Complete Guide to Growing Kale For Beginners: A Step-by-Step Plan

In this blog post we’ll be discussing the basics for growing kale (Brassica oleracea), from getting started and picking out seeds to harvesting your crop.

We’ll cover everything you need to know about how long it takes before you can harvest kale, how much space you will need in order to grow it, and what kind of fertilizer works best!

a bunch of kale on a kitchen table

What is Kale and Why Should You Grow It

Growing your own produce is not only rewarding, but it’s also a great way to save money.

The word “kale” comes from the Middle English words “cael” or “colewort” which originated in Latin meaning cabbage plant or cabbage vegetable respectively.

The earliest use of this term dates back to 1440 when it was mentioned in writings about an English monastery garden at Colchester Abbey.

There are many different types of kale available today, but one type with origins dating back to the 1500’s is called “Lacinato”, which means curly and can be eaten raw.

Kale cool weather crop of a dark leafy green vegetable that’s been around for centuries.

Kale has a number of health benefits, including lowering the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer and reducing the symptoms associated with arthritis.

In addition, kale can provide protection against anemia by increasing iron absorption from food sources.

a woman's hand holding a leaf of kale

Nutritional Value of Kale

Kale is also incredibly nutritious for you.

I thought touting it as a “super food” was a little extreme, but if you’re looking for a natural source of Vitamin A, C  or K, you can’t do much better.

One cup of kale has 10302 IU (or 206% of your daily allowance) of Vitamin A, 80.4 mg (or 134% of your daily allowance of Vitamin C, and 547 mcg (or 684%!!!!) of your Vitamin K.

Vitamin A is essential for eyesight and eye-health as well as bone development and immune support.

(A word of caution about Vitamin A, however: taking too much can be toxic. Be careful eating a lot of Kale if you already take a supplement with a lot of Vitamin A).

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and helps to repair body tissue such as muscles and bone.

It also decreases your total and bad cholesterol and triglycerides.

Vitamin K supports blood clotting, supports bone health and aids in preventing heart disease.

It works in conjunction with Vitamin D, which means if you don’t get enough Vitamin K, your body can’t absorb the Vitamin D you’re in-taking.

The catch with eating kale for Vitamin K, though, is that Vitamin K is fat-soluble, so you need to eat some fat along with your kale for your body to absorb the Vitamin K.

So throw some chicken or olive oil on that kale salad.

All three of these (Vitamins A, C and K) are know to help prevent cancer. All with one cup of kale a day. *mind.blown*

growing kale in winter

Beginner’s Guide to Growing Kale

I absolutely love growing Kale, and grow it from seed every year.

Starting kale from seed is easy, and can be done outside in a garden bed or on a windowsill indoors.

Some people recommend soaking your seeds in water for 24 hours before planting to soften the shell and encourage germination.

I’ve never needed to do this because my germination rates have always been fantastic.

Start your kale from seed indoors 10 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost, or 6 to 8 weeks before the FIRST frost for a Fall harvest.

In the early Spring, start seeds indoors in seed flats or growing trays. For a Fall crop, plant seeds in the ground by direct sowing them in the garden in late summer.

You will need to first create a flat for the seeds to grow or buy seed starting trays from your local garden center, and fill it with potting soil mixed with compost.

Place two or three seeds per cell and tamp them under the soil.

Seeds should germinate in 5-7 days if your ambient temperatures are around 70 degrees.

For a continual harvest of these delicious leafy greens, start new seeds every week or two so you can “come and cut” the tender leaves for what you need for dinner and leave the rest of the plant.

There’s no need, however, for hundreds of kale plants. A handful of plants will provide salads all year long.

Harvest to table recommends planting 4 to 5 plants per household member.

Not only is kale very cold tolerant, depending on your summers, it can survive the full sun AND the cold and grow for you year-round.

I tend to plant my kale in an area of my garden that will get partial shade once the leaves of the nearby trees come in, to protect it from direct sun and scorching heat.

If your summers are hot but you don’t have nearby trees you can always use a row cover to provide shade.

beginner's guide to growing kale

Transplanting Your Kale

Transplant your kale seedlings outside in fertile soil after 4-6 weeks of growth or as soon as the plant has four true leaves.

Depending on the varietal you may want to plant your young plants 4-6 inches apart in a row and 18-24 inches between rows.

Varietals such as red russian and lacinato tend to grow upwards, where dinosaur kale is massive and will need more space.

Providing adequate spacing will allow proper air flow which will cut down on mold and disease issues.

Kale Growing Tips and Tricks

– Heavily mulch around them with organic matter to absorb water and smother weeds.

– Plant near a taller bush or tomato plants for support. These tall plants will provide the shade kale needs from the sun.

– Watch out for rabbits and other small/medium sized animals who might like to eat your kale as well!

– The best way to harvest your kale is to cut the young leaves near the stem to encourage new growth.

Common Insect Pests of Kale

  • Leaf Miner
  • Caterpillar
  • Cabbage loopers
  • Aphid
  • Thrips
  • Cabbage worms
  • Harlequin beetles
  • Flea beetles

Common Diseases of Growing Kale

1. root rot

2. black rot

3. downy mildew

4. powdery mildew

5. clubroot

How to Save Kale Seeds

To save kale seeds, allow a few of your best plants to go to seed.

Once the seed pods begin to dry out, cut the stalk at the bottom of the plant.

Wrap the seed pod in a paper bag and hang the plant upside down to allow it to dry the rest of the way.

Then shake the seeds from the pod into the bag and pick out any other debris.

Companion Planting With Kale

Kale grows well near beets, celery, onions, and potatoes.

Avoid planting with beans, strawberries and tomatoes.

Heirloom Varieties of Kale We Love

If you’re going to save your kale seeds for next year’s vegetable garden, you’ll need to start with an heirloom varietal. This ensures you’ll get offspring that are true to the parents.

There are two main types of kale: flat leaf and curly kale. Flat leaf kale varieties tend to be better in fresh salads, where the curly kind capture sauces and oils and stand up to higher temperatures better.

  • Red Russian kale (hands down our favorite)
  • Lacinato kale
  • Blue Curled Scotch (great for making kale chips)

Our Favorite Recipes Using Kale

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