Anyone who strives to live a healthy lifestyle and eat well has undoubtedly heard of the health benefits of kale. Once prized primarily for its use as a decorative plant, kale has experienced a huge jump in popularity recently because it is packed with essential nutrients. This dark, leafy super food can be somewhat hard to find in smaller Australian supermarkets. It also can be quite expensive to buy, compared to other vegetables. The good news is that with a bit of space, preparation and know-how, anyone can grow it in their garden and have a steady supply of this healthy veggie on hand to enjoy whenever they wish!
When and Where to Plant Kale
Kale is at its flavorful peak in cooler weather, so that is the ideal time to plant it. Once temperatures approach 26°C, kale becomes tough and bitter-tasting, even though it will still grow. While it may not taste as good as cool-weather kale, it will retain its nutritional value. Warm-weather kale lends itself better as an accent to other dishes rather than the star of a kale salad.
The ideal spot in which to plant kale will depend on when it is being planted. In cool weather, kale does best in an area that receives full sun. In hot weather, it should be planted in partial shade. Kale thrives in soil that is well-drained yet moist, low in nitrogen, and alkaline (the ideal ph will range be 5.5 to 7.) Soil additives are available to neutralize soil that is naturally acidic.
Happy Kale Companions
As with many vegetable plants, kale enjoys a healthy symbiotic relationship with other vegetable plants, specifically potatoes, herbs, beets, celery, and onions. On the other hand, it's best to avoid planting kale in the same garden as tomatoes, strawberries, and beans. These plants attract insects that can devastate kale plants. A fun and convenient aspect of combining kale plants with other vegetable plants in the same garden is that gardeners will have all the ingredients on-hand to make a delicious, healthy soup or salad.
How to Grow Kale
Kale can be grown from small plants or kale seeds. Before planting, it's best to research the different varieties of kale available -- there are many. Black Tuscan, Red Chinese, Red Russian, Blue Curled Scotch, and Siberian are among the most popular varieties grown and eaten in Australia.
If planting kale seeds, it's important to know that seeds germinate most effectively when soil is at a temperature of around 21°C. When planting kale during cooler weather, the best bet is to opt for plants rather than seeds. Seeds will not germinate in soil temperatures lower than 4.4°C.
If planting kale plants, it's best to space them about 400 mm apart in rows that are about 460 mm apart from each other. Water seeds and seedlings gently yet frequently until they become well established. At that point, water when the top of the soil is dry to touch. In hot weather, apply a protective mulch to the base of the plants so the soil does not dry out too quickly. To supercharge growth, apply compost made from yard and vegetarian food waste to the soil as an organic, natural fertilizer.
Once kale plants reach about 200 to 250 mm high, they are mature enough for harvest. It's best practice to remove the lower exterior leaves first. If leaves become brown or damaged, remove and discard them to encourage new growth.As a rule of thumb, it takes about 80 days for kale seeds and 65 days for kale plants to reach maturity.