Kale is one of the healthiest, most nutritious greens out there. It's been the veggie-of-the-moment for the last few years, overhauling the salad world and taking on a starring role in everything from chips to smoothies. You can buy it in grocery stores and farmer's markets year-round, but it's also very easy to grow yourself (whether you're a green thumb or not!). However, before you rush out to purchase some seeds or starter plants, here are few things you should know about this vegetable before you grow it.
When to Start Growing Kale
Kale is part of the brassica (cabbage) family. Brassicas prefer cool weather and are cold-hardy in some places. Although you can start kale seeds in warm weather, they need to mature in cool weather for the best flavor. You can directly sow kale seeds in your garden about six weeks before the last frost date for a spring harvest and then again in the fall, about six to eight weeks before the first frost.
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Where to Plant Your Kale
Kale loves full sun. It will do great in full sun during the early spring and fall. If you are going to try to plant kale in warm weather, do so in partial shade.
Kale, like many vegetables, benefits from companion planting. Companion planting helps with pest control, pollination and helps provide habitat for beneficial creatures.It helps to maximize use of space and increase crop productivity. Other cool weather plants such as spinach, chard and onions are perfect companions for kale.
To extend and protect your kale crop, use a frost cloth or plant protection blanket to cover the plant when the temperatures drop below freezing. Kale can handle frost, but some protection will help extend the growing season. Also, mulching the base of the plant will help conserve moisture, as well as, help keep the roots insulated. A three to four inch thick layer of straw or grass mulch will suffice.
Pest such as slugs, white cabbage flies and flea beetles love to munch on kale. You can get rid of them by blasting them with a hose or use a natural, non toxic insecticide soap.
Watering consistently and thoroughly is essential for a healthy harvest. The plant needs to get an inch of water per week (total of rain plus watering). For deep root development, twice- or three-times-a-week deep soak is better than daily, superficial watering.
Kale does pretty well on its own, especially if you are top dressing your soil with compost every six to eight weeks. You can, however, lightly fertilize kale with a natural fertilizer to help boost growth throughout the growing season.
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You can harvest kale as baby greens as soon as they are a couple of inches high. It’s better to wait until they are about five to six inches (or the size of your hand) and harvest from the outer leaves, leaving the center intact. You can harvest from the same plant again in another week or so.
Once the warm weather hits, kale will “bolt”. This means it will go to flower and set seeds. At this point it’s time to pull it out and replace with warm weather vegetables. No worries, it’s only a few months before you’ll be able to start kale again.
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Tell us in the comments: Have you had success growing kale? What's your best strategy?