Growing Kale Plant:
How to Grow Kale Organically

Growing kale, a relative of the cabbage, is an easy task in any climate including those with harsh winters and frequently cloudy skies…

Growing Kale: Plant Snapshot (Crambe maritima)

Growing Kale
  • Family: Brassicaceae (Mustard family)
  • Annual or Perennial? Annual – ready to harvest approximately 50-55 days after planting.
  • Recommended varieties: True Siberian, Red Ursa, Dwarf Siberian, Redbor, Red Russian, Winterbor
  • Cold tolerance: Hardy – Will survive hard frosts and can be planted 2 to 3 weeks before the average date of the last 32 degree F (0 degree C) temperature in spring.
  • Required Sun: Full sun to partial shade (prefers full sun)
  • When planning vegetable crop rotation, group with crops from this family: Brassica: broccoli, rocket
  • Companion plants (see Companion Planting Charts for more info):
    • Companions: Basil, bush beans, beets, carrot, celery, chamomile, chard, cucumber, dill, garlic, hyssop, lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion family, oregano, rosemary, sage, spinach, thyme, tomato, wormwood
    • Avoid: Bush and pole beans, grapes, rue, strawberry
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Growing Kale: Planting the Seed

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This extremely hardy plant actually tastes better after a frost or two, so planting in the summer two to three months before the first frost will yield you the most flavorful results come late fall/early winter. If you live in a cooler climate with mild summers you can also plant kale in early spring.

Plant seeds about ½ inch (12.5 mm) deep and about 18 inches (46 cm) apart in nutrient-rich, well-composted and well-drained soil. While kale will grow relatively well in partial shade, give it full sun if possible.

Snapshot: Planting Kale Plant

  • Planting depth: about ½ inch (12.5 mm)
  • Spacing in rows: about 18 inches (45 cm)
  • Germination soil temperature: 45 to 85 degrees F (7.2 to 29.4 degrees C)
  • Days to germination: 7 to 12 days
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Growing Kale: From Germination to Pre-Harvest

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Keeping your kale plants well-watered will encourage strong growth and prevent their leaves from getting overly tough, but stop watering after the first frost (for fall/winter crops) to prevent frost damage.

For even more rigorous growth, add a thin layer of aged compost every six weeks. Organic garden fertilizer for vegetables, while probably not necessary, will also provide a boost if applied every couple of weeks.

Snapshot: Growing Kale Plant

  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 6.0 to 7.5
  • Growing soil temperature: 40 to 70 degrees F (4.4 to 29.4 degrees C)
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Growing Kale: Harvesting Time

Depending upon the type of kale plants you have, harvest time is here when the leaves are either blue-green or bright green. For a tastier harvest, wait until the first frost before harvesting. And remember… there’s no rush! Kale can be harvested throughout the winter as long as it’s protected by a healthy layer of straw mulch.

To harvest individual leaves, start with the outer leaves first and cut off the stems with garden shears or scissors. To harvest the entire plant, cut it off a couple of inches (5 cm) above the soil.

Snapshot: Harvesting Kale Plant

  • Time to harvest: About 30 weeks
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Storing Kale Plant and Freezing Kale Plant

Kale leaves do not store well, but you can keep your harvested plants in plastic bags for up to 2 weeks. As mentioned above, just leave it in the ground if you want it to last throughout the winter. It should be good in the ground for at least two months after the first frost (longer in warmer climates).

For longer out-of-ground storage, wash the leaves, remove their stems, water blanch for two minutes (less for younger leaves), then cool, drain, seal and freeze.

Kale seeds will last about 4 years.

Snapshot: Storing Kale Plant & Freezing Kale Plant

  • Storage temperature: 32 to 40 degrees F (0 to 4.44 degrees C)
  • Humidity: 90 to 95% relative humidity
  • Storage life (unfrozen in above conditions): about 2 weeks
  • Storage life (frozen): About 10 months
  • Seed longevity: About 4 years
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Growing Kale: Pests & Diseases

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Kale Plant. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.

Pests

  • Aphids
  • Cabbage worms
  • Diamondback worms
  • Root maggots
  • White butterflies
  • Yellow butterflies

Diseases

  • Downy mildew
  • Head rot
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