A True Gardener Knows How To Grow Kale! Do You?

Interested in creating the perfect vegetable garden? Have you tried growing strawberries, coriander, sweet potatoes and runner beans? There is possibly one undisputed king of the winter vegetable garden and that is, you guessed it right, kale! It’s one of the most adaptable crops you can grow, giving you fresh greens even in the depth of winter. It’s jam-packed with nutrients, incredibly hardy, and will keep cropping like a true warrior. With its superfood properties, easy-to-grow kale is a must-have in any homegrown vegetable collection.

Fresh green kale and knife on wooden table

It can be cultivated in most parts of the UK as it is considered frost-resistant and can go down to -15°C. It isn’t just tasty; it’s also healthy. The myriad benefits have only just been found by British gardeners – and yes it’s about time indeed. We will show you how to grow your own kale from seeds, and how to properly harvest it and look after it. So, let’s get into it, shall we?

About kale

It’s a healthy and trendy type of cabbage that belongs to the Brassica family. Kale is a versatile ingredient that appears in a variety of dishes. It’s nutritious too and is a fantastic source of vitamins A, C, and K.

It can be started from seed in the spring and young kale plants can be planted out fairly early (3 to 5 weeks before the last frost). It can be grown in a variety of ways in the garden, including standard garden beds, raised beds, and containers. It can well adapt to the British climate and it has big, dense, curly green leaves.

Varieties of kale that can grow in the UK

These varieties are incredibly reliable and can resist cold weather. So, why don’t you start with one of them?

Black magic

This kale plant is a relatively new kind of Italian black cabbage family that has been cultivated to thrive in the UK environment. Cold tolerance, colour, leaf shape, and bolt resistance are all improved over contemporary Italian types. Black Magic was tested and found to have around 5 times the quantity of glucosinolates than other kale types. One of its varieties is cavolo nero.

Reflex

Kale plant ‘Reflex’ is a dark-leaved, highly curled full winter type with great winter hardiness, making it the ideal winter vegetable. The nutrient-dense and succulent leaves of kale hold up well without yellowing and can be picked as “babykale even in late summer.

Redbor

Redbor kale

It’s a lovely purple-leaved full winter cultivar with strongly curled leaves. Its exceptional hardiness makes it an excellent winter veggie that will never disappoint you. 

Red Russian

It comes from Siberia and has been there for a few thousand years, so you can be sure it will thrive in the British winters. It has smooth tender leaves and we believe it is less well-known among veg growers than it should be.

Brassica oleracea (dwarf green curled)

 It is a dwarf kale with curly, dark green leaves that mature and can be used as winter greens.

Lacinato kale, also known as Tuscan

It’s easy to cook thanks to its long, narrow leaves. It is simple to grow like other kale cultivars such as vates.

When is the right time to plant kale?

Fresh green kale on wooden table

Kale seeds can be planted directly in the garden or started indoors. Direct-sow seeds outside as soon as the soil is workable in the spring for an early summer yield. For harvesting kale in autumn or winter, direct-sow seeds about three months before your first autumn frost date.

Young kale plants can be planted in the garden 3 to 5 weeks before the final frost date in early spring. It’s recommended to cover young plants at night if temperatures are expected to drop below zero. Young seedlings can be planted 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost for an autumn crop. 

Choosing and preparing the planting site

Kale grows best in full sun, although it may also be grown in partial shade. To prevent disease, the soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8. However, kale may tolerate alkaline soils up to pH 7.5. Use a pH test kit from your local garden store to determine that.

Amend your soil with nitrogen-rich compost or blood meal based on the results of the soil test. For sensitive young leaves, the soil must drain effectively and be nourished. Apply fertiliser to the top 10 to 15 centimetres of the soil when planting.

How to plant kale the right way

When it comes to planting kale, you have two options: you either grow it yourself from seeds or simply purchase baby plants, known as plugs. A packet of seeds will only cost you around £2-3.

