I eat at a lot of kale at this time of year. My young kale seedlings are just getting started and will soon produce bountiful harvests. I enjoy homegrown kale in salads, soups, sautéed, and even on pizzas. I especially love to mix it with fruits like apples, blueberries or pineapple, to make fresh green smoothies in my blender.
Kale is renowned as a nutritional powerhouse. Its health benefits are primarily linked to the high concentration of antioxidant vitamins A, C, K, and sulphur-containing phytonutrients. One cup of chopped kale contains only 33 calories, yet it yields abundant calcium, vitamins A, C, and lots of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.
Eating more kale is an easy way to improve the quality of your diet, and growing your own is easier than you think, even if you have little or no experience with vegetable gardening. Fall is the best season for beginners here in Tallahassee and kale is an excellent introductory crop to grow.
For beginners, start out with fresh, healthy plants from your local nursery. You will want at least three plants to have adequate harvests. There are a variety of kales to choose from; my favorites are Lacinato, Dwarf Blue Curly and Red Russian.
Choose a site for a bed or container that gets the most sun in your yard. Even if you have only 3-4 hours of sun, choose the sunniest spot and you will still enjoy harvests. Kale is tolerant of partial shade, but will grow a little slower.
To prepare your bed:
1) Remove all existing vegetation first, roots and all. This is important as you don’t want pesky sod or weeds competing with your kale for water and nutrients. Your bed can be as long as you need, but remember to not make it wider than four feet so you can still reach across to weed and harvest.
2) Dig your bed at least a foot deep to loosen up existing soil and break up any tree roots within the bed. You can use a quality round point shovel, heavy duty garden fork, or a mattock. Add a fresh layer of mushroom compost, at least six inches, to your soil.
3) Dust a layer of organic, granular, slow-release fertilizer like Espoma’s Plant-tone across the compost. If you have quality compost, you can tuck your kale plants right into it, allowing a good 8-10” between plants. Plant the stem just an inch deeper than it is in the pot. Water them in thoroughly with a gentle spray nozzle, and regularly check their watering every few days.
I would also encourage anyone, even beginners, to try growing from seed. Some crops can be difficult, but kale is very easy from seed. Just prepare your soil, sprinkle the seeds over and cover the seed bed with only a light dusting of soil, then water well. The bed should be watered regularly and the seedlings will appear within two weeks. Once they are 3-4” tall, I dig, separate and space them out where want them.
Newly planted kale will take a week or so to establish roots, and then will begin growing. When the plants reach 6” you can begin harvesting leaves. Always harvest the lower leaves first, leaving a few newer top leaves so the plants can continue growing. Watch them grow and keep an eye out for caterpillars, the most common pest on kale. If you begin to see holes in the leaves, look under those leaves and you will likely see a caterpillar. Don’t fret.
You can just squish them or safely treat them with Dipel dust; a biological insecticide that only kills caterpillars, breaks down quickly and is safe for your organic garden.
Enjoy your harvests of fresh, organic kale well into early spring. Below I’ve included one of my favorite, mouthwatering kale salad recipes for inspiration.
4-6 cups Lacinato kale, sliced leaves, midribs removed.
Juice of 1 lemon,
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mashed.
Salt & pepper, to taste.
Hot red pepper flakes, to taste
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Toscano cheese, or other flavorful grating cheese such as Asiago or Parmesan
1/2 cup freshly made bread crumbs from lightly toasted bread
Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and a generous pinch (or more to taste) of hot red pepper flakes.
- Pour over kale in serving bowl and toss well.
- Add 2/3 of the cheese and toss again.
- Let kale sit for at least 5 minutes. Add bread crumbs, toss again, and top with remaining cheese.