How to Grow More Kale, So You Can Eat More Kale

How to grow kale, so you can eat more kale all season log
Kale is a cold-tolerant crop, but it can be grown successfully all season long.  

Which is good, because I love kale.  For a long time, whenever someone asked the question “If you were a vegetable, what would you be and why?” I always answered, “Kale.  Red Russian Kale, to be specific.”

{This question comes up surprisingly often when working on farms.  It was even on the job application for Calypso Farm and Ecology Center.}

I’d be kale because it’s a giver—when tended to well, it will produce all season long.  Because it can grow in a wide range of places, from Vermont to Alaska to California, across the US, Canada and Europe.  And Red Russian because I have red hair.

While I don’t travel as far or as often as I used to, kale teaches me to be grounded, to root in and grow where I am.  

How to Grow Kale

Kale is best planted out as transplants in the garden.  Start seeds in 1” soil blocks or 72-cell trays 4 weeks before your transplant date.  

While kale can produce all season long, it’s also a great crop to succession plant.  At Good Heart Farmstead, we ask a lot from the plants by harvesting often and heavily, and we’ve found that 2 – 3 successions ensure bountiful harvests from spring through early winter.  

Plant out the kale seedlings into 12” or 18” spacing.  

At the farm, we use both spacings depending on our harvest needs—the tighter spacing is used for early season kale that we harvest at mid-size, and the wider spacing is used for main and late-season full-sized leaves.  

The different spacings provide a staggered harvest schedule with leaves of varying sizes, from tender mid-size leaves to full size bunches over a longer harvest window.

Cover transplants with row-cover to keep pests away.

Flea beetles are our biggest pest when it comes to kale.  While they don’t bother with more mature, waxier leaves, they love eating little transplants (hey, everyone wants to eat more kale, right?).  The best control is simply covering transplants with row-cover for the first 2-3 weeks in the field.

Growing Baby Kale

Baby kale is an excellent addition to salad mixes. Let it grow just past baby size and it becomes a great addition to a braising mix.

In a 30” bed, direct seed baby kale in 12 rows at 1 ½” seed spacing.  We use a 6-row seeder to sow 100’ at a time, but if you’re sowing in a smaller area, you can simply broadcast the seeds by hand.

Cover with row-cover to hold in moisture and keep out potential pests. Like baby greens and lettuce mix, baby kale can produce multiple harvests.  Cut it just above the growth point, about an inch above the soil, to ensure re-growth.

My Favorite Kale Varieties for salads, sautés, soups, and kale chips:

How to grow kale: Red Russian and White Russian Kale
Red Russian and White Russian Kale

White Russian — one of the fastest maturing kales, White Russian sizes up quickly, is incredibly tender and cold tolerant.  Perfect for raw kale salad.

Red Russian — our absolute favorite when it comes to baby leaf kale salads, Red Russian is also delicious and tender at all stages of growth, making it another favorite for raw kale salad.  

How to grow kale: baby lacinato kale
Baby Lacinato Kale

Lacinato (aka Dinosaur) — the best for soups and stews, Lacinato is also another favorite for baby leaf kale, with its deep green color and distinctive texture a delicious addition to mesclun mix.  It’s thick leaves hold up well in soups, stews, and sautés.

 

 

How to grow kale, so you can harvest for CSA or yourself all season long
Westlader Kale in a CSA harvest

Westlander — Green curly kale, my favorite for kale chips!  With thicker leaves than the Russians, Westlander holds longer after harvest on hot summer days.  

 

 

Olympic Red — A red version of curly kale, with thicker leaves than Red Russian, but not quite as curly as Westlander.  This variety grows especially well late into the season, and is versatile in the kitchen. Use it for kale chips, in casseroles, stir-frys and soups.

So grow forth and eat more kale! 

And if you haven’t already heard of “Eat More Kale” definitely check it out—quirky t-shirts made by hand just down the road from us in Montpelier, VT.


What vegetable would you be, and why?  Let me know in the comments below! 

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