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Kale Growing and Harvest Information

by chuck.mcmullan
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An easy vegetable to grow, it is generally more disease and pest resistant than other brassicas, although it can experience similar problems. Kale also occupies less space than other brassicas. Use it as a spinach substitute in a wide variety of dishes. Kale maintains body and crunch which makes it a good substitute in dishes where spinach might not be suitable; its especially delicious in stir-fry dishes. It is recommended to cook over high heat to bring out the best flavor and prevent bitterness. Many specialty growers are planting kale in wide beds only 1/2 to 12 inches apart and harvesting kale small as salad greens. In England, close plantings of kale have been shown to prevent aphid infestations through visual masking.

Where to Grow Kale

Almost anywhere in the United States where there’s a cool fall growing season. It’s a cool-season crop, hardy to frosts and light freezes. Kale’s flavor is reported to improve and sweeten with frost.

Recommended Kale Varieties

There are 2 types: Scotch, an early kale with deeply curled, blue green leaves, (Dwarf Blue Curled), and Siberian, a later type with smoother, gray green leaves (Dwarf Siberian). There also are ornamental kales, grown particularly for garden display in late summer and early fall when the annuals begin to wane. The leaves are deeply curled and beautifully tinted with pastel colors ranging from emerald green to soft lilac to reds to whites.

Soil for Growing Kale

The ideal kale soil is a fertile, well-drained loam. Clay types can be improved with generous amounts of compost and well-rotted manure worked in to spade depth.

Planting Kale

Germination in 7-10 days.

When –

Start in midsummer for a late-fall winter crop.

How –

In rows 18 inches to 2 feet apart. When the seedlings are 3 or more inches high, thin plants to 10 inches apart and use the thinnings for salads or as a cooked vegetable.

Temperature
Germination45 - 95 F
For growth60 - 65 F
Soil and Water
FertilizerHeavy feeder, use compost.
Side-dressingApply when plants are 1/3 grown
pH6.0 - 7.0
WaterHeavy
Measurements
Seed Planting Depth1/2"
Root Depth6 - 12"
Height12 - 18"
Width8 - 12"
Space between plants
In Beds15 - 18"
In Rows18 - 24"
Space Between Rows24 - 46"
Average plants per person4
Harvest
Harvest younger leaves from the middle and work your way up the stalk as it grows. Keep some of the leaves on the bottom to feed the growth on the top. You can also harvest the plant all at once by cutting its stem near the bottom.
First Seed Starting Date: 52 - 108 days before last frost date
Last Seed Starting Date: 94 - 108 Days before first frost date
Companions
CompanionsArtichoke, beet, bush bean, celery, cucumber, lettuce, onion, peas, potato, spinach
IncompatiblesPole beans, strawberry, tomato

How Kale Grows

Like collards, kale develops attractive leaves from a central stem, which grows a foot or so tall.

Cultivating Kale

Cultivate shallowly or mulch heavily to keep down weeds.

Storage Requirements
For fresh storage, don't wash leaves. For drying, cut the leaves into strips and steam for 2-5 minutes. Spread on trays no more than 1/2" thick and dry. If using an oven set the temperature to below 145 F; check and turn every hour.
Fresh
TemperatureHumidityStorage Life
32 F95 - 100%2 - 3 weeks
32 - 40F80 -90%10 months (only fair taste)
Preserved
MethodTasteShelf Life
CannedGood12+ months
FrozenGood12 months
DriedFair12+ months

How to Harvest Kale

Kale can be harvested within approximately 1 month of becomming established. Leaf color is the best sign of crop readiness. Rich green leaves of firm texture are ready for cutting. If too dark and heavy, the leaves are tough and not as flavorful. Kale leaves for cooking should generally be about the size of your hand. The small, tender leaves can be eaten uncooked, and are often added to salads. Cut the leaves frequently to encourage new growth, but avoid picking the terminal bud(at the top of the plant). When cold weather begins, mulch the plants with straw, salt hay, or the like, they will continue producing well into winter, and they may even taste more flavorful.

Kale Pests

  • Same as cabbage
  • Root Maggot -Place 3 inch tar paper squares around each seedling when transplanting to cover the soil areas; or keep the ground dusted with wood ash.
  • Cabbage butterflies/worms -controlling cabbage worms is surprisingly easy.  Cover susceptible crops with a floating row cover when planting and leave it in place until harvest.
  • Cutworms – Use stiff paper collars around transplants to extend at least 1 inch below the soil line.
  • Flea beetles – Dust with wood ash or flour dust.

Diseases for Kale

  • Same for cabbage
  • Soil fungicides are somewhat effective on kale diseases, but they are expensive, sold in large quantity, and not practical for small home garden use, unless a great deal of kale is grown.
  • Club root fungus – Most frequent in soggy or acid soil. Grow only in well-drained soil; follow crop rotation practices; lime to keep soil pH at a neutral 7.
  • Yellows – A soil-born diseases; choose resistant varieties.
  • Black rot – Bacteria born on seed; buy only from reputable seed dealers or bedding plant growers; rotate crops.
  • Blackleg – Bacteria spreads from infected plants, garden tools, and leftover debris. Follow crop rotation

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