Food Crops & Edibles

The Joys of Kale

If you’ve never grown kale, or haven’t thought much about it, I’m here to offer you some encouragement. I think kale is a great vegetable that should be part of every outdoor garden and greenhouse vegetable garden as well. Allow me to build a case for this hardy and useful green. You might be surprised at what you’ve been missing.


The humble kale plant can’t boast hundreds or thousands of varieties like other vegetables, but there are at least two dozen popular varieties of kale that one might consider. Variations include color, texture, growth habit, and flavor. There are even colorful kales used primarily for winter hardy decoration in flower beds for the off season when annuals have long bit the dust.

I enjoy two vigorous varieties, Russian Red and Winterbor. Both are good and fast growing plants, and ample providers of greens. The Russian Red has a more pleasing flavor on its own, but the Winterbor variety has a more appealing appearance and can be used as a garnish as well as a nice source of greens.


Like other green leafy vegetables, kale is a fine source of nutrition. Best known for being a source of vitamin K, the kale plant also provides a good source of vitamin C and calcium. Many believe that it has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties – all the better. I’m onboard with any of the dark green leafy vegetables, simply because I love a good mess of greens. If it comes in a package that also provides great nutrition, then that’s all the more reason to enjoy that bowl full of greens.

Early Start and a Late Finish

Kale is famous for being a cool weather crop. That means it can be planted in early spring and will withstand spring frosts. It can also be planted in mid to late summer to meet your needs as a fall and winter crop. Given a little protection from the elements, kale can easily go year round in many parts of the country. For a spring crop, start seeds indoors. For a fall and winter crop, direct seed in your garden beds.

If you plant kale in the early spring, you’ll see it thrive in the cooler weather and then slow down during the heat of summer. Once cooler fall weather returns, it will perk right up and start growing again like it did in the springtime. It’s like someone flipped on a switch and powered up the kale plants.

A Faithful Vegetable Garden Veteran

Perhaps one of the more appealing aspects of kale is its ability to withstand just about whatever comes its way. It’s not a demanding plant, it’s not prone to disease, and you’ll only occasionally find green cabbage worms feeding on it. It grows faithfully in a wide range of soils, and doesn’t let temperature or weather extremes interfere with its mission to provide ample greens for the space it takes up.

I see each of my kale plants showing me a “been there, done that” attitude as they produce lots of greens, over a very long season, and ask little in return. They don’t have to be staked, they keep growing new leaves from the center and top as I snip off a few from the underside, and they can take a little rough handling as well. In addition, they’re relatively drought resistant. Like a faithful dog, they’re tough as nails and always there to please the vegetable gardening enthusiast.

I love collards, beet greens, chard and choi. They all have their place in my gardens, but kale is always a more vigorous grower and producer, more robust, and much more cold tolerant. What more could we ask for?

Kale in the Kitchen

The whole reason to grow vegetables is to consume them. Whether you like your greens cooked, canned, or fresh in salads, kale can meet your interests. My preference is to chop and cook the greens with onions, garlic, a bit of salt and some olive oil in a high-sided pan that make sautéing them easy. If you prefer southern style greens, then toss them into the crock pot with water and seasonings, set it on low and let ‘em cook all day. This approach results in a wonderful mess of greens that are tender and delicious. Enjoy your cooked greens with a little vinegar, or better yet, a little hot pepper vinegar.

If you’re making a nice fresh salad, finely shredded kale adds a bit of texture much like cabbage. Use a couple different varieties of kale to add more flavor. Chunks of kale go well as a component of a hearty soup too. Or, use your abundance of kale to put some up in canning jars. Since it’s a firm textured and somewhat fibrous plant, kale will stand up well to canning, cooking and freezing.

Clair Schwan was born in Michigan, but he must have lived a previous life in the southern states as he is completely enamored with the idea of a nice bowl of greens.

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