Kale likes its roots cool, so summer plantings must take care in keeping them under mulch (an inch thick at least…2 or 3 inches is better). But in the cooler weather, roots perform without stress so it grows more happily. In fact, kale tastes better grown in the cool air of autumn…due to the relaxation of less heat and typically easier access to water. Ten varieties are easily found in most gardening stores or online. If you can’t find them, I can get them sent to you. They are Storm, Scarlet, Black Magic, Ursa, Red Winter, Red Russian, Lacinato, Curled, Tronchuda and Premier. It kinda sounds like the characters from a new Marvel movie.
Some kales can tolerate shade while others can not. Make sure you know which kind you have when you are planting them. In general, kale grows stockier and faster in full sun (full sun = 6hrs or more of direct sun). Space the seeds (or small plants) about 12 inches apart for varieties such as Red Russian or Curled and 24 inches apart for varieties like Lacinato, Ursa or Scarlet. You’ll want make sure the plants receive 1 to 1 ½ inches of water a week.
Kale is sweet and bitter (kinda like parenthood :). Small, tender leaves are sweeter than the larger, more mature leaves. I personally think we should all be getting our bitter on. I remember bitter foods always being a part of meals when I was growing up. Nowadays, it seems like everything is sweet. Many people chase the sweeter side of kale too, but you shouldn’t. Bitter foods have health benefits like helping you absorb nutrients, cleanse your body and stimulates metabolism among other things. So embrace those bigger, bitter-er leaves and live a little more healthy doing it.
First, you can also pickle the leaves and stems for later in the fall and winter. I love pickling okra, green beans and other garden delights, so kale is no exception. You can make a mean kimchi with it too (see image below). For more instant gratification, kale can be eaten raw as a salad. I toss it with parmigiano-reggiano cheese, olive oil and balsamic vingar for lunch, or as a side for a fast, tasty dinner at home all the time. Steam it with a little salt and rice vinegar, saute it with a little oil, blanch it, or roast it with fresh herbs and oil. You can even make a kale pesto with it. The sky and your kitchen ambition is the only limits.
Kale, as I mentioned, is a super food. For a full rundown of all the benefits, this article is a great place to start. To paraphrase: kale has Vitamin A, K, C, B6, B1, B2 and B3 plus calcium, manganese, potassium, magnesium, omega-3 while having very little fat. It’s packed with antioxidants, can help lower cholesterol, fight cancer, provides beta-carotene, can protect your eyes, can help you lose weight and is a good source of minerals. All of that healthy stuff, plus you can grow it into the winter. What’s not to love?
Now is the time to start planning your cool season garden. Make sure kale plays a big role in it. If you want help setting up your garden, I can get you going.