Growing your own kale should be on every gardener’s list for how little effort it requires to grow a sizable crop. Kale requires very little space and produces leaves all season long. I’ve grown kale plants that last me over a year! Follow my tips for planting, growing, and harvesting your kale to ensure an abundant crop of nutritious kale.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Kale
- WATER: Kale prefers even, regular watering. Kale requires approximately 1 inch of water per week.
- SUN: Kale requires full sun, at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day.
- SOIL: Kale performs best when planted in rich and fertile, well-drained soil. Apply a thick layer of compost when planting and reapply half way through growing.
- SPACING: You can plant kale fairly close together. Be sure to give your kale enough room to grow. Space kale plants at least 1 foot apart.
- ROUTINE MAINTENANCE: As mentioned, kale performs best in rich, fertile soil. Kale will benefit from amending with compost halfway through the growing season. Inspect kale leaves regularly for pests.
- WHEN TO PLANT: Kale is considered a cool climate crop. If you live in an area that does not freeze, kale can be planted at the end of summer through the end of winter. Successive planting of kale can be done to ensure you have sufficient harvest throughout the season. In an area that does freeze, kale is typically planted just after the last frost date. In some areas that get a light freeze, kale can be protected temporarily. To get a head start, you can start your seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before your average last frost date.
- TEMPERATURE: Kale seeds germinate best at temperatures at at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit – making it a pretty easy seed to germinate! Once planted, kale will grow best in temperatures ranging from 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a suitable cold season crop.
How to Grow Kale From Seed
Your local nursery, depending on your specific climate, will typically carry kale seedlings or “starts” at the end of summer through early spring. Plant kale seedlings in your garden at least 1 foot apart and amend the area with a thick layer of compost.
It is also simple, cost effective, and fun to start your kale from seed. An added benefit of growing kale from seed is that you can find new, unique varieties not typically found at the nursery. To grow kale from seed:
- If you live in an area that DOES NOT have a hard frost: Sow kale seeds directly in your garden anytime from the end of summer through early spring. Sow 2 kale seeds 1/4 inch deep, 6 inches apart. Keep the planting area moist until the seedlings emerges. Once your seedling emerges, thin your kale to at least 1 foot apart from one another. I like to use a pair of fine snips like these.
- If you live in an area that DOES have a hard frost: Start kale seeds 4-6 weeks indoors before your average last frost date. Transplant out kale seedlings once danger of frost has past. For tips on starting seeds indoors, check out my post: Indoor Seed Starting Set Up.
- Keep the planting area around your kale moist, approximately 1 inch of water per week.
- Halfway through the growing season, amend the area around your kale with ample compost. To retain water moisture and prevent weeds, apply a layer of mulch such as shredded cedar, crushed leaves, or chopped straw.
- Inspect your kale frequently for pests and diseases. Remove pests and diseases as soon as you can to preserve your kale crop from being harmed further.
Recommended Varieties of Kale Seed
Lacinato, Dinosuar, Black, or Tuscan Kale
- “Lacinato Kale” is probably the most popular variety of kale – and for a good reason! Lacinato kale, which goes by several other names such as tuscan or dinosaur kale, is extremely versatile. You can use this variety in salads, soups, braises and more.
Blue Curled Scotch Kale
- “Blue Curled Scotch Kale” is a traditional curly leafed kale variety. I like to at least grow one variety of curly kale. This variety is perfect for making kale chips because the leaves get extra crispy.
Russian Frills Kale
- “Russian Frills Kale” is a show stopping kale variety with frizzled leaves. I just love this variety from Uprising Seeds for its intrigue – PLUS, the flavor is great.
Companion Planting for Kale
Plant kale with aromatic herbs such as chamomile, rosemary, sage and thyme. Aromatic herbs can help repel pests from your kale. Planting herbs can also help with weed suppression around your kale plants.
How to Combat Aphids on Kale
The most likely pest that will ravage your kale crop are aphids. Aphids are a family of grey to white small insects. They will likely form under the leaves or at the base of the leaf of a kale plant. One way to prevent these pests from taking hold of your crop in the first place is to utilize row covers when planting your kale. Another way to prevent aphids is by inspecting the leaves of your kale plant thoroughly and often. Inspect the under sides and tops of leaves for pest eggs and larvae. Remove the eggs and larvae on sight gently using a wash cloth or spraying with water. To combat aphids you can also use a a castile soap dilution. Dilute 1 teaspoon of castile soap in 1 gallon of water. Put the mixture in a spray bottle and apply to the affected areas of your kale plant. Another way to combat aphids is to introduce ladybugs to your garden. Ladybugs are beneficial insects that eat aphids. To effectively combat aphids, combine preventative measures like row covers and routine maintenance with combative solutions like a soapy dilution and beneficial insects.
When and How to Harvest Kale
Surprisingly, there is a right and a wrong way to harvest kale. To ensure a long, productive growing season for your kale, harvest leaves when they are at least 4 -6 inches long and harvest the kale leaves all the way to the stem. By harvesting the kale leaves all the way back to the stem, you allow the plant to put energy in to growing more new leaves. Harvested regularly and properly, your kale plant should last you throughout the growing season. I’ve had kale plants last an entire year, growing to nearly 5 feet tall!
Kale Recipe Suggestions
Kale can be prepared in so many ways – raw, sautéed, roasted, steamed, and even fermented. When deciding how to prepare my kale, I draw a lot of inspiration from my cookbook collection. Here are some of my favorites recipes for kale:
- Kale and white bean soup
- Kale and brussels Sprouts salad
- Kale chips
How to Save Kale Seeds
If you want to save kale seeds for next season allow it to “go to seed.” The kale plant will bolt yellow flowers will grow. Along the stem of the yellow flowers, seed pods will form. Wait until the seeds pods are completely dry and brittle to the touch to harvest your kale seeds. To harvest the seeds, crack open the seed pods to reveal several kale seeds. Store kale seeds in a cool, dry place.