Leafy Kale belongs to healthy green leafy vegetables that are sown only once, as it is grown mainly for winter and early spring crops. Leafy kale tolerates the cold perfectly. We often grow large plants for more than half a year; we can harvest the larger lower leaves, which are already developed at the end of summer and become tastier after the cold autumn and winter. By gradually harvesting the leaves, we ensure the following year’s harvest until the end of March. The leaves are of different shapes and colors. Green curly or purple long-leaf kale is most often grown.
Kale is grown once a year and takes up more than half of the year’s space in the garden. We grow it from seedlings; sowing is done any time in May. Seedlings are grown the same way as with autumn cauliflower, cabbage, and collard greens, outdoors next to the garden shed or in a greenhouse.
When and How to Sow Healthy Green Leafy Vegetables Like Leafy Kale
First, we must seed several seeds in a larger container, where the kale seeds germinate. Sow in the humid substrate and sprinkle the seeds with a dry substrate 0.5 cm thick. Since kale seeds successfully germinate in the dark, the container could be covered, which enables better germination due to sustained humidity. We uncover as soon as we notice the first sprout, which can be as early as two days, and we straight away move it to a bright place.
When the “heart-shaped” cotyledons are well developed (within 7 to 10 days after sowing), we could transplant them into individual medium pots with a high-quality substrate mixture. We don’t wait for the real leaves to grow because the roots also grow simultaneously, and we could harm them during picking. We carry out natural selection by selecting because we pick the best plants. If the kale plants have “stretched” up to now, we can put them in the ground deeper when transplanting, right up to the cotyledons. We should not come in contact with the roots of the plants but help ourselves with a wooden or plastic stick. If we have more plants left after picking, we eat them as microgreens, as they are safe to eat at this growth stage.
After transplanting, we must pay attention to constant watering in May and June, as the sun soon dries out the substrate. During this time, the white cabbage butterfly (Pieris brassicae) is active and is able to lay yellowish eggs on the underside of the kale leaves, from which caterpillars evolve, which can destroy the little kale in just one day. Therefore, it is best to cover the kale seedlings with an insect net or a net with such holes to stop access by butterflies.
When to Transplant and Planting Distance
The kale seedlings are then transplanted to the bed in June or at the beginning of July when they have set up between 3 and 5 accurate leaves or about 30, maybe even 40 days from sowing the seed. The seedlings are planted at an extent of 50 cm in a zigzag pattern. Plant deep into the ground, up to the first leaves, or in a heap. Water the planting hole and the entire bed enough, as the bed must be soaked deep into the ground. We always act according to the weather. The seedlings will take root well enough if we transplant them just before the rains. Like other brassicas, it is good to directly protect them with an insect net after transplanting.
We grow early spring vegetables before the leafy kale on the bed; we don’t just plant it behind the spring cabbages. Leafy kale is combined with Brussels sprouts, as they have similar care and growing season.
Caring for Leafy Kale
The transplanted kales are watered daily for the first week, especially in dry and sunny weather. Then slowly allow the plant to take deep root. We water at most once a week. The ground is additionally shaded with leaves or grass clippings. If we do not plant the seedling deep enough and it later starts to sag, we cover the stem with soil or mulch and make it more stable. We always take care of uniform soil moisture with regular watering once a week and summer mulching.
In the summer, we start harvesting crops, which is also regular plant care. The lower leaves are harvested and used for food; otherwise, they turn yellow and fall off. With this, we get a nice and clean stem, and new and new leaves are formed at the top.
We must protect leafy kale with an insect net from May to the end of October. In a way, the nets still impair the appearance of our garden. If we don’t have or don’t want such a net, use a piece of cardboard (cabbage fly) for each individual kale and stick some colorful butterflies (cabbage white) next to it.
Kale does not need support. In the case of a protective net against roe deer and rabbits, additional support is necessary due to the possible weight of snow accumulating on the net.
Challenges and Inconveniences in Growing Kale
During growth, we have the same challenges as with the other cabbages already described. The insect net appears again as the best preventive solution against flying pests. With November comes the beauty of winter gardening, when low temperatures stop all animals and also possible diseases. In winter, we hardly have problems with pests. Only hungry deer or rabbits can eat the leaves. Therefore, if we don’t have a fence, we stretch a net against the hail or a net against birds over the plants. The vole very rarely gnaws the root of the cabbage during the winter.
Autumn cold improves the taste of kale. We collect it gradually, along the stem from the bottom up. This means that we collect the older, lower leaves. Smaller leaves that grow from higher parts and the growth tip are left. In this way, we ensure a steady harvest until March of the following year. The leaves are collected with the help of a knife so as not to injure the stem by tearing them. If we collect the central growth tip, we will stop the plant from growing in height. It will sprout several sides, with smaller stems with smaller leaves.
In April, the leafy kale will grow rapidly and begin to develop flower spikes. At the latest, during this time, the plant is removed, and space is prepared for the next plants.
A Trick to Get More Healthy Green Leafy Vegetables
If we remove the leafy kale’s upper growth tip in March, it will not “escape into flower” and thus encourage the growth of side shoots and, therefore, a fuller, bushy plant shape.
We harvest fresh, as it thrives in the garden in all seasons. Fresh produce is available for more than half of the year, especially in winter. Any storage is, therefore, of little importance.