How to Grow Kale
and Best Time to Plant Kale

Learn how to grow kale, so you can eat the best tasting and nutritious kale.  Growing kale is best done at cooler times of the year.

Planting kale at the wrong time will result in bitter tasting kale leaves.

There are a few different kale varieties to choose from these days.

However, some kale plants are just beautiful and are mainly grown for ornamental reasons.

Growing kale yourself can ensure a much better tasting crop by planting kale at the right time. 

Not to mention you can harvest your own kale seeds and continue the tradition of growing your own kale every year.

Learning how to grow kale is very simple as kale is a very hardy vegetable. 

Learning how to grow kale successfully can be done anywhere as long as the temperature doesn't get too hot.

How to Grow Kale - The Basics

  • You can plant seeds indoors for transplanting after the danger of frost is gone or plant directly into your garden when soil conditions are right
  • Create fertile well-drained soil before placing seeds into soil
  • Plant seeds approx. 1/4 inch down into soil and cover seeds with soil
  • Moisten soil with a good misting of water and do not allow your seeds to dry out before they germinate
  • Kale seeds germinate quickly in warm soil and should be up within 5 to 8 days
  • When your seedlings are about 3 weeks old, space your seedlings approximately 18 inches apart
  • Kale plants will mature in about 70 days from planting your seeds

Tips for Planting Kale

Kale is a hardy plant and doesn't really need a lot of care.  The best advice on how to grow kale to produce a healthy kale plant is to provide certain growing conditions.

Fertilize with compost and use mulch to keep the ground cool.  Also make sure your kale is watered on a regular basis.

Along with planting kale in cool temperatures, moist soil helps to keep kale leaves sweet and tender instead of bitter and tough. 

Planting kale in a rich well-drained soil and with a high nitrogen content is also recommended.

Kale needs full sunshine or partial shade to grow.  Full sun is especially recommended at the beginning of growing kale.

Best Time to Grow Kale

Kale seeds can be sown from early spring for summer crops or later for fall/winter crops.  However, when do you think is the best time to grow kale? 

In the Spring/Summer or in the Fall/Winter? 

Based on my recent market garden experience, I'd wait to plant kale when the weather starts to get cooler (fall/winter) to get the most bang for your buck - especially if you live in a warmer climate.

How to Grow Kale in Spring:  Sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked on in the spring as seeds will germinate in cool soil.  Kale seeds will sprout best when the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees F.

You can also plant kale seeds in a greenhouse or in your house.  Then transplant seedlings into your garden when the soil temperature is warm enough to get a head start.

How to Grow Kale in Summer:  Growing kale in hot weather can turn kale bitter!  Which also means that kale that's planted in the spring and grows into the hot summer months may not taste or look very good.

However, if you live in an area that experiences mild summers, you might be able to get away with growing certain varieties of kale - especially if you get a head start.

In general, it might be better to wait until the temperature is cooler before planting kale - like late summer or early fall.

You can also start your kale seeds indoors (or in a shaded area) and then transplant the seedlings into your garden when it starts to get cooler.

How to Grow Kale for a Fall/Winter Crop:  Sow kale seeds 10 weeks before the first expected full frost.  However, in certain climates or locations (with mild winters) you can sow seeds later for a winter crop.

Kale is a great cool season plant and it makes an excellent fall/winter crop as kale is one of the most frost tolerant vegetables.

Kale will be sweetened by frost as frost actually improves the flavor of kale.

Several kale plants will start out green and turn darker after a frost.  This is one way to tell that your kale has gotten sweeter.

Kale can be left in the ground throughout the winter in many locations.  Most kale plants will survive with night time temperatures as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, if you want your kale to do well in temperatures that go below freezing I'd invest in frost cloth, a hoop house, or a cold frame.  This is how to grow kale in winter to help protect your kale from too much cold and hard freezes!

Different Varieties of Kale

Curly Leaf Kale - this kale has wide ruffled leaves and a bright green color.

It's one of the most well known kale varieties.

It has a thick fibrous stalk and is known for its pungent peppery flavor.

Dinosaur Kale - also known as Lacinato kale and is sometimes called Tuscan kale.

Flat leafed kale with a bumpy texture similar to dinosaur skin.

It has a dark blue-green color and is slightly sweeter than curly kale.

Red Russian Kale - this type of kale has blue-green leaves that resemble oak leaves.

Has beautiful reddish-purple stems said to be sweet and tender.

Considered by some to be the sweetest of the kale varieties.

Ornamental Kale - a flowering kale that's interior leaves can produce striking colors such as violet.

Primarily grown for their looks. 

Considered edible, but is not as tasty as culinary varieties.

Kale is considered one of the most nutritious vegetables in the world by some people.  Kale is also rich in important minerals and vitamins.

The different types of kale varieties are sometimes classified by the type of leaves on the plant.  These leaves can be curly or flat and can come in many different colors.

This is Redbor kale which has curly deep purple-red leaves and a mild cabbage-like flavor. 

There are more than the above mentioned kale varieties to grow in your garden.  You could also grow Siberian kale or Scarlet kale for example.

Kale in general is known for having a somewhat bitter taste, but this will vary with each of the kale varieties.

Harvesting Kale Leaves

Harvesting kale leaves immediately after the first or second frost will give you the best tasting kale leaves. 

However, you can begin harvesting kale leaves as soon as your plant is big enough.

Always remove the lowest, largest, and outermost leaves first.  Just be sure to leave at least 3 to 6 leaves on your plant.

Also, the center of the kale plant contains its bud which you don't want to remove (if you want the plant to keep producing more leaves).

By just removing the outer leaves of your plant you ensure a continuous cycle of growth.

Its best to use kale fresh from the garden, but it will keep in your refrigerator for a week or two if stored correctly in a plastic bag.

Kale leaves are best eaten when they are young and tender.  Kale can get a bit tough when older or exposed to temps that exceed 80 degrees F.

You'll want to harvest the entire head of kale before it reaches that point or let it go to seed.

Harvesting Kale Seeds

Kale plants are biennials and will begin the process of setting seed in the spring if you overwintered your kale. 

After flowering, the kale stalks will begin producing seed pods.  Kale seed pods will grow to about 2 to 3 inches in length and will be skinny.

As a bonus, flowering kale is beautiful and a huge attractor for honey bees!

It's important to note that saving seeds from open-pollinated or heirloom kale plants is how to grow kale successfully (hybrids may not work).

It's also best to let the pods mature and dry on your kale plant before you cut them off to harvest the seeds.

However, be sure to harvest the pods in time to avoid them opening on their own and dropping their seeds onto the ground. 

Also, it's easier to just cut the main stem and harvest the pods all at once and stick them into a large paper bag for a few days to completely dry.

Then just close and shake the bag vigorously to break open and remove the seeds from the pods.

Remove the debris and place the dark-looking kale seeds into an envelope or closed container of your choice.  Store in a cool and dry place until your ready to plant kale again. 

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