Kale

Enjoying a recent rise in popularity due to its superfood status, kale (or borecole) is easy to grow and provides harvests over a long period. It can even be grown in light shade and stands up well to cold temperatures. 

Jobs to do now

  • Weed regularly

Month by month

Sow

Kale is usually sown into a seedbed, away from the main vegetable plot, then later transplanted to its final growing position. This is because it is slow to grow and would take up a lot of space during the prime growing season on the veg plot if sown straight into its growing site. 

Sow kale seeds from March to June in sun or light shade.

Prepare the sowing site by weeding thoroughly and raking the soil level. Draw out a shallow drill, 1cm (½in) deep, using a stick or the blade of a trowel, then water along the base. 

Sow the seeds thinly along the drill. If sowing more than one row, space them 15cm (6in) apart.

Once the seedlings germinate, thin them out to 7.5cm (3in) apart, to prevent overcrowding as they grow. The thinnings can be used as baby leaves in salads.

 

Grow

Grow

Transplant young kale plants to their final growing position when they have five or six true leaves.

Water well the day before moving, lift them carefully, then set them in their new planting hole deep enough so their lowest leaves are at ground level. Firm in gently, then water generously. Space plants 45cm (18in) apart.

Apply a mulch around the plants to help hold moisture in the soil. Water well during dry weather.

A spring feed will improve results.

Protect the plants from birds by covering with netting or fleece.

Harvesting

Start to remove young leaves from the top of the plant from September onwards.

Side-shoots are formed after the main crown is harvested and these are ready for use in February and March. Pick shoots that are 10–15cm (4–6in) long and still young.

Recommended Varieties

Common problems

Birds
Birds

Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.

Remedy

Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.

Cabbage root fly
Cabbage root fly

White larvae approximately 5cm (2in) long, feed on the roots just below the soil surface, stunting growth and causing plants to wilt and die.

Remedy

Grow under insect-proof mesh or horticultural fleece. Seedlings are most vulnerable.

Caterpillars
Caterpillars

A number of caterpillars will feed on brassicas, but the most common are those of cabbage white butterflies. You will usually see the caterpillars, if not, you will see the holes they make in the leaves. They will also bore into the heart of cabbages.

Remedy

In mild attacks, or if you have only a few plants, you may be able to pick the caterpillars off. Insect-proof mesh or fine netting (5-7mm mesh) can prevent egg-laying.

Recipes

Masterchef judge Greg Wallace uses kale, Swiss chard, spinach or spring greens to make delicious and healthy chilli greens.

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.