Kale cabbage leaves

You can start sowing the seeds indoors or outdoors from March until May. If you start with seeds, you may find that you have a lot more variety of kale to choose from.

However, there are some advantages to commencing with a transplant. For starters, you won’t have to wait for the seeds to germinate. If you have limited space in your garden or are unable to start seeds inside, starting with a transplant may be a better option.

Direct sow

Before you straight sow the seeds in your garden, make sure the soil is nutrient-rich enough to support the plants’ growth. Sprinkle a row of kale seeds across the soil once it’s ready. The seeds can be close together as the plants will be thinned later. Each row should be around 45 centimetres apart if you’re planting many rows. Once the seedlings have emerged, thin them out as each plant requires a lot of spacing.

Start seeds indoors

If you want, you can sow kale seeds indoors in small pots and transplant them to the garden later. Planting seeds indoors takes a bit more time and effort as you’ll need to relocate the plants later. To get the plants to grow, you also need small pots and container soil or seed-starting mix. 

Plant transplants

Whether you’ve grown it from seeds indoors or bought it at a gardening centre, you can’t just stick a transplant in the ground and hope for the best. Hardening off or acclimating to the outside environment is an incredibly important step.
Bring your seedlings outside for a few hours in the morning to harden them off before transplanting. Return the seeds to their original location inside. Bring the seedlings outside again the next day for a little longer. Over the course of five days, gradually increase the amount of time your plants spend outdoors until they are spending all day and night outside.
Dig a hole in the soil the size of the plant’s root ball when planting kale seedlings. Fill in the hole while carefully inserting the plant in it. The plant’s stem should be level with the ground at its base. Finally, remember not to plant Kale too deeply.

Caring tips

Keep plants well-watered and weeded, especially when they settle in and establish themselves throughout the summer. Always remove any damaged or yellowing leaves as they can harbour aphids, cabbage worms or flea beetles and use a row cover to protect the plant from other pests.

Woman take care kale

Light

Kale can tolerate full sun to partial shade as it is planted for its leaves rather than its blossoms. Provide shade to your plant if you live in hot weather, especially during the afternoons. Otherwise, the leaves may wilt and lose their flavour as a result of the heat.

Soil

Kale plants love rich soil with a high organic matter content and a somewhat acidic pH. Organic matter has a high nitrogen content, which is essential for healthy leaf growth. Add this in your raised beds for amazing results!

Water

Water your plants on a regular basis to keep the soil uniformly hydrated. In addition to chilly temperatures, wet soil keeps their leaves sweet and crisp rather than tough and bitter. Also, add mulch around your plants as it can help retain moisture and keep the soil cool.

Temperature and humidity

Growing kale requires a temperature of 15 to 16 degrees Celsius. It likes cool temperatures, and a light frost will enhance its flavour. It can survive the winter, but it will succumb to harsh frosts or snow. If the winters are mild and there is enough water, it can be cultivated all year.

Fertiliser 

Feed your plant with compost or a high-nitrogen vegetable fertiliser during the growing season

How to harvest and store kale

When the leaves are large enough to eat, kale is ready to harvest. It takes 55 to 75 days to mature after seeding.

 

Man presenting basket with fresh kale

  1. Pick the outside curly kale leaves first, leaving the inner ones to continue to grow.
  2. Cut the leaves one by one using garden scissors or a knife as needed, or remove the entire head.
  3. New leaves will develop from the core of the plant if you clip the leaves as needed (called cut-and-come-again).
  4. After picking kale, thoroughly wash the leaves to eliminate any soil that may have clung to them.
  5. Kale can be kept for two to three weeks at 0°- 4°C with some air circulation and 90 to 95% humidity.
  6. Wrap the leaves in a damp cloth or paper towel and place them in a perforated plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of the fridge. This prevents the leaves from drying out.

There you have it! Kale is one of those crops which is well adaptable to the British climate and never fails to provide, making it an excellent addition to any garden. Plus, If you follow the care tips in this article, you should have a bumper crop every year!

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