How to Successfully Grow Kale
Over the past several decades this dark leafy green has become the ultimate symbol of the health food movement. It came on the scene with hippies and vegans in the early 90’s, but then made headway with Millenials and the culinary world a decade later. Today, kale has taken a step back as other superfoods (known and unknown) are coming into play with new updates on their health benefits. More and more innovative ways are being concocted everyday to incorporate this food into even the most pickiest eater’s diet, including baby food.
But all that hype isn’t just smoke. There are pretty good reasons why this vegetable made it into the limelight. They’re fast growers and can withstand the hardest of frost, making it available through the winter months. And it’s packed with vitamins and minerals. It has a nutty flavor that can blend well with other vegetables, but could also be sweet, especially if hit by a hard frost. So when you’re planning your plot, include this super green which is a definite yes for any garden.
Growing the King of Greens
Kale is part of the brassica family, but is usually grouped with collard and mustard greens and swiss chard. It is a cool weather vegetable. So when the heat kicks in those summer months, especially in those extra toasty zones, try to have some shade available during those peak hours of the day. Pests also love kale, so planting calendula and nasturtiums nearby can help keep those brassica-loving insects distracted.
You can plant this vegetable 3 to 5 weeks before your area's last frost date. You can start it in a pot or sow it in the ground, it does well in either. Kale likes soil loaded with organic matter. You could blend in some fertilizer in the top 3 inches of soil to help bolster its growth. Like most plants, make sure to have good drainage. Sow those seeds ½ inches deep and 1.5 to 2 feet apart, these babies like to extend out. If you got a little kale seedling you want to transplant, just make sure it’s the same depth it was in its nursery.
Those dark leafy greens also need 6 or more hours of sunlight a day. If planted near tall plants, this could stunt their growth. That being said, if it’s super hot, try to plant your kale where there’s at least some partial shade available. Kale can wilt and become bitter in the Dog Days of summer. So some protection will help keep their flavor in and their form firm. Make sure to hydrate these nutty leaves, keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged.
When it comes time to harvest, the kale leaves will be about palm size. Remove any outer leaves that look unsavory and try to keep the terminal in the center intact. When your kale is in the growing process, you could thin them out a bit by plucking those tender baby greens to add to salads and smoothies, while keeping the stronger ones to grow big and strong.
Kale being a cool vegetable can also have a winter run. Plant your seeds 3 months before the last autumn frost date. If your kale is young, make sure to cover those seedlings during cold nights until your kale can establish itself enough to survive those nippy nights.
Now that you know how to grow, here are a couple variety favorites:
Lacinato - also known as Dinosaur Kale. An heirloom from Tuscany, they have pleated leaves that are hardy enough to withstand some snow in the winter.
Red Russian - This variety has flat leaves, but can produce faster than other varieties. It is also known as the sweeter kale.
Keeping you Healthy
This dark leafy food packs a wallop in the nutrient department. It’s loaded with vitamins and minerals. It’s high in antioxidants, especially beta-carotene which can turn into vitamin A. It can also boast that it has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-cancer effects on the body. Research done with cruciferous vegetables has shown that it may lower risks of certain types of cancer. It also contains lutein, which is well known to protect the eyes.
Kale is also low in fat and calories, but the fat it does contain is an Omega-3 fatty acid called linolenic-acid. This along with fiber gives the impression of feeling fuller faster, which is great when you’re trying to shed a few pounds.
We all know the recent status kale has accumulated over the past several decades as the hip, health food staple found at your local farmers market. But many cultures used it for food and medicine throughout Europe and Asia. In ancient Greece they would boil kale and use it as an antidote for a hangover. Something to keep in mind when you’ve had that extra glass of wine.
In the 1980’s a farmer from Oregon grew kale on his farm and along the road next to weeds so that bees could cross-pollinate with the vegetable, creating new varieties of Russian Red that are now frequently grown throughout the US.
Keep It Up
Kale may have had a cult following, but like all trends, they fade in and out of history. There are articles claiming kale’s on its way out, or it’s a ‘boring’ vegetable. But this leafy green should stay on your radar as something to have in your garden and on your plate. There are too many benefits to lose interest in this super green starlet. Not to mention the fun ways to eat it. So bake off those kale chips or add those greens to your smoothies. Your body will thank you for years to come.
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