In the Garden Now – Kale by Gohar Umar, FAMU Extension Horticulture Agent and Shelley Swenson, UF/IFAS Wakulla Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent
Gardening is messy, muddy and lot of work with pest and weather constraints. But the benefits of gardening are tremendous from healthy food to understanding and appreciating the nature.
In Wakulla County the warm winter followed by cold temperature, most of our residents cannot decide what to grow in this part of the year with these weird patterns of weather. However, with cold hardy green leafy vegetables which tolerate cold and warm temperature, there are viable choices.
Anytime from winter to early spring residents can walk into the garden and harvest vegetables, and just like leafy greens, Kale is one of these crops which continues producing. Kale is not the typical garden crop, but lately with the health benefits like low in calories and high fiber content, it has gained tremendous interest among home gardner’s.
Kale is a member of cabbage family like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. There are different varieties of Kale available from green to purple colors, and from smooth to curly leafs.
Kale is loaded with vitamins and other nutrients, and very low in calories and carbs. It is also contains antioxidants which help counteract compounds responsible for premature aging and cancer. It boasts four to five times more vitamin c than spinach and is an excellent source for vitamin K. Also contains minerals helpful to with bone health.
Kale is the treasure of winter garden which turns sweet and crisp when the cold temperature nights have touched its leaves. Kale with sweet tender leaves makes salads to homemade soups or smoothies. Fresh grown Kale from Wakulla County gardens has a mild taste rather than bitter green left aging in market vegetable bins.
Growing kale is very simple. The seeds are spread in rows and covered lightly soils with rich organic matter in autumn. The organic matter not only supports this green leafy vegetable with nutrients, but also maintains the moisture in soil. The seeds will start germinating in a week.
Once it starts growing, thin plant to 12 to15 inches apart. They grow better in full sun during winter and need partial shade in summer.
With the warm temperatures locally, the leaves may grow too fast and turn yellow or drop off. A dose liquid fertilizer with half strength 20-20-20 will bring them back to normal.
Water these plants regularly as they love moist soils which will keep the leaves sweet and crisp. Every four to six weeks side-dress the rows with fertilizer throughout the growing season. Mulch around the plants with straw if the soil dries out easily.
Kale is relatively resistant to disease and insect problems, but yield is heavily influenced by the weather. Aphids, cabbage worms and cut worms can be a problem, but there are a variety of treatment methods, organic and conventional. Removing the weak leaves will help control the problems.
The leaves can be trimmed one at a time to extend the life of the plant or the whole plant can be harvested and prepared. Either way, a taste, a healthy dish awaits.