How to Grow the Best Kale in the Garden or Allotment

Kale is fast becoming the superpower of the brassica world. You can’t seem to go anywhere without the mention of a kale smoothie or a bag of kale chips in the air. So how is it that this once disregarded vegetable (it was considered unfit for human consumption) is now so popular? Well, someone decided that eating your greens might actually just be quite healthy for you and made a marketing campaign out of kale. Because boring old cabbage probably wouldn’t be that convincing to most people, but an unheard of veg like kale, as it was back then, might just be the winner. When I was growing up, curly kale was always eaten in Ireland, but back here in the UK I never even saw it for sale until quite some time after the year 2000. And then someone discovered black kale (cavolo nero or Tuscan kale) and our lives were changed forever… But enough of my reminiscing, onto how to grow it below…

curly kale is also known as borecole
Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

When to sow kale

Now! Ha, I mean March ’til June. If you start in March, you can either sow direct or in modules (easier) and then plant out in April, May, and June. Sow them thinly in modules or thinly in rows in the garden or allotment. You can thin them later to 3″ apart to let grow a bit more, then move them, when they have about 6 good leaves, to their final place with plenty of space between plants – at least a foot, but you may need up to 18″, it just depends on the variety and how tight you want to run things. Lots of times you’ll see massive crop spacings recommended between plants, but if you’ve got a small garden, you can shave a bit off these spaces by following the square foot gardening method.

When to harvest kale

You can start picking the topmost leaves from about September or October, and you can keep picking leaves typically until March the next year… which is when you’ll be sowing it again! So you will basically have kale growing all year round, although there’ll be a few months in spring and summer when you’re not actually eating it – that’s when you’d be eating lettuces instead I guess. Kale is really hardy, especially the curly kale (borecole) – it doesn’t mind the cold that much.

How to protect kale against pests and diseases

The main problem I have with any brassica family plant is the cabbage white moth/butterfly. You quite often seen these small white things flying about near Brussels sprouts, cabbages, and kale and they are an absolute nuisance! However, there are a few easy tricks to stop them:

  • pick off any caterpillars you find, as they will lay eggs on the underside of the leaves
  • wipe off any eggs you find on the underside of the leaves
  • net your kale (and cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts) with a mesh against moths etc.
  • sow some nasturtiums nearby – the moths go there instead so your kale will hopefully be spared

Some other common problems are: birds pecking at your kale and similar veg – the netting or mesh will stop this too; cabbage root maggots – again the mesh is the best to protect against this from happening. But basically, you need to see what pests or problems, if any, are prevalent in your area and act accordingly. We don’t have any problem with birds or root maggots but the cabbage moths are quite common, so we use a retractable net which has hoops you can put down the entire row.