How to grow... Kale & Borecole
Rocket Growing Guides
Kale is a super nutritious vegetable that falls into the Brassicas category. Brassicas need to be looked after in much the same way. It’s a big category, with cauliflower, calabrese, broccoli and others too. They are great ones for growing in the garden and you’ll feel extra smug and healthy eating them when you’ve grown your own!
- Growing Tips
- Common Problems
- Chef's Corner
Choose a sunny site with fertile soil
A sunny spot with fertile & moisture-retentive soil is ideal. Partial shade is ok too. Add plenty of compost or organic matter before planting.
Raised beds or a traditional veg patch
Kale is best grown in raised beds or a well dug veg patch. You could plant curly kale in pots or planters as this is a small plant, but Red Russian Kale and Cavolo Nero are better suited to growing in beds.
How far apart
Plant Curly Kale about 20-25cm apart, and Red Russian Kale and Cavolo Nero about 30-40cm apart.
Protect with a brassica collar
You can make these easily out of cardboard. Cut a 10cm diameter disc, cut into the centre and make a slit so that you can pop it around the base of the plant. This is to prevent cabbage root fly larvae from hatching by the base of the plant and burying under the soil to eat the roots.
Net against pigeons and butterflies
Pigeons love brassica plants and will easily destroy a crop of young plants in a morning. Meanwhile, cabbage white butterflies are attracted to brassicas and lay eggs on the leaves. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars are quick to nibble away the leaves and strip the plant bare. To protect against both these pests, cover plants with fine mesh netting or horticultural fleece.
As weather warms up it is important to keep kale cool and to give the plants enough water. Try to keep the soil consistently moist rather than allowing it to dry out. During dry spells, water well, once or twice a week.
When to harvest
You can harvest leaves as they grow for a continuous crop throughout the season. Pull the leaves downwards at the stem to harvest. Start with the larger leaves towards the base of the plant (particularly for cavolo nero which keeps producing new leaves at the top of the plant – the others are a little more bushy so you can take your pick!) You should be able to keep the plant going through autumn and sometimes through winter too.
Pigeons will eat the foliage right down to the ribs/veins. Keep plants netted if you have a lot of pigeons around.
Lots of holes appearing in leaves is a sure sign of caterpillars. They soon grow, and the holes grow too. Check the underside of leaves and you may see tiny eggs – wipe them off with kitchen paper – or caterpillars themselves. Keep plants netted against butterflies.
Slugs & Snails
Protect plants well from slugs, especially when they are young and vulnerable. Beer traps work well and you may need to to do a dusk patrol with a head torch and bucket to remove slugs if they get really bad!
Cabbage flies lay eggs at the base of brassica plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae bury into the ground and feed on the roots. The plants eventually wilt and die. Prevention is key – use brassica collars (see growing advice section)
Sometimes, if the plants get too hot or too dry, they can bolt and start producing flowers. To avoid this, keep them well watered and cool in hot/dry weather. A mulch really helps. If they do start to bolt, you can harvest the broccoli-like spears and cook them up as well.
Harvest kale as you want to eat it – it will store in the fridge for a few days, but is much better cooked fresh.
Ways to cook
We quite like cooking up a super kale and potato hash with a poached egg for brunch. A great start to the day!