Spring is officially here and many of you are starting to prepare your yard for growing a vegetable or fruit garden. If you like eating a lot of organic vegetables and fruits every day, you know how expensive it can get to buy them at the grocery store. My good friend Keisha Easley is a avid gardener and beekeeper who blogs at EasilyGrownGarden.com, a beautiful site that offers simple gardening tips to aspiring gardeners. Keisha knows how much I adore kale so she is sharing some of her best gardening tips with a step-by-step guide so you can learn how to grow organic kale and cut your grocery bill!
Here’s Keisha’s post:
Learn how to grow organic kale and cut your grocery bill!
If you read Shelley’s post on Why Kale is a Superstar Leafy Green Vegetable, then you already know the benefits of this amazing superfood. It’s in the same family as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, collard greens and cabbage, so if you love those vegetables, you’ll really love kale.
Now, imagine having an unlimited supply of kale… Imagine not having to shell out $1.99 or higher for a bundle of organic kale. You could steam it, make kale chips, kale soups, or have nutritious raw kale salads any day of the week. You could go green smoothie crazy!
If you grew this awesome leafy green yourself, not only could you go kale crazy, you could have the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly where your kale is coming from and not worry about pesticides, herbicides or GMOs.
Of all the vegetables in the brassica family, kale is one of the easiest to grow! It’s a cool weather crop that can be planted in fall and early spring. You can even grow it indoors near a sunny window or with a grow light or in a container if space is limited.
There are lots of different varieties, my favorites happen to be Curly Kale and Red Russian, so I try to grow as much these varieties as I can every spring and fall. I recommend picking two or three of your favorites and try growing them.
Here’s what you’ll need to start a simple kale garden:
Purchase a few packs of organic seeds of your favorite kale variety. Make sure the package says “Organic” or “Heirloom” at the top to ensure you’re getting a variety that’s GMO free. This will also ensure that if you allow your plants to go to seed, you can harvest those seeds and use them next season to grow the same variety.
You’ll know the plant is going to seed when yellow flowers bloom. When the flowers die off a seed pouch will grow. When it dries out, you can harvest the seeds. I highly recommend you allow at least one plant go to seed. It will save you money next season.
Seed Starting Tray and Medium
You can find seed starting trays at your local garden center. I like to use Jiffy seed starting tray with starter pellets and also the tray with the hexagon cells. They both work well, but the pellets are a quick time saver. Just remove the lid and fill the tray with warm water (as the instructions indicate). Once the pellets swell with water, you can plant directly into them. If you choose to do the hexagon or other cell, you’ll need to buy a seed starting mix to fill the cells.
Large pots or garden space
You’ll need a permanent place for your kale to grow during the season, so select several large pots or prepare a 4’x4’ or larger space in your garden. If you’d prefer to use a container, make sure the pot has drainage holes so that the water doesn’t drown out the plants’ root systems. For more tips for growing kale in a container, check out my fun “baby pool” salad garden post: Grow Salad Fresh from your own Container Garden.
Even if you plan to sow directly in ground, you’ll want to add compost to your soil to add nutrients. The more nutrients you give your plants, the more they will give you. If you choose to start your seeds indoors, you can wait to add compost until transplanting time. Mushroom compost works well, but any compost will do.
Here’s what to do:
Take some time to read the planting instructions that come with the seed packet. You’ll find planting depth, spacing and harvest times there. Most seed packets that recommend fall planting are also appropriate for early spring plantings.
If you choose to sow directly in ground, in a large container or raised bed:
- Prepare your soil by hoeing or tilling it (hand or gas tiller), if needed.
- Add some mushroom or other compost to the soil.
- Rake the soil gently to create a flat bed.
- Sprinkle seeds generously. Don’t worry about spacing, if the plants begin to grow together too closely, you can simply harvest and use a few plants to make space.
- Gently pat the seeds into the soil, but don’t bury them too deeply.
- Water gently and frequently to keep the soil moist.
- You should begin to see sprouts within a week. Harvest time will depend on variety and your preference.
If you choose to start indoors:
- Follow the instructions that come with your seed starting mix or kit.
Tip: When using a soil mix, dump the mix into a bucket and then add warm water to moisten the soil before planting.
- Plant kale seeds no more than 1/8 of an inch deep, unless your seed packet says otherwise.
- Water gently; if needed, but if you followed the above tip, you should NOT need to do this.
- Add the clear cover that comes with your seed starter kit to keep the soil moist.
- You should begin to see sprouts within a week or less.
- Remove the clear cover when the plants are tall enough to touch it.
Transplant into a large container or into outdoor garden space.
If planting indoors, keep near a sunny window or under grow lights.
Fertilize/feed every few weeks by adding compost to the sides of plants’ stems as they grow taller. This process is called “side dressing” and will provide the nutrients your kale needs to grow. Remove any weeds that grow near your kale. When the plants are big enough, they’ll create enough shade to discourage weeds, but in the meantime, you could add mulch to keep the weeds under control. Also be sure to keep your soil well watered.
Pests that attack kale and how to treat them.
Kale is susceptible to several pests including both aphids and cabbage worms. Aphids can be controlled by spraying with water from your hose to remove them or planting crops close by to attract insect predators that prey on aphids. You can also purchase ladybugs at your local garden store that feed on aphids.
Cabbage worm are small green worms from the cabbage white butterfly that will eat holes into your kale leaves. These worms move slowly and can be removed by picking them off of the leaves by hand or using organic bacteria if you have a big infestation. You can also try covering your kale with a floating row cover to keep all the pests out. To learn about all of the pests that attack kale and how to treat them organically check out this informative post and this other helpful post.
Harvest time will depend on the plant variety and your preference. You can begin harvesting the tender, sweet baby leaves or you can wait until the plant grows larger. When harvesting, do not pull up the entire plant, instead, just take a few leaves from each plant. This will encourage growth and will give you even more kale. You can come back a few days later and harvest more.
Remember that kale is a cool weather crop, so as temperatures rise in late spring and early summer, the plants will begin to go to seed. Hot temperatures will make kale taste a little bitter and the leaves may lose their tenderness, so at that point, you may want to hold off until late summer before starting more seeds or you could opt to growing indoors.
Shelley’s recipes that use kale
Now that you have learned how to grow your own organic kale and cut your grocery bill at the store, here are some of Shelley’s healing foods recipes for you to enjoy your wonderful bounty of kale in:
Baby Kale Raspberry Salad with Nectarine Balsamic Dressing
Fermented Lemon Kale and Savoy Cabbage
Kale Coconut Curry
Kale Avocado Soup
Kale & Five Vegetable Fried Rice
Have you ever tried growing your own organic kale or other vegetables or fruits? Please contribute to the conversion by leaving a comment.
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About the Author:
Kiesha Easley blogs at EasilyGrownGarden.com, a site that offers simple gardening tips to aspiring gardeners. Kiesha loves to garden and especially loves to grow edibles from seed. She is also a beekeeper. When she’s not gardening, she’s a college instructor who teaches students how to write for mass media.