I’ll put this as simply as I can.
If you’re not planning on growing kale in your veganic garden, you should be! The days when kale ranked at the bottom of the most desirable leafy greens are long past and with good reason!
As the most nutrient-rich member of the cabbage family, kale is a superfood superstar. Just 1 cup of raw kale, says the USDA, provides significant amounts of:
- Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, and K
- Omega-3 fatty acid
and cancer-fighting glucosinates. An imposing nutrient profile for a skimpy 31 calories!
Kale has become such a dietary delight that since 2013 the first Wednesday of October has celebrated National Kale Day!
Best of all, it’s a cool-season veggie. You can begin growing kale very early in spring and continue harvesting it until late fall.
Growing Kale: Sowing Your Seeds Indoors
For the quickest possible harvest, sow your kale seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last frost date in your area (see USDA Plant Hardiness Zones map here.)
Fill planting pots measuring 2” x 3” or larger with a pre-moistened vegan seed starter (recipe here). Plant one kale seed 1/2 inch deep in each pot.
Keep the pots in a sunny location, preferably with a daytime temperature of 70 degrees F.
Water them with a spray bottle often enough to keep the seed starter consistently moist (not saturated). After the seeds germinate, let the starter’s surface dry before watering.
Tip: Kale seedlings sprout with two primitive leaves, or called cotyledons. They feed the plants until the true leaves start photosynthesizing.
Moving Your Seedlings Outdoors
Wait for the growing kale seedlings to form three sets of true leaves before moving them outdoors one to two weeks before your last spring frost date.
Increase their daily outdoor time over one to two weeks, beginning at two hours and adding 30 to 60 minutes a day. Start them in a partly shady spot and slowly move them to full sun. Bring them in at night.
Preparing the Soil for Your Growing Kale Plants
Use the hardening-off period to prepare your kale bed. Choose a spot that receives six to eight hours of daily sun, or four to six hours if your daytime temperature regularly tops 80F. Growing kale in too much sun may result in a tough, bitter harvest.
Clear your planting site of large stones and cut any weeds or grass back to the soil. Prepare a bed large enough to space your seedlings for 12 to15 inches apart.
Spread a 4-inch layer of well-rotted vegan compost over the site. It will suppress weeds and provide a nutrient-rich layer that’s easy for the growing kale seedling’s roots to penetrate.
This no-till, veganic gardening method leaves the actual soil’s structure and food web intact.
Tip: Use the same bed-preparation method for nursery-started kale plants. They’re already hardened off, so if they have at least three sets of leaves, you can plant them one to two weeks before your last spring frost date.
Planting Your Kale
Leave as much seed starter as possible on your kale seedling’s roots when planting.
Slide your seedlings gently from their containers, being careful to retain as much of the starter mix as possible. Properly space them with their stems upright and perpendicular to the ground.
Mound the compost carefully around the roots to fully support the stems – but no higher than the lowest leaves.
Water lightly around the newly planted kale, enough to moisten the root zone without exposing the roots.
Growing kale plants responds to cool temperatures and faithful watering with an abundance of sweet, crispy leaves!
Ongoing Kale Care
Protect your kale from leaf-devouring cabbage white butterfly caterpillars with a companion planting of nasturtiums.
The easy-to-grow plants’ peppery leaves divert the butterflies, and their cheery yellow, red, and orange blossoms are a tasty salad garnish.
Harvesting your kale plants’ outer leaves as soon as they’re large enough to eat also deters pests. And even if the worms manage to strip a kale plant’s leaves down to stubs, don’t panic.
It will begin sprouting fresh leaves in a couple of weeks!
Once your growing kale plants are 6 inches high, mulch around them with hay or leaf mold. Replenish the mulch as it decomposes to maintain the soil moisture and combat weeds.
Spread vegan compost between your kale plants every six weeks to two months through the growing season. It will also feed the soil and improve its structure.
Mulch and the compost feed the soil and improve its structure as they decompose. And they do it without an ounce of chemical fertilizer or a single turn of the spade – the advantages of veganic no-till gardening!
Harvesting Your Kale
Start harvesting your kale’s outer leaves when the plants are about 10 inches high. To take an entire plant, cut the stalk between 2 and 3 inches above the soil line. New leaves will show up in a couple of weeks, just as they would if pests had eaten the old ones!
Pick the leaves early in the day for maximum flavor. Rinse and eat or refrigerate them as soon as possible. If you store them loosely in plastic bags, they’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week.
Tip: If you’re lucky enough to have more leaves than you can harvest right away, remove and compost the ones you can’t use.
Otherwise, they could attract pests, and they’ll use up energy the plants could be directing t producing tender baby leaves!