How to Grow Kale

Okay, I admit. I had never even eaten kale at the time I decided to learn how to grow kale. I mean, I had never even considered kale to be edible, let alone enjoyable. When I worked in a restaurant, we used it to cover the ice in the salad bar – so eating it???? Nope.

It was only last summer when I bought some seeds at the dollar store (5 packs for $1.00!) that I thought I would learn how to grow kale. I call it my 20¢ experiment.

How to grow kale - a kale leaf

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Planting, Growing & Harvesting Kale

The botanical name for kale is Brassica oleracea, Acephala group

Optimum growing conditions

Kale isn’t fussy, and will grow in just about any USDA zone! If you are in Zone 6 or cooler, you may even be able to over-winter kale. It does like a soil ph of 6.5 – 6.8; full sun, and lots of calcium in the soil.

Best varieties to plant

The seeds I bought at the dollar store were Dwarf Blue Curled Vates – although I thought the plants were HUGE!

Other varieties are Red Russian and Winterbor.

Red Russian is a non-curly, smooth leaf type of kale, so I guess it may be acceptable to my friend who once referred to kale as “having the mouth feel of a wool sweater”.

How to grow kale - mature kale plants

How to grow kale

I started my kale seeds indoors a few weeks before I put the transplants out in the garden. It was the beginning of my how to grow kale adventure!

You can also direct sow the seeds in the garden 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost. Kale is cold-tolerant, and prefers the soil to be cool, therefore, you can also plant a fall crop 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost in the fall.

Thin the seedlings, and toss the thinnings into your salad!

How to grow kale - kale seedlings

Fertilize with fish emulsion fertilizer once a month to keep your kale happy.

Diseases, pests & problems

Make sure you rotate the kale patch each season you plant it, and don’t plant any plants from the cabbage family, because they all can get the same soilborne diseases.


Pick the outer leaves as often as needed, and keep picking them! The leaves will get tough and hard to chew as they get older, so harvest you first crop, and sow another crop for the fall.

A touch of frost will actually make kale taste better.

I was trying to keep a few plants to see what the frost would do to them, but the deer ate them.

Oddly enough, the kale plants in my garden were the ONLY plants that were not obliterated by the local wildlife last summer. The deer, woodchucks, squirrels and rabbits wouldn’t touch them at all – until after the first snowfall and there was nothing in the garden left for them to eat to down the ground. (Kind of says something about how appealing kale is to eat, doesn’t it?)

I blanched my earlier harvest, and froze bunches of leaves in freezer bags to use in soups during the winter. I have made this recipe for sausage, bean & kale soup a few times, and love it!

Conclusion: kale is not that bad after all.