• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing kale in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

LoriAdamsDownToEarthUPickGarden(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 5 of the Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)


By Lori Adams


Kale grows so well here in Sitka that it should be indigenous, but many gardeners don’t grow it because they have no experience eating it and don’t know how delicious and nutritious it is.

Kale is from the brassica family so it is a heavy feeder.  Prepare your bed for kale this Fall by amending with fertilizer rich in nitrogen (fish carcasses, spent grain, seaweed) and lime (sea shell sand), or amend your bed next spring using seaweed with herring eggs.

There are many different varieties of kale to choose from that have leaves of different shapes and colors.  You can sow seeds directly outdoors mid-April, but it’s best to start seeds indoors mid-March and then transplant the seedlings outdoors mid-April.  When transplanting make a dish-shaped depression in the soil and then dig a hole in the bottom of the depression for the seedling, being sure to bury it up to its first set of true leaves. Use 12-18 inch spacing because kale plants grow quite large and if they are planted too closely together they will just get tall and spindly and go to seed prematurely.

Cover the entire bed with row cover until July 15 or later and for best results use hoops to hold the cover up off the plants.

Kale leaves can be harvested at any time, but it is best for the plant if you wait until the plant matures a little bit before you start ripping leaves off of it.  When you do start to harvest leaves be sure to take only the biggest, oldest ones and leave the growing center of the plant alone so it can continue to produce new leaves. Never harvest more than one-third of the leaves at any one time off a plant or the plant will become stressed and take longer to recover.  To harvest just cut the leaves from the plant with a knife or snap them off with your fingers.

Kale can be eaten raw or cooked.  Many people use small tender leaves raw in salads and utilize the larger older leaves for cooking.  Just remove the “rib” with a knife (unless you like a little crunch), chop up the leaves, and then throw them into soups or stirfries, but don’t cook them too long- they wilt quickly.  I recently heard about a salad that’s made by “massaging” or “kneading” chopped kale in dressing that sounds really interesting.

Kale often acts like a biennial. A biennial grows during the first year and if it survives the winter it produces seed during the second year.  Sometimes my plants go to seed during the first year.  If they do I just pinch out the growing center flower bud which allows the plant to branch out with more leaves.

It’s a good idea to let some of your kale flower and leave it in the garden all winter and hope for some seedlings to sprout up the next spring that you can transplant into a new bed.  Kale is very, very hearty and will practically grow year round.  I have gone out the garden in the middle of the winter and broken ice off of my kale plants to harvest leaves and they were perfectly fine!  I am sure if you utilize row cover in the winter you can significantly extend your growing season.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241