Kale, a member of the brassica family and a cool season veggie, is one of my favorite greens. Not just because it looks so great in the garden and is easy to grow, but also because it is delicious, versatile, hardy and loaded with great nutrition.
I put kale in smoothies, salads, soups and stews and also enjoy baked kale chips for a healthy snack. Kale is a wonderful crop for new or seasoned gardeners and won’t let you down.
There are numerous varieties of kale, so many that it is hard to keep track of them all. Here are a few of my favorites:
Curly Kale: If you purchase kale from the grocery store, this type is most likely what you are getting. It has a very sweet and mild flavor.
Lacinato Kale: This type is also known as Dinosaur kale and has tall and narrow leaves and is wrinkled. I like this variety because it withstands cooler temperatures and can even grow all winter in some spots.
Premier Kale: This relatively new variety is loaded with beta-carotene and antioxidants. It is also cold hardy and matures early. Also known as Early Hanover is a powerful producer will keep going well for 4 weeks or longer.
Redbor Kale: This type of kale stands out for its beauty. It has fancy, curly leaves and dark purple stems and veins. I have even seen the entire plant be a dark magenta. The flavor of this kale is slightly cabbage-like with a crisp texture. Steaming this kale produces a nutty and earthy sweet taste.
Siberian Kale: Siberian kale has strong white stems that run from the base all the way through the leaves. The bluish green leaves are quite large, flat and ruffled. This kale is quite mild and the taste gets sweeter when the temperature drops or after the plant has been exposed to frost.
Starting Kale Indoors From Seed:
One of the really nice things about starting kale from seed is that you can choose from a really wide variety of types, some that may not be available as plants in your local nursery. Start kale seeds indoors 4-7 weeks before the last frost in spring.
- Start with high-quality organic seeds.
- Fill small starter pots with half organic potting soil and half compost. I like the little pots, that can be planted directly into the ground like these peat pots which are bio-degradable.
- Place 3-4 seeds per pot.
- Tap the seeds down about ¼ of an inch into the soil.
- Place in a warm area with plenty of light. Seeds will germinate at 70 degrees and warmer.
- Keep the top part of the soil moist but allow the bottom part to dry out.
- Thin seedlings after mature leaves appear – I usually leave 1-2 per pot.
- Transplant in the garden, spacing plants 16 inches apart, as soon as you can work the soil, 2-4 weeks before the last expected frost. Be sure your seedlings have four true leaves. Follow the instructions found below for preparing the garden bed for kale.
- Be sure to set your transplants perpendicular to the ground no matter the shape of the stem.
- Kale will grow best in full sun but will tolerate some shade.
You can also sow kale seeds directly into the garden 2-4 weeks before the last spring frost. If you are sowing seeds during the summer for a harvest in the fall, put the seeds in a folded, slightly wet paper towel and place it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for five days before sowing. Sow for a fall crop 10 weeks before the first expected frost.
- Before planting seed, prepare the garden bed by working some organic fertilizer/compost into the soil. Kale likes a loamy soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
- Sow seeds when soil temperatures are 40 degrees or higher. Seeds will sprout when the soil temperature reaches 60-70 degrees.
- Keep soil evenly moist until seeds sprout.
If you purchase kale plants for your garden, be sure that they are perky, and look healthy.
- Prepare a garden bed, as noted above.
- Space plants 12-16 inches apart in rows that are 18-24 inches apart.
- Keep kale well watered.
Harvesting & Storing Kale:
You can generally harvest kale between 70 and 95 days from seed and 44-75 days from transplants. You can harvest the entire plant by cutting the stock two inches above the soil. The good news is, the plant will begin to grow new leaves in 1 to 2 weeks. If you decide to cut individual leaves off the kale, wait until the plant is about 8 to 10 inches high. Begin with the outside leaves first. An important reminder is that you harvest kale leaves before they become too old and tough. Pick kale weekly, it will store in the fridge for up to one week. Be sure to keep it moist and in an unsealed bag in the crisper. You can also dry, can and freeze kale.
Tips For Great Kale:
- Add aged compost throughout the growing season to garden beds before planting.
- Add mulch to the garden bed to retain moisture.
- Fall kale will last the winter under a layer of straw – it will grow again in the early spring.
- Don’t leave old leaves on the kale plant as they will be a magnet for insects.
- Plant successively about every few weeks through the growing season for an extended harvest.
- Do not plant kale with cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts or where cabbage family plants have grown before.
- Plant kale with beets, leaf lettuce, onions, spinach and Swiss chard.
- Try growing kale in a container – it needs to be a minimum of 8 inches wide and deep.
- Kale needs two months of cool weather to reach harvest – don’t plant kale in the heat of the summer.
Nutritional Value Of Kale:
Kale is often referred to as the “king of greens.” It is loaded with nutritional and therapeutic value which allows it to live up to this calling. Here is what you will find in one single cup of kale:
- Vitamin A – 206% of the RDA
- Vitamin K – 684%of the RDA
- Vitamin C – 134% of the RDA
- Vitamin B6 – 9% of the RDA
- Manganese – 26% of the RDA
- Calcium – 9% of the RDA
- Copper – 10%of the RDA
- Potassium – 9% of the RDA
- Magnesium- 6% of the RDA
Kale also contains 3% or more of the RDA for Vitamins B1, B2, B3, iron and phosphorus.
Omega 3: Although kale only has 33 calories per cup and is very low in fat, it is rich in the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. Omega 3-fatty acids are necessary for optimal brain and muscle function.
Antioxidants: Kale is similar to other leafy greens in that it contains a powerful dose of antioxidants that help to protect the body from free oxidative damage caused by free radicals. This is good news because, according to research, oxidative damage is one of the leading drivers of aging and dangerous diseases including cancer.
Vitamin C: Kale has almost 5 times as much vitamin C as spinach, In fact, kale is the world’s best source of vitamin C. Just one cup contains more vitamin C than an entire orange. This water-soluble antioxidant is vital for many bodily processes such as synthesizing collagen and the formation and maintenance of connective tissue including bones, blood vessels, and skin.
Vitamin K: Like vitamin C, kale is one of the best sources of vitamin K and contains seven times the daily recommended amount per serving. Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting.
Beta Carotene: Kale is high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body turns into vitamin A which is necessary for healthy skin, mucous membranes, immune system and eye health.
Kale Contains Cancer-Fighting Substances: Kale contains a number of substances that have been shown to help fight cancer. One of these substances, sulforaphane, has been shown to help keep cancer from forming at the molecular level. It also contains indole-3-carbinol, a substance that is also believed to help prevent cancer.
Weight Loss: Kale is low in calories but has enough bulk to help keep you full. This leafy green is considered a low energy density food because it is low calorie but high in water. A number of studies have shown that eating low energy density foods can help with weight loss.