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Kale

When to Plant

  • For an early summer harvest, direct-sow seeds outdoors as soon as the soil is workable in the spring. For a fall or winter harvest, direct-sow seeds about three months before your first fall frost date. 

  • In early spring, young kale plants can be set out in the garden 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost date. If temperatures are likely to dip well below freezing, it's best to cover young plants at night. 

  • For a fall harvest, young kale plants can be set out 6 to 8 weeks before the first fall frost. In zones 8, 9, and 10, kale can be planted later in the fall and even into winter. 

Choosing a Planting Site

  • Kale does best in full sun, but does tolerate partial shade.

  • The soil pH should ideally be 6.5 to 6.8 to discourage disease, but kale is tolerant of more alkaline soils up to a pH of 7.5. (Test your pH with a kit from your local cooperative extension office or garden store)

  • Based on the soil test, amend your soil with nitrogen-rich compost or blood meal. (If you didn't test your soil, mix in a few inches of compost).

  • Soil needs to drain well and also be enriched for tender leaves. When planting, add fertilizer (1-1/2 cups of 5-10-10 fertilizer per 25 feet of row into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil).

How to Plant

  • If you're planting seeds, sow 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep into well-drained, light soil.

  • After about 2 weeks, thin the seedlings so that they are spaced 8 to 12 inches apart. Kale likes to have plenty of space to stretch out.

  • If you're setting out young plants (transplants), plant them at the depth at which they are growing in the container. Space 18 to 24 inches apart.

  • After planting, water plants well.

How to Grow

  • It's important to keep kale well watered and fed. If rain is inconsistent, provide 1 to 1.5 inches of water each week (about 1 gallon per square foot). 

  • Regularly feed kale with a continuous-release plant food.

  • Mulch the soil to keep down the weeds and keep kale cool as kale won't grow in hot weather. 

    • Mulch the soil again heavily after the first hard freeze in the fall; the plants may continue to produce leaves throughout the winter.

Pests/Diseases

  • Cabbageworms are a common pest. Chewed holes are the sign of the green cabbage worm.

  • Flea beetles

  • Cabbage Aphids are easily solved with a spray of insecticidal soap but keep your eye out for these tiny bugs which will be clustered between the leaves.

How to Harvest

  • Kale is ready to harvest when the leaves are about the size of your hand.

  • Pick about one fistful of leaves per harvest. Start harvesting the oldest leaves first from the lowest section of the plant. (Discard any yellowed or torn leaves.)

  • Avoid picking the terminal bud (found at the top center of the plant) because this will help to keep the plant productive.

  • Kale will continue growing until it's 20°F. It tastes even sweeter with a touch of frost. (See local frost dates.)

  • If you wish to extend your harvest, shield your kale from the cold with row covers. Or, create a makeshift cover with tarps and old blankets propped up by hay bales. Here are a few more season-extending ideas.

  • The small, tender leaves can be eaten uncooked and used in salads.

  • Cut and cook the larger leaves like spinach, but be sure to remove the tough ribs before cooking.