Liveability Guides

Kale has become a favourite in Australian organic gardens. It’s quite easy to grow and it’s a beautiful looking plant with diverse varieties. Find out how to grow, harvest and eat kale.

Growing Kale in Your Garden

Why not include superfoods in your bounteous home food garden … then you’ll always have them on hand! What do we mean by superfoods? Basically they are nutrient rich foods. We think they’re worth talking about whatever side of the debate you’re on. Personally we think food is all about taste as well and fresh produce which you grow yourself is always best. How and if kale positively impacts your health, how much you should have and how often is relative to your own health story so make a decision that’s right for you. If in any doubt always consult with a practitioner you trust.

Raw Kale can be harsh on you digestion. It is best to lightly steam it before using in smoothies.

Raw kale can be harsh on your digestion. It is best to lightly steam it before adding it to smoothies.

Kale

Kale has become a favourite over recent years for Australian organic gardeners. Kale is quite easy to grow; it’s a beautiful looking plant with diverse varieties and you can keep harvesting from it for long periods of time.

A special note about eating raw kale

The fibre in kale that has been steamed or cooked can help aid digestion as it increases your body’s detoxification ability. Raw kale on the other hand can be quite harsh on your digestive system, causing bloating, gas and other abdominal issues.

This is because kale, as with other as cruciferous vegetables, contains a compound called isothiocyanates which can block the enzyme iodine in the thyroid, causing it to grow larger. Lightly steaming or cooking the kale eliminates this impact on the thyroid.

Check kale’s food score

You can check the high nutritional value of organic kale using the food score search on The Environmental Working Group (EWG) website. They have assessed over 80,000 products for any nutrition, ingredient and processing concerns.

They also release a yearly list naming the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen fresh produce items, which are exposed to the least and most pesticides. While kale didn’t make the Dirty Dozen, it was included as number 13 on the supplementary list, ‘Dirty Dozen Plus’, which highlights foods that contain trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides.

Australia has strict regulations on agricultural pesticides and food standards, and although kale has been known to be a hardier vegetable requiring less pesticide use to thrive, in Australia this past year it has been shown to contain high amounts of pesticides.

If you are interested in limiting your exposure to pesticides, growing your own organic kale and buying organic kale from local markets or grocers is a simple way to avoid pesticide consumption.

Growing kale

Kale is a vegetable that normally lives for less than a year, though I have experienced 1.5 years from one plant, but generally you should expect it to live in your organic garden for at least 6 months. Kale is very tolerant of temperature extremes and when established is both frost and heat tolerant.

Kale can grow into quite a sizeable bush up to 1 metre high so you need to allow about 0.6 metres spacing between plants. As you keep harvesting from the plant, it will grow higher and this can allow you to plant lower growing companion crops below it such as lettuce, spring onion and warrigal greens.

The varieties of kale have different colours and leaf shapes and I like to mix these to create beauty in the growing space. Here are some of my favourite varieties: Chou Moellier, Dwarf Green, Lacinato, Nero Di Toscana, Ornamental, Red Russian, Scotch and Siberian.

The plant will grow in average daily temperature range from 4–24 C° and ideal seed germination temperature is from 14–19C°. Kale grows well in part shade, thrives with some sheltering from wind and needs well-drained and fertile soil with a pH of 6–7. Planting stock is easy to find with seeds available from organic seed suppliers online and seedlings from nurseries.

Plant care

Kale is from the Brassica family; as such it can be attacked by the cabbage moth, a common visitor to that family of plants. To reduce impact, plant in season, keep well watered and use companion plants such as coriander and marigolds. I have found best results growing kale when it follows a green manure crop which keeps soil fertile. Fortnightly to monthly applications of your favourite organic liquid fertiliser will help with vigorous leaf growth. Be sure to keep well watered otherwise the plants will become stunted and leaves very bitter.

Harvesting and eating

You can begin harvesting after about 6 weeks and then progressively harvest the lower leaves and it will get higher as new leaves come on at the top of the plant. For the most crispy leaves, harvest when bed is moist or either just before cooking or in the early morning. Kale can be steamed, sautéed, boiled, added to soups, vegetable or meat dishes and blended into a green health drink. Kale is high in betacarotene, vitamins K and C, and calcium, among many other vitamins and minerals.

How to cook kale

There are endless ways to cook kale as it can easily be added to your favourite dishes. One of the best things about this vegetable is that depending on how you cook it, it can develop completely different textures.

Three popular ways to enjoy kale include kale chips, kale pesto and sautéed kale. To make kale chips, wash and tear the kale into bite size chunks, dip into a bowl of olive oil, salt and paprika, and bake for 10 minutes until crispy and golden. To make kale pesto, add it to a basil recipe by substituting for half of the basil. Steam or sauté kale just like spinach and add to any meal, including quiche, salad or steak.

Buying Australian grown kale varieties

You can search for and order organic kale seeds online or in your local nursery in Australia. Green Harvest and Eden Seeds sell numerous varieties of kale seeds and deliver anywhere in Australia.

Once purchased, plant in nutrient rich soil with a neutral pH, water well to ensure the leaves do not develop a bitter taste, and they should be ready for harvest after around 6 weeks.

Peter Kearney

Peter Kearney

Peter's commitment to organic food growing in cities commenced in his childhood and has carried through his work life whilst living in urban environments. His business Cityfood Growers, formed in 2007, has one of the largest urban food growing web sites in Australia.

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