If you’re a fan of salads and sautés, you’re probably familiar with kale. A favorite vegetable of many, kale is packed full of nutrients and flavor. It’s a popular green that can be grown easily in your backyard. If you’re looking for a way to enrich your winter garden, and your winter meals, with fresh kale, then you’re in the right place. In this simple guide, we’ll lay out everything you need to know to start planting, growing, and harvesting kale this winter.
When should you start your winter kale?
Kale is a vegetable that’s naturally suited to cooler temperatures, which is great news for your winter garden. However, it can still be damaged if it gets too cold. This means your planting time will depend on how cold your winters get. Kale can be grown easily in the winter in USDA hardiness zones 7 through 10. If you live in these zones, you can plant your kale in late summer or during fall.
For those of you who live north of zone 7, you may need to take more precautions. You can start your kale indoors in mid-summer and transplant them into the garden in late summer or early fall. This will help you get a harvest in before the temperature drops too low. You could also grow your kale in containers instead, planting them in late summer or early fall and bringing them indoors at the beginning of winter. Some gardeners in more northern zones have no issue with kale in winter, while others see frost damage, so use your best judgment when thinking about how harsh the winters are where you live.
Starting your kale
The first thing to do is choose what variety of kale you want to plant. If you don’t already have a favorite variety, there are several that are more cold-hardy or frost-resistant than others. Why not try Red Russian, lacinato, or Blue Curled Scotch? All three are delicious and do very well in the cold.
Plant your kale in soil that’s rich with organic material and well-draining. Kale isn’t particularly picky about soil type, as long as it has enough nutrients and is not in standing water. It does need at least six hours of sun, though. Kale does best in full sun, however, it is also sensitive to heat. If you plant your kale during late summer, provide them with some shade in the afternoon. The morning sun is ideal for kale since mornings are typically cooler than afternoons.
Caring for your kale
While the weather is still warm, keep your garden free of weeds. Kale also needs regular watering while it’s growing. On average, kale needs roughly an inch to an inch and a half of water each week, which translates to being watered every few days or twice a week. A layer of mulch can help increase water retention and is also useful for keeping the soil warm
Once winter sets in, kale requires little to no care. When the ground is frozen, you won’t be able to feed your kale, so don’t worry about fertilizing it. Additionally, the cold is likely to kill all or most of the weeds, and any water you give your kale would freeze. Instead, just keep an eye out for any frost damage, especially on the edges of leaves.
How and when should you harvest your kale?
There are two ways you can harvest kale. You can harvest a few leaves at a time, or take the whole head at once. Harvesting the leaves and leaving the rest of the plant is ideal in most cases since it reduces food waste and encourages new growth on your kale plant, resulting in a larger harvest overall. However, if you live north of zone 7 and are expecting a hard freeze or a heavy snow or ice storm, then harvesting the entire head at once is a good idea.
For most kale varieties, you can expect fully mature leaves two to 2.5 months after planting. However, young kale leaves can typically be harvested starting a month after the kale was planted. As a general rule of thumb, after the first month of growth, you can harvest kale leaves once they reach the size you want them to be.
Now you know everything you need to start your winter kale garden. Before you know it, you’ll have plenty of fresh, crunchy kale to add to your soups and salads all winter long. Just remember to keep an eye on the weather, and maybe find out your USDA hardiness zone before you start. If you think your winter might be too cold for it, you can always grow your kale indoors instead.
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