Growing Kale Makes a
Great Winter Vegetable

My first attempt at growing kale was in the winter. I had heard that winter kale is the sweetest so I sowed my seeds in September. The cool fall encouraged the seeds to germinate in a week.

In November my kale plants were 3 inches tall. I learned that the cool fall temperatures really slow down the plants growth. We covered our winter kale with our hoop house and a second row cover going into December.

As winter raged my plants froze and thawed and seemed to be suspended in time. I was amazed that the kale leaves could be frozen in the early morning and nice and supple in the afternoon.

By February the days started to grow longer and we had periods of warm sunny days and the kale plants began to grow more quickly. We started harvesting the young bottom leaves to use in salads.

In March we were enjoying nice size leaves to use for making kale chips and my husbands favorite sausage and kale soup. The growing kale was harvested through April and then as the weather heated up the kale plants began to send up flower stems.

The stems can be harvested before the flowers open and eaten steamed or raw in salads. Kale can be grown in the spring, but I have found the harvest is longer if growing kale in the winter months and into early spring. In the spring the weather can quickly warm causing the kale to develop a stronger flavor.

Growing Kale Variety Picks:

Westland Winter matures in 50 days, a large plant with curly leaves. Dependable for fall harvests. Sow seed May through July for harvest from November through early spring.

Lacinato matures in 60 to 65 days, an Italian heirloom with narrow crinkled leaves also known as dinosaur kale. This is a great kale to eat raw or enjoy in your cooked dishes.

Curled Scotch Dwarf Kale matures in 56 days, this is a dependable hardy variety that makes great baby leaves for salads and stir fries. Pick leaves when young. Very winter hardy for a winter or early spring harvest.

Red Russian Kale matures in 50 days. This kale was brought into Canada by Russian fur traders so you know it must be hardy. This kale may be hardy but don’t let that fool you, it is one of the most tender kale varieties. Pick smaller leaves for salads and larger leaves to steam and stir fry. The leaves color deepens as the weather cools into winter.

Planting Kale

For a summer harvest kale can be planted out directly as soon as soil can be worked or started indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your ready to plant outside.

Plant your kale in rows 12 inches apart with 2 feet between rows for full leaves. If you want to harvest your kale as baby leaves the kale can be planted closer together about 3 inches apart.

I like to direct seed my kale for harvesting young leaves. As the kale grows I can thin out the plants as I harvest the tender young leaves.

Growing Kale in the Fall and Winter

I grow my kale in the fall and winter months when it develops the mildest flavor and other vegetable are scarce. It is a nice addition to the winter table.

Start your seeds indoors to avoid the heat. The first of July is a good time in our area which is a zone 4. Plant your seedling out about the first of Aug. If you are direct sowing plant your seeds in July.

Keep your soil mulched and add a good compost to feed the rich green leaves of the kale plant. Kale is fairly undemanding and you just wait for the nice green leaves to mature.

As the temperatures begin to cool down into the fall months the kale will become sweeter. To harvest, use the lower leaves first by breaking off the leaf stems close to the main stem. The kale will continue to grow as long as you leave some leaves on top.

Timing is important to be able to harvest thought out the winter months. Our first year we planted to late (in September) and our kale were harvested in late winter and early spring that year.

Before winter starts to rage in November we protect our kale plants with a hoop house. This allows easy access to our winter garden.

You may use a cold frame or row covers to protect your kale which also makes harvesting in the snowy months easier.

If your timing is right you’ll be able to eat kale all winter. If you fall short and your kale is still young going into winter you will be able to harvest your kale in the late winter months and early spring, either way, growing kale in the winter is well worth the effort.

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