how to grow kale, sowing kale, growing kale

How to grow kale in your backyard?
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Kale is a very well known vegetable to make a good stew. In the last years, kale has become more and more known as a juicing vegetable. Kale is a quite easy plant to grow and it’s really frost resistant. Read the whole article to know how to grow kale.

What is kale?

Kale has been grown for ages and it’s easy to cultivate the plant.

how to grow kale kale 1I personally grow my kale for the family and for the chickens, that’s why I already know how to grow kale through every season.

Kale or Brassica oleracea convar.Acephala var.laciniata is a member of the brassica family and so it has Brussels Sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower as cousins.

The plant has a normal to a very thick stem with leafs growing out of it. If you look at a kale, it’s just like a small palm tree with curly leafs.

As I mentioned above, the plant can have a normal stem or a very thick stem. The difference in the stem is due to the fact that we grow two kinds of kale. The industrial kind which is a dwarf-variety with a normal stem and the shrub kale which is quite big and has a really thick stem.

In the industry, the most grown variety is the dwarf variety. This one is easy to cut with machines. The shrub variety should be cut manually and is therefore far too labor-intensive.

The shrub variety is mostly grown in hobby gardens.

Where to grow kale?

how to grow kale 2Although brassica does like the sun, it’s still possible to grow kale in a space with half-shadow in summer. This could result in a smaller harvest. Don’t grow it in half shadow in winter time as this will greatly reduce the harvest.

how to grow kale in a row

It’s best to use a lot of space to plant the kale plants. I personally used a space of 65 cm (a bit more than 2 feet) in between the rows and 50 cm (20 inches) between the plants in the row. I did say that I used a certain distance in the row because I’m going towards square foot gardening and It’s not difficult to know how to grow kale in square foot gardening.

how to grow kale in square foot gardening

When you want to grow kale in a square foot gardening method, you can plant one kale plant per square foot.

when to grow kale?

In our region, we grow kale from May onwards to have an autumn harvest. But kale can be grown in almost any season and in almost any climate.
As already mentioned, I grow kale throughout the year to have a steady supply for my chickens.
kale seedlingsYou can start seeds indoors 11 weeks before the last frost date and plant out the transplants when they have about 5 to 6 leaves.  Make sure you harden them off before transplanting. You should be transplanting about 5 weeks before the last frost date if the timing is about right. You can use row covers if the temperature is still below 20°F or -7°C.


You can start about 12 weeks before the first frost date. Starting the seedlings in the greenhouse or outside is still possible.

If you want to grow through the winter time, it’s best to use a frost tolerant variety and grow it from June or July. If you use frost tolerant varieties you can even get away with sowing in August but it’ll result in a lower harvest in the winter time.
As I already mentioned in another paragraph, some kale varieties can be very frost tolerant. (down to -15°C or 5°F).
Kale can be grown as a perennial, read all about it in this article.

Taking care of your kale

Kale needs water when dry if you make sure it gets water and food in a timely fashion, you won’t have any problem with the plant.
It’s good to protect your plants by using insect screens to avoid the white fly, cabbage butterfly and even the birds who have a taste for the young tender plants
.Once the plant grows above 40 cm or 16 inches, the birds won’t attack the plant anymore (unless they really don’t find any other food).
Try to keep the weeds down as these can attract plant-eating insects and slugs and will keep the plant leafs moist which in turn can develop fungal diseases.

Kale loves a nutrient-rich fluffy soil. It will survive in almost any soil if the ph-value is between 6.5 and 7.5. The soil should be well-draining if the winter has a lot of rainfall.

Kale is just like other brassica’s, a very greedy plant. Even as a second cultivation, it’s good to make sure there’s enough nutrition in the field. Leveling up with compost before planting is a good start

 Sow the seeds about 1/2 inch to 1/4  inch deep. That’s about 1 centimeter to half a centimeter deep.

Transplanting kale

Kale can be planted outside as soon as the plant is big enough. I personally sow the seeds in small pots and plant outside when the plants are 10 cm (4 inches) high. That’s about when they have 4 to 5 real leaves. I do protect the plants with insect screen to protect from insects and birds.
Be careful in autumn, because there are still critters out there, praying on your precious plants.

Harvesting Kale

The harvest of kale consists of the leafs growing out of the stem. So it’s very much possible to harvest a couple of leafs from each plant at a time and do this during a longer period in the season.

As I personally sow kale for my family and for the chickens I periodically harvest leaves through the year and until the plant bolts or dies because of frost. (Although we almost never have low enough temperatures to kill the plants.)

I harvest leaves that are about the size of my hand and always give the plant time to regenerate. I periodically use nettle tea and comfrey tea to keep the plants happy.


the big cabbage butterfly

The big cabbage butterfly or Pieris brassicae can devastate the plants while in caterpillar stadium.

catterpillar on kaleThe caterpillars can eat through the leaves until there’s only a stem left. Using insect-screen can avoid a lot of trouble. In case it’s too late and the plants are infested with caterpillars, it’s possible to use spinosad. Just make sure you read the manual before using because it does have an impact on the soil and other insects. It’s best used in the evening when there are no bees around anymore.

I personally have enough kale plants to remove the caterpillars by hand. Read this article to see what I do.

The small cabbage butterfly

The small cabbage butterfly or Pieris rapae also has a devastating effect on brassica’s, the caterpillar can, just like the caterpillar of his bigger cousin, kill the plants when not timely treated. Insect screen is the way to go. If you’re too late, spinosad can be used.

the mealy cabbage aphid

mealy aphidThe mealy cabbage aphid or Brevicoryne brassicae can give the plant a growth shock as it sucks necessary moisture and nutrients out of the plants. The aphids can also bring different diseases onto the plants by spreading it through their saliva.

downy mildew

One fungus that is quite common is downy mildew or Peronospora parasitica. Bordeaux mixture can prevent the disease from growing but once the fungus is developing, only the removal of the infested plants will help contain the disease. Also, be careful when using Bordeaux mix because this is borderline organic.

I haven’t got all the diseases and pests in this article yet, but if I come across pictures or get the diseases on my plants, I will amend this article.

So this is it for this blog post, I hope you’ve found it interesting. If so, please share with friends and other gardeners.

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Thanks for reading and see you in the next post.

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