Crop Talk: Growing Bountiful Kale at Good Heart Farmstead
I love kale. I love it for its ability to thrive in many zones (including our Zone 4 location), and for the way it keeps on giving all season long. At Good Heart Farmstead, we grow kale from May through December, and I’m a firm believer that everyone should “eat more kale.” With a little planning, you can eat (or sell) fresh kale all season long.
Growing for Full Size Plants
One of our goals is to have kale available for the CSA from June through December, and we make this happen with two different seeding times and a staggered harvest schedule.
Start kale seeds in either 1” soil blocks or 72-cell trays. Kale takes 4 weeks to reach transplant size, and at Good Heart we seed our first round on April 1st for an early May planting.
When it’s time to plant out, we set out the seedlings at two different spacings: the first section is planted in three rows at 12” for an early harvest of mid-size leaves, and the second is planted in two rows at 18” spacing for a later full-size harvest (our beds are 30”). The different spacings provide a staggered harvest schedule with leaves of varying sizes, from tender mid-size leaves to full size bunches over a longer harvest window.
We start another succession in early to mid August for a robust fall harvest. While many home gardeners will find that one planting with more generous spacing will give them kale plants that last into the fall, our more aggressive harvests ask a lot from the plants, and starting with a new succession for the fall ensures heavy harvests to meet our CSA needs.
Direct Seeding for Baby Kale
Baby kale is an excellent addition to salad mixes. Let it grow just past baby size and it becomes a great addition to a braising mix. We’ve tried spring and fall seedings for baby kale, and have found that fall successions are more successful, with a longer harvest window and higher potential for multiple cuts thanks to the cool weather that kale prefers.
In a 30” bed, direct seed baby kale in 12 rows at 1 ½” seed spacing, then cover with remay to hold in moisture and keep out potential pests. Like lettuce mix, baby kale can produce multiple harvests, making this a viable crop for salad growers.
Our hands-down favorite variety for baby kale is Red Russian. Its tenderness combined with the red stem make it delicious and beautiful, worthy of eating on it’s own or in a mix.
Dealing with Pests
Prevention is the best pest control, and prevention starts with healthy plants. Healthy plants are better able to withstand pest pressure because they grow faster and are better able to "bounce back" from damage.
Our healthy plant regimen:
- Start seedlings in a controlled space with good airflow and consistent heat and moisture to help them start off strong. If you see any signs of yellowing or stress, a foliar feed with liquid kelp can give them a boost.
- Make sure you harden off before transplanting.
- When transplanting, we dip all our trays in a mixture of water, kelp, and liquid humates. The kelp reduces transplant shock and the humates encourage better absorption of soil minerals. The two together encourage greater vigor from the start.
Spring planting has the greater potential for pest pressure on our farm, specifically from flea beetles. While we’ve seen flea beetle damage on the young tender leaves of transplants, the waxier full-size leaves seem to be less appetizing to the pests. To minimize pest damage of transplants, we cover them with remay supported by wire hoops for the first 2-3 weeks in the field.
At Good Heart, our spring varieties are Red Russian and Westlander. We’ve found a demand from our CSA members for both the tender Red Russian and the thicker, curly-leaved Westlander, and at 50 DTM for each variety, their speed allows us to get harvests out quickly.
Red Russian and Westlander are both carried into the summer in our fields. Olympic Red (55 DTM) rounds out the summer harvest, and performs better on hot harvest days as its thicker leaves hold up better post-harvest compared to Red Russian.
While all kale loves the fall season, our favorite varieties are Olympic Red and Lacinato (60 days), both of which hold out long into the fall and early winter. CSA members look forward to the meatier leaves of Lacinato, perfect for hearty fall meals.
This year we’re excited to add in Nash’s Green, which reaches maturity faster and is well-suited to fall and winter growing.