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Holman's Horticulture: All hail king kale

Staff Reports • Aug 7, 2018 at 4:14 PM

Growing up, I was never a fan of kale, but now that I’m older, I really enjoy it. Sautéed kale with a little olive oil and garlic makes a great side dish to any meal.  

Typically, in the springtime we enjoy kale multiple times during the week, because it can be so easy to fix. Some of my friends really enjoy playing with different recipes of kale chips, which are a healthy alternative to potato chips. Kale chips are fun ways to experiment with spices and flavors that you’ve always wanted to try. 

Kale is broken down into chip-size pieces, dusted with various spices and baked at 350 degrees for about 10-12 minutes. The midrib, which is the center vein in the leaf, is cut away, because it can be quite fibrous. Even though most types of kale are edible, it also makes a great ornamental accent to those winter containers. I’ve even seen kale last through the entire winter with the pansies.  

Kale is a cool-season vegetable that can either be direct sown into the ground from seeds or transplanted into the garden. Here in Wilson County, we can plant kale up until the first week of September since it can develop harvestable leaves in about 50 days. It can even withstand a light frost that will help extend the season of harvest.  

Spacing requirements for kale can be a little tricky since there are so many varieties.  It’s a good rule of thumb to space kale about 12 inches apart, which will give it plenty of room to grow those large leaves. It can be a heavy feeder to get those large, dark, thick leaves. For average soils, use a 10-10-10 at 3 pounds per 100 square feet, then sidedress with 3 ounces of 10-10-10 every few weeks per 100 feet of row.

Growing kale during the colder months of the year will help out with those pests that seem so drawn to greens. Before the frost, though, you can find holes in your kale, which is caused by the cabbage looper and the cabbageworm. Cabbageworm moths lay their eggs on the kale, and then the larvae feed on the leaf. The best way to prevent the cabbageworm moths from laying their eggs is to use a crop cover to prevent pest entry to the kale. Another way to help deter the decimation of your foliage is by using Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a natural insecticide. 

With the diversity of varieties of kale, one can easily get lost as to which one to grow. This past year, I grew Blue Curled Scotch, which is an heirloom variety that did well for me in my garden this past spring.  One red variety that I’ve heard does extremely well in the winter is called ‘Redbor’.  It has excellent red foliage through the mild part of the winter and adds some great color to the winter garden. Prizm is an All-America selection from 2016 and it has an almost stemless leaf, which would really help out during the prepping process of kale. Vates, Dwarf Blue and Curled Vates are three other selections that have proven themselves throughout the years here in Tennessee.  

The University of Tennessee Extension offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability and is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides real life solutions. Visit ag.tennessee.edu for more information. 

If you have any questions regarding vegetables or any other horticultural matter in your garden or lawn, feel free to contact Lucas Holman, horticulture UT-TSU Extension agent in Wilson County, at 615-444-9584 or [email protected].

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