Eat kale straight from your garden all winter!!!
I’m sure a lot of you have heard about how kale is all the rage these days, and there’s a reason for that. Because it is fucking awesome and is super good for you! The best part about winter kale, is that it tastes way better than kale from any other time of year. The reason for this, is much the same as winter carrots. Check my post about that here! After temperatures drop below freezing, starches turn into sugars. Anyways, I don’t need to tell you about how awesome kale is, you already know.
So, what you need to know, is how to do this right?
Ok, much like the carrots, you’ll need some season extension gear, like a small greenhouse, or poly low tunnel like I have. You can even get away with not covering the kale at all in the winter, but, it must be very mature before it gets cold. If you’re in a place like Alberta or anywhere that get’s -15c or lower for extended periods of time, it probably won’t work either. Sorry Albertans.
Just like a lot of winter gardening techniques, you need to start preparing in the summer. In the case of kale, the best time to start it is around late July. Start some in some plug trays or small plots around the third week in July. Keep them in the shade, because if it’s too hot, your plugs will dry out, and you don’t want that. You can also put the seeds directly in the ground as well. I personally prefer plugs, because then you don’t have to compete with weeds, or worry about them as much at the beginning.
You want to start enough kale plants to last you through the winter and into the early spring. One thing to remember is that plants don’t really grow in the winter. If they survive, they will stay alive, but in a kind of hibernation mode. That means you need to have enough that if you picked a few leaves every second day for 120 days, you would have enough to get you through the winter. It depends on how much kale you eat. I juice a lot, so I go through a lot of kale. If you were going to eat as much as I do, let’s say we will need 60 days of kale at 3 leaves for those days. That’s 180 kale leaves. An almost fully mature plant will have around 10 leave on it, so this means you’ll need around 18 kale plants fully mature by late October. Once you get into mid February, the plants will start to regenerate leaves you picked over the winter.
Plant your kale at 10″ spacing. I do everything in a 30″ wide bed, and so should you, even if you’re a gardener. In a 30″ bed, 18 plants would be about 5′ of bed. Make 3 rows in your bed, and space each plant 10″ apart. Plant the middle row, offset from the two outside rows. This way, you have perfect 10″ centres from each plant.
Make sure you keep it well watered for the summer. You will probably be able to harvest a little bit before the fall, and this is a good thing. Always harvest the outer most leaves first. These are the ones at the bottom. Harvest those and this will train the plant upward, and by the time mid October rolls around, your plants will look like little palm tress. This is what you want. The bottom leaves should be about 6″ off the ground. If you’re not going to cover them with any greenhouse plastic, this is especially important because that will keep the plants above the snow and freezing ground. If the leaves touch the ground after freezing temperatures, those leaves will rot, and you should make sure to pull them off.
If you’re going to cover it up, do this by October. Again, you don’t have to cover it up, but for areas where you get a lot of snow, I’d recommend it.
Once spring rolls around, your kale will be growing a lot of new leaves, but it will start to go to seed by May. Well before May, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a new kale crop started. I start my first kale transplants of the year in February, and they get transplanted into the ground in early April.
So, that’s basically it. Here’s a review of our steps.
1. Start your kale the third week of July in pots.
2. Transplant it outside around the second week of August.
3. Keep it well watered for the summer.
4. Harvest the outer bottom leaves first. Make sure bottom leaves are 6″ off the ground by first freezing temperatures.
5. Cover it up before the snow.
6. Start new kale in February, and plant it out by April.
Enjoy winter kale!