Kale has all the good nutritional qualities of its close relative, broccoli, but each plant produces a lot more food. This is because we eat the kale plant’s leaves, not its flowers (as we do with broccoli). Kale plants are large, vigorous and not the least bit fussy. Though kale isn’t everyone’s favorite vegetable, once you grow it yourself, chances are good that it will rocket toward the top of your list.
Kale grows well in cool soil and doesn’t mind cold weather. In fact, many people feel the flavor gets even better in early winter after the leaves have gone through several hard frosts. Kale is a moderate feeder and needs no more than compost and a little organic fertilizer.
Kale can be started by seed in the garden 6 weeks before the last frost. The seeds will germinate even in soil that is only 45 degrees F. You can also start a few seeds indoors to get a jump on the season. It takes about 3 months to get full-sized plants.
Kale prefers soil that is moist and cool. You can provide these ideal conditions by mulching around your plants with shredded leaves, newspapers or straw. Water during dry spells.
You can start harvesting in late summer by cutting off a few of the bottom leaves with a knife and gradually working your way up the strong, tall. If you don’t do this, the lower leaves eventually get too big and tough to be pleasant for eating. When preparing mature leaves for cooking, it’s best to slice out and discard the coarse midrib.
Kale freezes well for winter use. Plunge leaves into boiling water for a minute or so, then cool quickly under boiling water or in a pan of ice water. Drain, pat the leaves dry and freeze them in plastic freezer bags. It’s OK to for the leaves to be frozen whole as they’re easy to chop while frozen.
Kale is available in green, blue-green and purple varieties. Some are curly-leafed and some flat-leafed. The leaves of the purple or purple-veined varieties are pretty and long-lasting in flower arrangements.
Southern gardeners will have better success growing collards rather than kale. The two are in the same species and very similar – except the collards tolerate heat, while kale prefers cool temperatures. In the South, plant collards in late summer for a fall or winter crop.