Sanctuary Spotlight: How to Grow Kale

One of my favorite “greens” is kale. It is a nutritional, easy-to-grow vegetable that can be eaten in a variety of ways. It’s also a pretty plant – the edible as well as the ornamental cultivars. Why not consider growing kale in your garden this year?

GENERAL INFORMATION:

Kale’s scientific name is Brassica oleracea and is part of the Acephala Group. As you can see from the name, it is a member of the same family as broccoli, turnips, and cabbage. Kale is also known as borecole, which probably originates from the Dutch word boerenkool, meaning “farmer’s cabbage.” The most popular type of kale is Scottish Curled kale, but there are flat-leaved varieties.

This vegetable packs a nutritional wallop that can’t be beat! Of the daily recommended amounts, a cup of cooked kale contains 1327% Vitamin K, 354% Vitamin A, 89% Vitamin C, and 27% manganese. It’s also high in calcium and is a source of lutein and zeaxanthin (both great for eye health). As if that isn’t good enough reason to grow and eat kale, this green vegetable contains indole-3-carbinol, which boosts DNA repair in cells and blocks growth of cancer cells, as well as sulforaphane, which has potent anti-cancer properties. (Note: boiling kale decreases sulforaphane levels, but steaming, stir frying, or microwaving kale does not.)

PLANTING KALE:

Kale is a biennial plant (sprouting seed in the second year), but it is typically planted as an annual. Normally considered a cold weather crop, kale can be planted any time the soil temperature is above 40 degrees and will do well until the temperatures are well into the 80s. It’s true that kale tastes best after a frost and tends to get bitter as the temperatures rise, but it can still be eaten (especially cooked).

Plant kale seeds 1/2 inch deep and 8-12 inches apart in well-drained, loamy soil with a pH of 5.5-6.8. If you’re planting in cooler weather (early fall to early spring), plant in full sun. If you wish to plant in warmer weather (late spring to early summer, depending on your zone), plant in partial shade. Kale also grows well with the companion plants of celery, beets, herbs, and onions. (Just be sure you follow planting timelines for the other crops.)

My kale harvest in March

My kale harvest in March

HARVESTING KALE:

Kale matures in 50-65 days from seed and can be harvested in two ways. You can wait until the plant becomes fully mature and harvest the entire plant, or you can harvest leaf by leaf as the plant grows and get a continual harvest all season. I harvest leaf by leaf by clipping the outer leaves at the stem when they are about 5 or 6 inches long. To harvest this way, plan about four plants per family member. If you love kale like I do and plant more than that, don’t worry about having all that kale; it freezes well. Just blanch for a few minutes and put into ice water before freezing.

FROM GARDEN TO KITCHEN:

Kale can be eaten raw (especially in cold weather when the leaves are not bitter), sauteed in olive oil and garlic, steamed, boiled with onions and bacon (I use turkey bacon), stir-fried, or added to soups. Last week, I made kale chips!

Here are some other unique recipes you might enjoy:

Spinach & Kale Turnovers

Kale & White Bean Soup

Chicken & Kale Casserole

For a great nutritional addition to your meal, let your imagination soar with ways to prepare kale. You’ll enjoy it so much, it will become one of your garden regulars.

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