as soon as possible after harvesting. Unwashed leaves keep in the refrigerator for up to five days.
- Freeze washed kale leaves for long-term storage.
Wondering how to incorporate kale into your diet? Because kale holds its texture so well after cooking, it can be added to practically any dish, though it does have a strong flavor that can mask more delicate flavors of other ingredients. Add it to salads, braise it with garlic and olive oil or bake the leaves to eat them as crispy 'chips'.
Kale is often substituted for spinach and makes an interesting replacement for basil in pesto. Kale is at its best when cooked quickly over high heat, and steaming it brings out its cholesterol-lowering abilities.