Kale ticks just about every box – good looks, good flavour, high vitamin & mineral contents & easy to grow – which makes them a top contender in any garden! We have two kale collections so there is every reason to sample their delights!
You can start the seeds inside about 6 weeks before your last frost is expected: seeds like to be about 10mm deep. Harden off and plant outside and then you can begin to harvest individual leaves as soon as they are large enough to pop in a salad. Take care not to damage the stems and use scissors or a sharp knife to cut them off close to the stem.
Sowing outdoors from late spring on into the summer. Hungry Gap prefers to be sown in July and August to be at its best from March (a perfect crop for Spring), Kapral can be sown until July for a Christmas crop but Scarlet, which is one of the best for salad leaves, can be sown at anytime of the year for this purpose.
Kales are hard to top for a crop available in your winter veg garden as they will withstand the most severe weather – just the names Siberian, Westland Winter & Winterbor attest to this – indeed these varieties taste seems (to me) to be better after there has been some frost.
If you are snipping off leaves your kale will continue to grow upwards as the seasons progress so you can still be picking in to the winter: Your plant will then have a good length of stem with all the leaves at the top – almost bottle brush like. There are dwarf choices which are very productive, or you can underplant your taller kales with other crops.
Many kales have curled leaves – Green Curled Dwarf is one of the hardiest with deeply crinkled leaves – grow for mature leaves and the young spring shoots. The plants are no more than 30cm, they can also be closely spaced as mini kale or used for cut-&-come-again (cutting when 5-7cm tall and allowing to resprout). Red Russian has frilly edged leaves that develop purple and red tints as the temperature falls – very attractive mild flavoured and smooth textured. These plants can grow to around 70cm, they are a productive cut-&-come-again crop useful in a limited space.
Black Tuscany is very distinctively different producing long, narrow leaves. You can grow this variety as a short lived perennial for 2 or 3 seasons by when it is both tall and quite straggly: to be honest growing each year so you can pick young leaves in salads of cook the more mature ones (which are also good in soups). Don’t overlook this variety as many profess it is the best tasting of all the kales.
Pentland Brig & Hungry Gap (mentioned above) can grow over 90cm tall with flat rather than curled leaves. These are generally faster growing then their curly relatives and produce abundant shoots in the spring.
Your growing plants need minimum tlc: water until the first frosts and tall plants may need a strong cane to support them against autumn and winter gales. Treading around the stems will also prevent wind rock. A feed in early spring will encourage your plants to produce a burst of tasty & tender side-shoots. Fresh picked kale will keep for several weeks in the fridge and you can also freeze it (cook from frozen in 6-8mins). Once you see flower buds form stop cropping and pop your plants in the compost. Simply choose which varieties you want to grow and away you go!.